Defend the Arctic from Trump’s Attack on Our Oceans

01/04/2018 03:17 pm ET
US Dept. Interior

The Trump administration just announced plans to vastly expand offshore drilling by leasing all federal waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Burning the fossil fuels in these areas would contribute 49.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide pollution, the equivalent of the emissions from 10.6 billion cars driven for a year, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The unprecedented proposal seeks to offer oil leases off every single coast, even areas that have been long-protected from drilling. I’m horrified by the prospect of more drilling rigs and oil spills off the California coast where I surf and play with my kids.

Yet it isn’t enough for Californians or East Coast residents to oppose Trump’s reckless push to let oil companies drill off our coasts, as important as that is. We must also draw the line further north — in the Arctic.

Trump’s push to open up the Arctic Ocean to offshore drilling is irresponsible and dangerous. The remote, harsh Arctic waters have been largely off limits to oil development for good reason. An oil spill would be impossible to clean up and would imperil endangered polar bears and bowhead whales.

This is about more than just doing the right thing for the communities and wildlife of the Arctic, because Arctic drilling is a carbon bomb that will affect everyone. Expanded Arctic drilling would threaten California and coastal areas around the world. Sea-level rise and ocean warming and acidification will all be worse if Trump allows offshore drilling in the far North. Climate change is a top driver of wildlife extinction, so his plan would also accelerate the current mass extinction crisis.

I plan to do everything I can to prevent Trump from offering the first federal leases off California’s coast in more than 30 years. I know that my friends in Virginia and Florida plan to fight like hell to protect the Atlantic, too, and I want them to succeed.

But even if we win those battles, we’ll still lose the war against climate chaos if the Arctic is spoiled with platforms, pipelines and pollution. We’re being tested, and Trump will conquer us if he can divide us.

The Arctic is warming at twice the global rate, and it’s starting to release massive amounts of carbon contained in the permafrost. Tapping the vast stores of oil under the Chukchi and Beaufort seas would accelerate global warming more than any other decision the president could make.

Coastal cities from San Francisco to New York to Miami are already struggling to prepare for rising seas that even moderate forecasts say will flood critical infrastructure. The worst sea-level scenarios would inundate coastal cities around the world and drive millions of people from their homes.

Arctic drilling would also change the temperature and chemistry of the Pacific and other oceans, affecting marine life and the communities that depend on it. Ocean warming and acidification off California’s coast will change coastal culture as we know it, throwing a wrench in the engine of the world’s sixth-largest economy.

One recent example was the toxic algae outbreak that poisoned sea lions and shellfish in California. Studies show that such outbreaks will be more common and toxic as the ocean warms and acidifies.

But Californians must go beyond just protecting our 1,100-mile coastline from the direct threat posed by offshore drilling and fracking. Indeed, a good sign is that cities across California have called for a robust, united stance opposing leasing not only in the Pacific, but also shunning expansion in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic in Trump’s new five-year offshore leasing plan.

We must all also use our voices and political power to protect the Arctic.

The feds are accepting comments until March 8, 2018; take action.

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