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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

This week’s Editorial

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Last Monday, the Obama administration gave conditional approval to Shell Oil to begin offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The news is deeply distressing. It feels inevitable that we are asking for another Valdez or Deepwater Horizon spill, which would prove disastrous for the fragile arctic ecosystem and its indigenous people. As a New York Times article reported, “Both industry and environmental groups say that the Chukchi Sea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill.” (The oil industry and environmental groups agreeing on something? It must be real).

Equally distressing, however, is what the decision represents–ostensibly, a continued commitment to fossil fuel dependence on the part of our government.

From an environmental standpoint, there’ve been worse presidential terms. We should not overlook the progress that the Obama administration has made, such as investments in renewables, the veto of the phase 4 section of Keystone XL, the emissions agreement with China, and the Clean Power Plan. These policy actions are impressive considering Congress’ tense and gridlocked political climate.

But on the other side of the scale, we’ve witnessed a new and fervent dedication to U.S. “energy independence.” Obama has balanced autocratic, politically-tenuous climate change mitigation policy with bold investment in “reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” It’s part of his “All-of-the Above” energy policy, and it’s worked: we’re now one of the largest producers of oil in the world, right up there with Saudi Arabia and Russia, and we’re the largest producer of natural gas.

While I don’t think anyone would dispute that it’s certainly better to be relying on domestic rather than foreign energy sources that have pulled us into messy global political situations in the past, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. When it comes to climate change, “energy independence” is business as usual. Our government’s approval for drilling in the Chukchi sea is just another notch on the old belt of environmental destruction.

The U.S. produces 18.3% of all greenhouse gas emissions, bested only by China, with 19.1% (who, it’s worth noting, has a much lower per capita rate). For all the talk of investing in new green technologies, only 7% of U.S. energy generation came from renewables in 2014. Approximately 67% was generated from coal, natural gas and petroleum, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

I’m pretty tired of this lollygagging. Global warming and ecosystem catastrophe are happening right now, and they have–and will continue to have–real health and economic consequences. Our government needs to step it up.

To put the brakes on such an impending disaster, we’re going to have to decide, at some point, not to drill in the Chukchi sea. There are too many harvestable fossil fuels in the world for us to wait until they run out to change the makeup of our energy sources; it’d be too late.

As citizens and students, we need to begin raking our representatives over the coals about this. While I’m pro-divestment, I feel as if the movement has co-opted the environmental activism scene at Carleton, and I’ve begun to doubt whether its worth our time. Even if, somehow, we do it– get Carleton to divest–is it going to have the effect we want it to? What will it solve? The amount that we’re invested in fossil fuel companies is chump change in the scheme of their net profits. Even if all colleges divested–would it be enough? Would fossil fuel companies just up and stop drilling for depletables? It seems unlikely.

I worry that divestment targets our anger and energy at fossil fuel companies instead of the system that’s obligated to represent and protect and listen to those complaints: our government. I don’t think we can blame a company for doing what monetarily is in its best interest. No screaming or crying on our part is going to change an executive’s mind.

We should be screaming and crying at Congress. Our generation has a weird, though perhaps warranted, skepticism of government, and I fear it’s instilled a deep cynicism of, and disengagement from, the political process.

If we want to do something about our environmental problems, the government is the only vehicle we’ve got.

Given this, I vote we engage ourselves in the political process and show our deep distaste for its shortcomings. Don’t want drilling in the Chukchi sea? Let’s write letters to our home and state representatives. Let’s harangue them over the phone. Let’s hold a protest at Carleton, do something big and radical that targets the Obama administration, that might make the news and get attention.

In short, let’s call out our president and Congress on beings wimps. I want a step-by-step policy plan that outlines true “energy independence” for the United States–not energy independence from foreign fossil fuels, but from all fossil fuels. In fact, I demand it.

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