THE BLOG

Shell and High Water: Seattle Takes a Stand

03/14/2015 11:54 am ET | Updated May 14, 2015

The Port of Seattle has accused citizen groups of playing politics for opposing a plan to use Seattle's waterfront as a homeport for Shell's Arctic oil drilling fleet.

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What do they even mean by that?

Is it "politics" to object when Seattle's public port - the "Green Gateway" - decides to host the most extreme, reckless, fossil fuel adventure in history?

Is it "politics" to worry that the oil Shell is trying to drill is "unburnable" - meaning scientists have clearly shown that using this oil is flatly incompatible with stabilizing the climate before catastrophic warming overwhelms us?

Is it "politics" to question the wisdom of taking a cut of the action and a supporting role in the sequel to "The Wreck of the Kulluk."

Is it "politics" to hold our public port accountable for a decision that has clearly been in the works for many months, with no transparency and no public input?

Is it "politics" to draw the line on our doorstep, when Big Oil has systematically blocked the rational policy solutions that would have made Arctic drilling as illegal as it is unconscionable?

Do they mean that this is "political" in the same sense that science-denying reactionaries suggest that global warming is a liberal conspiracy - a stalking horse for big government, limiting freedoms, social engineering, yada yada?

The Port and Foss Maritime - both of which have solid environmental records and important positive roles in our community - have become swept up in a desperate campaign by the oil industry to lock us in to a few more decades of oil dependence before we inevitably (and belatedly) decide to save ourselves. Arctic drilling is the poster child for that campaign - the most powerful possible expression of the greed and hubris that keeps drilling us deeper into the climate crisis. The idea that we would burn so much fossil fuel that we melt the Arctic ice, and then interpret that massive disruption to the planet's heat balance as a signal to go drill for more where the ice used to be....well, it just kind of leaves you breathless. What comes after irony?

This campaign against our future includes decades of investment in creating the illusion of doubt around climate science; even greater investment in fouling our democracy with gushers of political money to block policy solutions; a long history of suppressing clean technology innovation; and - most despicable of all in my book - a concerted effort to convince people that resistance is futile, that climate chaos and unchecked oilgarchy is the only future we can have. This campaign is ruthless, deeply immoral, and yes, very very political. Big Oil wins by greasing palms on both sides of the aisle and by doing exactly what they are trying to do now in Seattle - buy up enough political support to run the table before anyone even knows they're here.

No one would consciously choose the dystopia we'll get if we fail to break Big Oil's grip on our economy, our politics, our future. The only way they can hold on to this power is to convince us that we have no choice. Seattle should be the last place to fall for this, a place that knows better because we're doing better by systematically reducing fossil fuel dependence. But for now, Seattle's Port Commissioners seem to have capitulated. Never mind that in the world where we burn Arctic Oil, the Port -- and coastal cities everywhere -- will sink under rising, acidified oceans.

Like the coal export battles raging in the Northwest, this madness on Seattle's waterfront is a tragic puppet show - with Big Oil pulling the strings and otherwise forward-thinking local officials and businesses acting like they have no alternative but to dance. We have to cut the strings.

We should not have to have this fight in this community. There is still time to affirm that we do have better ways to create good jobs and shared, sustainable prosperity.... that our community is in many ways defined by that better way. We don't have to just show up to play our assigned roles - enviros here, businesses there, labor there - in an unnecessary, outdated struggle over whether we want a planet or jobs.

That is Big Oil's game. If we all play, they win.