The Willow Project’s approval betrays our generation

A willow tree’s characteristic drooping branches and mournful curve seem to exude an aura of sadness and grief. The elegance of its masterfully crafted structure displays the inherent fragility and preciousness of nature. The tree is a symbol of how beautiful life on Earth can be when it flourishes, and how devastating it can be when it is taken away.

With regard to the second aspect of this dichotomy, the Willow Project couldn’t be more appropriately named: it embodies a pure cry of devastation and loss, born from nature’s throat, raw from generations of relentless human abuse and exploitation.

The Willow Project is a gargantuan oil drilling venture — spearheaded by Houston-based energy company ConocoPhillips — on Alaska’s North Slope, in the National Petroleum Reserve. The project encloses an area that contains close to 600 million barrels of oil, and is projected to extract enough oil to produce 260 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving 56 million gas-powered cars for one year, according to Earthjustice.

Given the stage the world is at with regard to the climate crisis, it seems only logical that a project like Willow would immediately be struck down. Haven’t scientists across the globe been ringing our planet’s alarm bell for decades? Isn’t the collective roar of fury and frustration from our generation the loudest it has ever been?

The answer is a simple yes. And yet, the ignorance, incompetency and pure selfishness of those with the capacity to make change in our world has shone through once again.

On Mar. 13, the Biden Administration approved the Willow Project. Their action is not only a betrayal of the dreams and futures of the young generation, but of the burning planet whose fate rests on our weary shoulders.

Biden’s inauguration in January 2020 served as a beacon of hope for youth climate activists, a blazing spark of tangible change and progress in the midst of a dark void of inaction and hopelessness. It seemed like the Biden Administration would be the champions of climate action, a sweeping force of change fueled by the voices and hopes of our generation. And so far, they have been — at least compared to the administration that came before them.

Biden has reestablished the U.S. as part of the global climate discussion after a four-year hiatus, been a major driver of international climate cooperation and helped pass a flurry of climate legislation in Congress, including last year’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act.

But the recent approval of the Willow Project is a brutal wake-up call to reality. It is a slap in the face for all those who believed Biden to be one of the few global leaders who truly cared about the climate crisis, about the future of their youth and the planet they will inherit.

In his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden confidently pronounced his commitment to ending new oil drilling on federal land. His administration has set an overarching goal of halving U.S. emissions by 2030.

Biden’s rubber-stamping of the Willow Project cannot be more glaringly at odds with the ambitious climate goals he set for the U.S. and the swift climate action he solemnly vowed to implement during his presidency. It is an act of pure hypocrisy, of blatant contradiction between the rhetoric he preaches and the actions he takes.

It is far too late in the climate crisis for a global super-emitter like the U.S. to be approving massive oil drilling projects. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s AR6 Synthesis Report, released in March, underscored the severity of the climate crisis, stating that based on the current trajectory of global emissions, our planet will likely warm by 1.5° Celsius by 2030 to 2035, and by 3.2° Celsius by 2100. The science cannot be more clear: emissions must be immediately cut. Biden’s own climate goals align with this truth. But his approval of the Willow Project turns a blind eye to it.

Biden’s action also spotlights the larger and damaging trend of the extreme politicization of the climate crisis in our country. His submission to the pressures of both ConocoPhillips and Republican lawmakers in the hopes of appeasing a wider range of political demographics sends a crystal-clear message to our generation: his personal gain is more important than our collective future.

In the week before the project’s approval, anti-Willow content amassed millions of views on social media. Over a million letters were written to the White House condemning the project. Biden appears not to have heard. He has failed the generation who believed him to be a climate champion. He has prioritized his own short-term economic and political gain over the long-term well-being of our planet.

This is not what our generation deserves. Our future, and the one of the planet crumbling in our hands, is withering in the flames of undelivered promises and empty words. A tsunami of change is needed to save it.

Read on Issuu.

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