Echoing climate TikTok, Al Gore says Biden OK of Willow would be 'recklessly irresponsible'

Echoing climate TikTok, Al Gore says Biden OK of Willow would be 'recklessly irresponsible'
Image via Shutterstock.

From climate campaigners on TikTok to former Vice President Al Gore, people who care about the planet across the United States are pressuring the Biden administration to block ConocoPhillips' multibillion-dollar Willow oil project in Alaska.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a notice of availability regarding its final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Willow Master Development Plan in the Federal Register on February 6. It said that a final decision for the project would come no earlier than 30 days from then.

Leading up to the BLM's decision—which ConocoPhillips chairman and CEO Ryan Lance expects this week—opponents have stressed scientists' warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if humanity has any chance of preventing catastrophic global heating and meeting the Paris climate agreement's 1.5°C target for this century.

Announced by the Houston-based company in 2017, the 30-year development in the National Petroleum Reserve would produce up to 180,0000 barrels of oil a day at its peak and release over 9.2 metric tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide annually.

"We don't need to prop up the fossil fuel industry with new, multiyear projects that are a recipe for climate chaos."

"Some Native Alaskan Iñupiaq have also raised serious concerns about the project's local environmental impacts, including disturbance to local wildlife, disruption to traditional hunting practices, and a decline in air quality," BBC Newsnoted Friday.

Gore, a longtime environmentalist, acknowledged both local and global concerns on Friday in comments to The Guardian.

"The proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in Alaska is recklessly irresponsible," he said. "The pollution it would generate will not only put Alaska Native and other local communities at risk, it is incompatible with the ambition we need to achieve a net-zero future."

"We don't need to prop up the fossil fuel industry with new, multiyear projects that are a recipe for climate chaos," Gore continued. "Instead, we must end the expansion of oil, gas, and coal and embrace the abundant climate solutions at our fingertips."

Climate advocacy groups have been sending President Joe Biden and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that same message.

After the White House released its budget blueprint on Thursday, Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said that the "proposed budget—especially its investments in clean energy, jobs, and an end to oil and gas subsidies—is the kind of thing young people in this country want to see ahead of 2024."

"But President Biden has the power to act on climate and issues important to our generation without having to go through a Republican House," Prakash added. "He can reject the Willow Project, which goes against his own agenda to stop the climate crisis, and can do everything in his executive authority, like declaring a climate emergency and invoking the Defense Production Act, to jump-start our transition to clean energy."

Though Willow is backed by Alaska's three-member congressional delegation, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and the state Legislature, opponents of the project have taken social media by storm with the hashtag #StopWillow.

"I have never seen so many videos, so many comments, mentions about a climate topic on social media," 26-year-old Alaina Wood, a scientist and climate activist with more than 353,500 followers on the video platform TikTok, toldThe Washington Post Tuesday.

Elise Joshi, a 20-year-old University of California, Berkeley student and acting executive director of the nonprofit Gen-Z for Change, posted one of the earliest TikTok videos about the project, which now has over 300,000 views. She emphasized that "this is not environmentalist groups."

"This is young people as a whole, as a voter base, taking action," Joshi explained to the Post. "With Willow, this is one of the biggest actions we've ever seen on TikTok go forward. It has shown that we are willing to fight."

A petition urging Biden to stop Willow—now signed by more than 3 million people and promoted by groups including the Indigenous-led NDN Collective—declares that "there must come a point where human health, food security, environmental justice, and a functioning ecosystem come before corporate profit."

Pointing to the growing support for the petition, Alex Haraus, a 25-year-old TikTok creator whose Willow videos have millions of views, toldCNN, "If that doesn't emphasize the fact that it's everyday Americans pushing back, I don't know what does."

"This is not an environmental movement, it's much larger than that," Haraus added. "It's the American public that can vote."

Hazel Thayer, another climate activist who has posted TikTok videos with #StopWillow, toldThe Associated Press Wednesday that the proposed Big Oil project is "just so blatantly bad for the planet."

"With all of the progress that the U.S. government has made on climate change, it now feels like they're turning their backs by allowing Willow to go through," Thayer said. "I think a lot of young people are feeling a little bit betrayed by that."

Quannah Chasinghorse—a Han Gwich'in and Sicangu/Oglala Lakota land protector, climate justice activist, and fashion model from Eagle Village, Alaska and the tribes of South Dakota—wrote Friday in a CNN opinion piece opposing the project that "I've been inspired by the chorus of voices who have joined me."

"To date, #StopWillow (and related) videos from a diverse array of young creators have around 300 million direct views on TikTok alone," Chasinghorse noted. "In a matter of just a few days, #StopWillow catapulted to the top of social media conversations."

"As I watch millions of people join the #StopWillow movement, these staggering numbers send a clear message that today's youth expect President Biden and Secretary Haaland to step up," she added. "It reflects a game-changing trend that astute leaders should not ignore: They must deliver the climate leadership they promised by taking bold action to stop the Willow climate disaster before it's too late."

Even if the Biden administration gives Willow the green light, that approval is expected to be met with legal challenges.

"I think that litigation is very likely," Earthjustice senior attorney Jeremy Lieb told The Guardian. “We and our clients don't see any acceptable version of this project."

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