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Understanding the Willow Project

What are the causes and repercussions of this event, and what does that mean for our future?

By: Gabriel Nogueira

Massive oil pipes in Alaska - Robert Valarcher/Biosphoto, via Alamy

Simply put, the Willow Project is a massive undertaking that will increase the production and extraction of oil in the USA. The project will explore the oil reserves of Alaska, and will be led by the energy company ConocoPhillips.

This project will increase the CO2 emissions of the USA by 4%, which is a very significant amount. Over the course of the next 30 years, the oil extracted from this project will release 277 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The addition of this massive quantity of fossil fuels into the atmosphere is extremely dangerous, and not at all in line with the combat of climate change that has been agreed upon and promoted by the United States. The Willow Project represents a massive step-back in all the progress made towards a greener and more sustainable world.

If global warming is to be limited to 1.5 °C, which is the amount the USA has pledged to keep, then this sort of project on federal land should not have been approved. CO2 emissions and oil production should be decreasing and not increasing. The 1.5 °C mark is an extremely important one, because going past that will mean catastrophic consequences for millions of people, and will be terrible for animal and plant life.

The gap between where we should be and where we actually are -

Without a more consistent and structured effort to fight climate change, the pledges made by governments will not be kept, and global warming will fall far beyond our ability to control and deal with.

The back-stepping of the United States Government on the issue of climate change is extremely dangerous, since it leads not only to environmental damage, but also to mistrust from the population in the government that change is going to be made.

During the 2020 presidential elections, the then candidate Joe Biden made a promise to end all new drilling and cracking for oil in federal government lands. While this promise was kept for a short while at the beginning of the administration, the executive order that kept it in place was soon taken down by a judge. After that, the Biden administration has allowed several new projects to take place on federal land, including the Willow Project.

This type of inconsistency in rhetoric and breaking of promises has become more and more common in 21st century politics, and continues to breed mistrust and disseminate panic. People rightfully feel like not enough is being done to impede climate change.

Most countries follow the lead of the United States, for political, cultural and economic reasons. Without a clear example from the so-called “leader of the free world”, will a coordinated effort against climate change ever be conducted?

The main issue that surrounds the fight against climate change is that stopping climate change isn’t very lucrative for the countries that benefit the most from it. The world’s greatest oil producers have no real monetary incentive to decrease their oil production. If they don’t produce the oil, someone else will, and their country will struggle. The world has created an oil dependent infrastructure, that can’t move away from the use of fossil fuels completely, because most existing services and commodities would cease to exist.

Instead of truly working towards making a massive, systemic change, governments and news outlets funded by major companies that make money from climate change try to divert the fault of pollution onto the public. Instead of making cleaner alternatives to gasoline more accessible to the public, big media companies demonize people who drive regular cars. Instead of understanding the deeper issues surrounding why it is impossible for most people to avoid using and consuming plastic and other pollutants, these entities divert focus on the underprivileged people who are put in this situation that they can’t escape from.

Governments and companies are so resistant to making changes because they make just so much money from their current practices. According to the head of the International Energy Agency, the profits from oil and gas industries world-wide have reached a record-breaking 4 trillion US dollars last year. This is up from an average of 1.5 trillion dollars in previous years. These corporations are making more and more money, decreasing their incentive to stop polluting.

These companies are also major contributors to politicians campaigns, making their influence inside governments absolutely gargantuan. Their ability to lobby congressmen to make politics that benefit, and make more lucrative the production of oil, is a big factor in why there hasn’t been, and probably won’t be any sudden or drastic change to legislation in the future.

But if the worse comes to worst, who will suffer the most from climate change? Well, the owners and shareholders of oil companies, politicians and lobbyists will take their millions and billions of dollars and simply ride out the storm from mansions in secluded areas where they can enjoy every luxury imaginable. Those who are left to suffer will be low and middle-class citizens who had absolutely no fault in perpetuating this system. The people who made their fortunes causing climate change won't have to suffer its consequences.

This distinction between high and middle/low income individuals also extends to countries. While most of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases are emitted by wealthy and powerful countries, the ones that are left to suffer its consequences, even today, are the lower income countries. Droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels and other extreme weather events will impact mainly low income counties in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

These countries already suffer from several issues as it stands today. Making their weather more volatile and changing their climates in unimaginable ways will have disastrous consequences for the people living there.

The countries most affected and vulnerable to climate change - IRC

The ten countries listed above have a combined population of approximately 710 million people. The effects that climate change can cause with regard to mass migration and death in not just the countries, but also others, is beyond imagining. The political consequences of mass migration coming out of Africa and Asia in Europe are tremendous. Infrastructure to receive refugees is already limited and struggling as it is. Throw in a few million more displaced African people, and you have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

Other countries being tremendously impacted by climate change today are Pacific and Caribbean island nations. The Pacific island nations in particular are struggling quite a lot. Tuvalu, for example, is a nation that has already lost some of its land to the ocean. Since most of the island is at just 2 meters of elevation compared to the level of the ocean, it is extremely susceptible to rising sea levels. These islands are home to millions of people, all of whom can suffer tremendously from climate change.

The countries that manufacture and export climate change aren’t the ones having to deal with it. These are the powerful countries that get to reap the political and economic rewards of having polluted and continuing to pollute the world, while the lower income countries have to struggle to survive climate change.

The Willow Project is another example of this reality. The United States continues to pollute and profit without issue, and allows the Third World to suffer the butt of these consequences.


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