Obama: Save the Arctic, Save the Climate

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Emboldened by a Congress now led by fossil fuel boosters, Big Oil--fronted by Shell--has redoubled a decades-long campaign to sink its drills into the Arctic Ocean, our last pristine ocean. And unless President Obama steps in to halt Shell's current lease and ensure Department of Interior's proposed 5 year off-shore leasing plans reverse course, drilling could begin as early as this summer and leave these unique waters exposed to even more future harm.

That is why NRDC joined 18 conservation and Native rights groups on a USA Today Ad calling on the President to do just that.

In the past, Big Oil has been repeatedly thwarted by the Arctic Ocean's tempestuous seas and shifting ice, lack of field-proven technologies, and public outcry at the prospect of despoiling this iconic home to wildlife and critical source of subsistence for Native peoples.

These factors by themselves provide more than enough reason to keep the Arctic out of Big Oil's grip. There is, however, another overriding reason President Obama must use his authority to put a stop to Big Oil's irresponsible quest once and for all: climate change.

The science

Science is science and there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that's in the ground right now that the planet's going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.--President Obama

The science could not be clearer that climate change represents the environmental challenge of our time requiring immediate, bold action. If we are going to meet our obligation to bequeath to our children a healthier, safer, cleaner planet, we must dramatically reduce climate change's main driver: carbon pollution. And do so quickly.

To do that, the world's leading body of climate scientists has warned the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A report in the top journal Nature also specifically found that developing Arctic Ocean oil and gas is incompatible with efforts to stay within our global carbon budget.

That means saying no to new reckless drilling that locks in long-term carbon pollution the science says we cannot sustain. We have to start that process of saying no, and start it quick, or lose on climate change. There is no one better positioned to do that than President Obama, and no better places for him to start than the remote, pristine Arctic Ocean, along with our threatened Atlantic coast (for details on the Atlantic, see my colleague's blogs here.)

Big Oil: You're Stuck with It

Big Oil says that's wrong: you don't need to and can't start weaning yourselves off our product Not only are you stuck with dirty, dangerous oil, so are your children and grandchildren. This attitude is embodied in the recent industry-backed report by the National Petroleum Council which attempts to justify Arctic drilling with one terrible argument: 30 years from now, we may need the oil.

The fatal flaw with that assumption is that it relies on the Energy Information Agency's "business-as-usual" scenario, which according to the International Energy Agency, leads to 6 degrees Celsius of climate change and uncontrollable climate chaos. Said another way, the oil industry's line of argument assumes a total failure to address climate change, with future generations consigned to far more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, terribly degraded air quality, and many more frequent, destructive, costly, and deadly extreme weather events.

And these dangerous impacts don't even take into account the additional risk drilling poses to our marine resources and coastal communities - just as we saw in the disastrous blowout of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig five years ago.

This is a fundamentally dangerous course to set that would require ignoring or contradicting if you ignore or contradict stated U.S. energy policy, our international climate commitments, and the promise of the clean energy economy and if embraced would rock our planet to its core by catastrophic, avoidable climate disruption.

Never Bet Against Innovation

It's not shocking that Big Oil's answer to future energy needs is to push more of their product, but it's surprisingly inconsistent with the game-changing strides the clean energy economy is already making. (It's also a little like suggesting the cure to heroin addiction is to smoke a lot of crystal meth instead of investing in treatment.)

The fact is clean energy solutions are here, and they are here to stay. Illustrating just how much renewables have grown--and how routinely EIA projections miss the mark--current U.S. solar capacity has already surpassed EIA's AEO 2012 estimates for 2030.-- by 227%. Wind's success story is similarly impressive, and the potential is enormous.--Just one quarter of our nation's off-shore energy potential would match our nation's entire existing fossil fuel-based electricity generating capacity.

Since 2005, we've reduced gasoline consumption by 8 percent. That's a big turnaround after decades of rising consumption and growing dependence on oil to make gasoline. Laws on the books will reduce it further. Federal fuel efficiency standards are expected to save 12 billion barrels of oil over the life of vehicles made between 2012 and 2025. And, we can do even more. Adding new transportation policies to provide more alternatives to driving, like more transit, and accelerate electric vehicle sales could save the U.S. nearly 4 million barrels of oil each year by 2035. That's almost the same amount of oil, in a single year, as the Interior Department estimates can ever be recovered from drilling all our offshore waters from Florida to Maine. We are already started down a clean energy pathway. The efficiency of US auto fleet is up 25% in the last 10 years, electric vehicle sales more than quintupled between 2011 and 2014.

Clean energy is already surpassing past estimates by leaps and bounds and there is no end in sight. Not only must we do better than assume the world's energy economy will move backwards, any betting man would back even more innovation.

We Must Not Assume Climate Failure

Any serious plan to address climate change must include making smarter choices of where and how much oil is developed while continuing to invest in clean energy solutions. Unless we address both sides of the carbon budget ledger, we risk canceling out any current gains and over the long haul driving the climate over the tipping point.

In contrast, drilling in the Arctic essentially assumes a total failure to address climate change and a reversal of today's clean energy economy. It can only be "justified" by denying the science, the track record of American ingenuity, and our ability to continue leading the global effort to combat climate change.

Worst of all, it denies our fundamental obligation to leave our children a safer, healthier planet.

To help stop Big Oil's bid to drill the Arctic click here: http://www.stopshell.org