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Drilling in the Arctic could lock us into catastrophic climate change

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Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 23.33.36Annie Leonard: Sept 1, 2015

The Arctic sits at the forefront of a rapidly destabilizing climate, and this week President Obama traveled there to highlight the urgency of our world’s climate crisis. We commend the president for his leadership, and yet this trip comes on the heels of his administration’s decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, a move that seriously undermines his climate legacy.

Carbon pollution from companies like Shell, history’s sixth largest greenhouse gas polluter, is destroying our climate, and drilling in the Arctic could lock us into runaway climate change, catastrophic climate change really. Rapidly melting ice means previously inaccessible oil and gas is now squarely in Shell’s sights. Shell has already sunk $7 billion into oil exploration in the Arctic, a down payment to get a toehold into the region’s massive energy reserve. Shell has already called the effort a “game changer” for domestic energy production.

It is a game changer, but not just one for future generations. People are dealing with the impacts of climate change right now. A recent study in the journal Nature found that any development of the sizable reserves of oil and gas underlying the Arctic Ocean will put our planet at risk of extreme climate change.

That’s why activists took to kayaks and rappelled from bridges to block Shell’s vessels from making it to the Arctic. These brave protesters were holding themselves to the same standard President Obama proposed in his 2014 State of the Union Address: We must be able to look our children’s children in the eye and tell them we did “all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world.” Each drop of oil that flows from the Arctic makes it that much harder to fulfill this promise.

To avoid worsening our climate catastrophe, we must leave large reserves of fossil fuels where they are and where they belong — in the ground. Going to further extremes to exploit fossil fuels is the surest sign of our unrelenting addiction. If we can’t say no to drilling in the harsh and unpredictable Arctic Ocean, where in the world will we say, enough is enough?

Annie Leonard is executive director of Greenpeace USA.

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