Column: Obama's shortsighted approach to climate change

President Barack Obama, center, accompanied by President of the Association of Village Council Presidents Myron Naneng, left, and Kawerak, Inc. President and CEO Melanie Bahnke, right, participates in a roundtable at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, in Anchorage, Alaska. Obama opened a historic three-day trip to Alaska aimed at showing solidarity with a state often overlooked by Washington, while using its glorious but changing landscape as an urgent call to action on climate change. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Obama will travel to Alaska to discuss the harmful effects of global climate change in the hardest hit region of the United States. While his administration has been vocal in discussing the real and critical threat of climate change, his decision to allow, as the Associated Press reported, the Royal Dutch Shell company to drill off the coast of Alaska only heeds to the shortsighted critics of climate change science.

Though the scientific community has near universal recognition of climate change and humanity’s impact, the profit driven mentality of American citizens and corporations, if unchanged, will solidify America’s failure to react with the needed urgency and mindset. With climate change threatening humanity’s very existence, short-term profit cannot be considered—especially when driven by the very hydrocarbons that have put us in this position. 

As the AP reported, “[Alaska’s] government and its residents rely deeply on oil revenues to stay afloat, and falling oil prices have already created a serious budget deficit.” The opportunity to bolster the stream of oil revenue is understandably attractive to Alaskans. Just as in many of the contiguous 48 states have reacted to fracking, the tangibility of short-term revenue and income is tantalizing.

However, to solidify the future of this nation, humanity and the Earth, short-term, oil driven profits must be seen as a negative. They involve negative environmental impacts, which only serve to worsen our problem.

With Alaska’s glaciers melting, and native wildlife dying off, a switch to a sustainable, renewable energy growth model is direly needed. If the chief source of income is based upon a harmful, vicious cycle of drilling for a harmful product that will run out, long-term stability will not be achieved.

The current model of continuing to search for oil and using hydrocarbons as the chief source of Alaskan revenue, and revenue in fracking-heavy regions, is akin to a tourist town set on a shrinking lake. Each year, the lake recedes further and further. And each year, the town moves their docks inland and continues to fish and use the lake as a resource, even as it shrinks and recedes. Finally, the lake dries up, and the town is left decimated, caught by their myopic ignorance. Such is our addiction to oil. The threat of taking away that stream of revenue in place of another is scoffed at, setting up an economic disaster.

While President Obama needs to satisfy as many of his constituents as possible, and ensure that the people of Alaska are not hung out to dry, the strategy needs to change. Conceding and allowing the Royal Dutch Shell Company to drill in a previously off-limits area only delays the inevitable. Soon, there will be no oil that can be drilled without threatening the environment directly around the site.

When the accessible oil finally fails to be found, what will these people base their livelihood off then?

What should occur is a gradual phasing in of sustainable energy source production, and a phasing out of oil production and use. Offset the revenue stream of oil with plants and factories building solar panels, wind turbines, which can then be sold and help to develop a service industry based upon these technologies. If the oil and natural gas industry were to devote a fraction of their research and development budgets to solar and wind technology, developments would occur at a rapid pace.

The switch to sustainable energy and revenue streams will not be easy or occur in a rapid fashion. However, waiting to make the switch until the day when oil and natural gas are no longer an option is a foolish solution. The natural world is being destroyed by these archaic means of moving and heating humanity. While the livelihood and income of our citizens must be maintained, do so with a fading and harmful technology is idiotic. While Alaskan politicians warned that the people care more about their wallets than their scenery, that sort of ignorance will only lead to a destroyed planet.

To place the man-made commodity of money over the beauty and wonder of the natural world is to remove our humanity. The Greeks said that a civilization grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. It is time to return our society to that mindset. We must think of our children’s children and the Earth’s future.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.