Is Obama Actually A Good President For The Environment?

Photo: Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT/Getty Images.
Yesterday, President Obama visited the Exit Glacier in Alaska in the middle of his three-day trip north. Marking the ground are signposts with dates, to show how quickly the glacier is disappearing; the sign that says "1951" is now full a quarter mile from where the glacier starts, and the one from 2010 is hundreds of feet away. "This is as good of a signpost of what we're dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything," Obama said. It was a striking visual metaphor of its rapidly advancing pace of rising temperatures — the Exit Glacier has retreated more than 800 feet since 2008, and the nearby Bear Glacier has lost more than two miles in only 15 years. It's heartening to have a president who's talking the talk when it comes to climate change. And he's definitely doing that: On Monday, he spoke at an international conference, where he admitted that neither the U.S. nor other countries with major stakes in climate issues were working fast enough to stop catastrophe on a global scale. But, great speeches aside, it's not as clear that the President is doing enough. In fact, many environmental groups are up in arms, saying that the policies of our green-speech-giving POTUS are actually making things worse.

Environmental groups are up in arms, saying that the policies of our green-speech-giving POTUS are actually making things worse.

Last month, the White House approved plans to expand oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, despite the fact that the environmental risks of drilling are extremely high in that region, and despite Obama’s calls for a shift in how Americans use energy. In a blog post on Monday, Greenpeace staffer Ryan Schleeter said, "The fact that President Obama thinks he can forge a climate legacy while allowing Arctic drilling shows that he isn't in tune with the demands of people around the United States and the world to keep Arctic oil in the ground. "Whether simply ironic or downright hypocritical," the post continued, "what's clear is that President Obama's rhetoric on climate change is not matching up to his actions." Greenpeace activists, joined by a massive polar bear statue and several British celebrities, have been protesting outside the company’s London headquarters against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, said in an op-ed on Tuesday that Obama’s support of drilling in the Arctic “undercuts his legacy.”

President Obama's rhetoric on climate change is not matching up to his actions.

“To avoid worsening our climate catastrophe, we must leave large reserves of fossil fuels where they are and where they belong — in the ground. Going to further extremes to exploit fossil fuels is the surest sign of our unrelenting addiction,” Leonard wrote in USA Today. “If we can’t say no to drilling in the harsh and unpredictable Arctic Ocean, where in the world will we say, enough is enough?" Administration officials and the president himself have defended the plan, saying that it wouldn’t be realistic to stop drilling completely, and that there will be more oversight of Shell than there have been of past plans. When it’s already possible to see the drastic effects of what humans have already done to the planet, it’s important to ask why we’re not doing more to stop using — and looking for — more fossil fuels. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so climate change and its devastating effects are immediate concerns. Just as there are island nations being consumed by the ocean, villages in the Arctic are sinking into the ground as permafrost melts and makes land unstable. This is a part of the world where most people live in crushing poverty, which means that without help, the Native Alaskans in these villages will be left with nothing. According to the Associated Press, about a dozen villages have made the decision to relocate away from the encroaching water, which will have profound impacts on cultural traditions that have existed for centuries. The White House has pledged more than $15 million for upgrading infrastructure in villages, and to help relocate residents if it becomes necessary.

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