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The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”

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On January 19, in what many perceived as an amusing appearance by former vice presidential hopeful and reality TV actress Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor took on the stage to endorse another reality TV personality and current Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

But amid the comedy spoofs and various political readings of what the Trump-Palin political union actually meant, much urgent discussion has been shoved aside.

In her supposedly down-to-earth approach to politics, Palin mouthed off more of her terrifying vision for the United States, before resurrecting the Republican-embraced slogan ‘drill, baby drill.”

Unlike much of her other drivels, that statement in particular has been a common theme in much of her political activism and conspicuous agenda. Last September Trump had suggested that he would like to see Palin take part of his cabinet, and she obliged, telling the media that she wishes to head the Department of Energy.

“Energy is my baby,” Palin told CNN at the time. “Oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth for mankind’s use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations.”

“Never mind that the Energy Department doesn’t have anything to do with drilling and mining because that’s the province of the Interior Department,” wrote Katie Herzog recently in grist.org.

In actuality, there is nothing humorous about Palin’s “familiar fossil-fuel-promoting gobbledygook”, as described by Herzog. A vision as notorious as that of Palin’s will spell further disaster in an already fragile, unstable, and deteriorating environment.

Since 1977, there has been an ongoing controversy regarding the extraction of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). ANWR holds 19 million acres of protected land on the northern coast of Alaska which is also home to many Alaskan Natives. In the past fifty years, the average temperature in Alaska has risen 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit and is expected to rise by seven degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2050.

Oil extraction, burning, as well as production and the harvesting of gas and coal emits hazardous amounts of greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. Not only does this effect the global climate, but it perilously increases the temperature of the region, leaving residents as well as the entire eco- system and their means of life in an incurable state.

There must be immediate action and a rapid transition to renewable energy. Aside from the obvious environmental disaster lurking ahead, this change in climate has already compromised the lives of thousands of indigenous Alaskans. 86 percent of the 213 Alaskan native villages have – to some extent – suffered the destructive results of global warming on their homes, whether that be by flooding or erosion. After thousands of years of living and thriving on the Alaskan coast, many tribes such as the Yup’ik and the Inupiat have been forced to relocate to higher ground, leaving their culture that has persevered for thousands of years on the now submerged coast.

A survey conducted by the USGS indicates the northern coast of Alaska – home to several Native American communities – has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world. Homes, villages, and costal lines are disappearing at alarming rates. According to the same studies, up to thirty yards of the coast could vanish within the year.

But it does not have to be that way. According to Scientific America, by the year 2030, the world could be running on 100 percent renewable clean energy. It is not just Alaska or the United States that could profit, but the whole world could reap the benefits of transitioning to renewables. In the United States alone, there would be an estimated 202,000 new jobs by the year 2025. Renewables also release zero emissions thus would not allow the progression of climate change.

I had the opportunity to speak to Russell Warfield, a member of the London-based activist group “BP or Not BP?” He gave me valuable insight regarding many factors which contribute to the environmental challenges and dangers our world currently faces.

Warfield advocates that the one and only way to save our planet from global warming and its hazardous effects is by completely utilizing renewable fuel resources, such as solar, wave, and wind power. “My view is that it’s sensible to go for a 100 percent renewable world; energy that we can obtain directly from sunlight, or from tidal power, or from wind power, and from some places in the world, thermal power….(There are) smaller, localized, decentralized forms of power created through these means. ”

According to Warfield, this would not only help the cause of a healthier environment but it would advance the cause of economic justice by enabling those living in poverty by making heat and light more affordable. “It’s possible with existing technology to power the world. Not only that, a lot of people living in poverty could do it as well.”

But the question lingers: Why have we not started an aggressive transition that is urgently needed and very much feasible?

Expectedly, Capitalism has played a major role in the deferral of that process, thus the increasing of global temperatures. The harmful results of fossil fuels have yet again been swept under the rug. Companies such as Shell, BP, and Exxon, are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. If sources of renewable energy became more accessible and common, these companies’ net worth would likely suffer. These massive corporations – with which people and trusted institutions have affiliated are not concerned with the well-being of the planet, local and global economies. Their concerns lie more on the end of the company’s influence and wealth.

Warfield touched on the corruption of these companies as well as answering a common question: how can we stop the destruction these corporations have caused? More, how do we compete with the support coming from governments and government-subsidized companies? “We can’t let fossil fuel companies legitimize their practices in such dishonest ways. Divestment is a really good example of that (discouraging company practices). We are taking quite a bold moral stand in terms of not engaging with fossil fuel companies.”

Warfield denounced the support given by many trusted and respected institutions to companies such as Shell, BP, and Exxon. “It says a lot when our most respected institutions work with a company (such as BP or Shell). They pay a very small amount of money to these institutions to gain legitimacy and a license that they don’t deserve.” “People don’t realize the level of destruction in their operations.”

“We need to demonstrate that the alternatives work. It is possible to go to a 100 percent renewable world. But there is a lot of interest in making sure that such a transition doesn’t happen anytime soon.”

Huge energy companies, like the many listed above, thrive with a centralized system to extract, manage and profit from the wealth of fossil fuels. Because of the diversity of renewable energy forms, such as wind, tidal and solar power, they cannot be bundled into a common management and profit center. According to Warfield, this is one of the primary reasons that companies such as BP fight against energy progress; in other words, it is much more difficult to maintain a monopoly on the energy market.

“Because the nature of renewables, you can’t centralize all the generation, therefore all the wealth. When companies extract oil, coal, and gas, they mess with the infrastructure and essentially turn it into energy and that’s what make few people very, very rich and they don’t want that structure – that is already in place – to change. There is a lot of interest in making sure we stay locked into fossil fuels. That’s why we see things like fracking happening now in increasingly dangerous areas such as the Arctic and Alaska.”

If there is no backlash and protest from the damage these companies have inflicted on our world, the situation will only get worse over time. If things continue the way they are, in 50 years, sea level is estimated to rise by 10 feet. By the year 2047, our coldest years may be warmer than the hottest in the past. These are only a few minor examples of where our world could be in an alarmingly short time. There must be involvement within all classes, communities, and people; within organizations and activist groups such as BP or Not BP, among others.

Immediate action needs to be taken. There must to be consistent support of the climate movement if our world is to have any hope for a sustainable future.

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Zarefah Baroud is a Media and Communications student at the University of Washington.

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