Environmentalists are having trouble wrapping their head around a president who visited Alaska above the Arctic Circle on Wednesday to speak on the need to mitigate the causes of climate change, while at the same time on Aug. 17 approved Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration and development of oil there.
It’s not that hard because the challenge of our time is the lack of political will to take action to reduce CO2 emissions in a culture dependent upon fossil fuels. The problem is politics, not physics.
Bill McKibben expressed the sentiment concisely:
It’s literally painful to hear Obama’s powerful words from Alaska and know that they’re so cheapened by his decision to let Shell drill
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) September 1, 2015
It’s no use crying Bill McKibben’s tears.
In 2014, the U.S. used 6.95 billion barrels of crude oil with 27 percent being imported, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. That’s 19.05 million barrels per day, including biofuels. Most of it is for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil and liquefied petroleum gas. (The EIA explains how the oil was used here).
During President Obama’s administration the U.S. took substantial action to reduce dependence on imported oil. During the eight years of President George W. Bush, the country imported 28.6 billion barrels of oil or 3.574 billion barrels per year on average. In 2014, the U.S. imported 2.68 billion barrels or 25 percent less than the Bush average.
The rub is that in order to reduce imports, the Obama administration encouraged domestic production through an all of the above strategy that included hydraulic fracturing and increased exploration and discovery like Royal Dutch Shell had been doing in the Arctic in 2012. The strategy worked, and has been revitalized, but at what cost?
Doing nothing about global warming is not an option. The Obama administration has been and is doing something significant. As much as some would like to shut down the coal trains, end hydraulic fracturing and stop drilling for oil – leaving fossil fuels in the ground – it is only beginning to happen under Obama. Whoever is president in 2017, an “all of the above” strategy would mean quite different things with a Democrat or Republican in office.
Scientists understand the basic physics of global warming, and mostly have since the mid-1800s. As long as there is demand for fossil fuels, there is no reason to think exploration and discovery by oil companies will end any time soon. The problem with denial is not so much with political climate deniers. The physics will out, hopefully not too late.
A bigger problem is denial of our addiction to fossil fuels. Most continue to use them like there is no tomorrow. A reckoning is coming and it will take more than renaming that mountain to climb it.