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Posted on Jul 29, 2013
Subhankar Banerjee

By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers

(Page 3)

On July 9 I wrote, “In 2011 Obama sold the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to Big Coal. … Precisely because of this greedy decision two years ago, today the activists in the Pacific Northwest are fighting the coal–port through which (if built) Wyoming coal would go to Asia.” And on July 25 Lynne Peeples wrote on Huffington Post that this coal project “could create more national and global environmental impact than a Canadian company’s proposal to ferry Albertan tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast via the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Leah Donahey of the Alaska Wilderness League shared with me similar concerns that Obama’s plan for drilling in the Arctic Ocean might have more environmental impact than the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week she wrote to me in an email: “The President is still considering offering new drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean and Shell could be back at this time next year to drill.”

My intention here is not to start a debate about which is the worst offender, but to point out that all of these mega extraction projects will cause massive eco–cultural devastations and contribute enormously to global climate change.

After both their drill rigs, Noble Discoverer and Kulluk, suffered heavy damages and were cited for EPA violations, Shell abandoned the 2013 drilling plan in Alaska’s Arctic seas. I wrote in a letter to the editors in the June 6 issue of The New York Review of Books, “There will be calm in the Arctic Ocean this summer.” I was wrong. As it turns out, right now, instead of drilling, Shell is doing sonar surveys in the Chukchi Sea, using the Finnish icebreaker Fennica, to inspect “ice gouges” on the seafloor where Shell “might build pipelines to offshore oil wells,” as reported by Alaska KTUU–TV on July 23. With air guns and sonar equipments that Shell is using, the Chukchi Sea is certainly not calm this summer.

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The Iñupiat people of Arctic Alaska say, “The Arctic Ocean is our garden.” On July 5 Robert Thompson, who lives in Kaktovik on Barter Island along the Beaufort Sea coast, wrote to me in an email:

There were two deaths here that I attribute to climate change. Thomas Gordon and his son, Simon, were carried away by a big wave down the coast as they were crossing a low place on a spit. We never used to have such big waves. There is 700 miles of open water. With that, waves get bigger. When I first came here [in 1988] we could see the pack ice, all summer long.

Why are the climate change experts focusing only on emission reduction, and not on extraction reduction also, you might ask? It might seem paradoxical that while the US is trying to reduce emissions, it is also increasing extractions at the same time. I have a theory. A significant part of the extracted fossil fuels would be sent to other places around the world (like coal from the Powder River Basin will go to Asia)—to make huge money. It will get burned somewhere and contribute to the global climate change. Emissions statistics, however, would show that America is reducing emission and is solving the climate crisis—at home. It’ll all look good on paper. Not so fast though. Two years ago Joseph Nevins pointed out on Truthout, “The US military is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, and the single entity most responsible for destabilizing the Earth’s climate.” Now imagine: If the American military burns oil in a mission to Afghanistan, that was extracted from America’s Arctic Ocean, would that be included in the accounting of American emission? I think not. If my theory of—emission vs. extraction—proves true, it’d be yet another example of American exceptionalism.

You would think it would be logical to scrap the mega extraction projects if we are sincere about solving the climate crisis. It would indeed be, if we were living in a decent society. But instead, we’re living in a dystopian one.

Elements of Dystopia

There are four elements of dystopia: ecological, political, sociological, and economic—as it relates to climate change.

Scientists from around the world have been using various climate models over the past three decades to predict the ecological future. At times, what’s happening in the real world is proving to be more frightening than the outcome of the climate models. For example, the Arctic sea ice is melting at a rate faster than what the models had predicted few years ago.

Polar bear mothers and cubs are dying from exhaustion having to swim longer distances in open water of the Arctic Ocean; lack of summer sea ice is forcing thousands of Pacific walruses onshore where they are getting crammed on narrow barrier islands, stampeding and crushing smaller calves; reptiles and rodents are getting burned alive underground by extreme wildfires in New Mexico; nearly 55 million piñon trees died during the last decade from bark beetles infestation in New Mexico; 19 firefighters were killed by a raging wildfire last month in Arizona—are just a few examples of our current climate ravaged America. The future for the whole Earth looks much worse. This is what I’d call—ecological dystopia.


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