(*ever so slightly)
Summer time can bring a glorious and well-earned respite from routine, and with it a disconnect from the going-ons of the rest of the world. It’s just as well considering most of what happens is more of the same, or the same but worse. There’s the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe, which escalated with yet more reports of horrific deaths and humanitarian conditions over July and August. Things deteriorated in the Saudi Arabian-led assault on Yemen as well, when the latter decided to make use of its stockpile of cluster bombs prior to their expiration date. And, like clockwork, another shooting occured on US soil – this time on live television – yet again ripping open the sutures on an atrophied gun control debate. But, perhaps, the most disturbing decline of the summer hiatus was the one which found you aligned with the likes of Sarah Palin. Not completely. Not even mostly. But just enough to question whether your sanity has been compromised by too much sun exposure.Last week, President Obama paid a visit to Alaska: a state which fully embodies polarity in its, at once, economic dependence on the oil industry and suffering from the repercussions of climate change in the Arctic. The US president has made it known that making his country a front runner in the battle against climate change is a priority for the last 18 months of his presidency. In August, he announced the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions of existing US power plants and increase investment in cleaner energy production. His Alaskan trip, scheduled just 3 months ahead of key international climate policy talks in Paris, also falls squarely into this plan of action.
Palin, the one-time Alaskan governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate, would have none of it – dismissing the president’s trip as “a tourism jaunt, really”. As the selfies, velfies and more traditional image categories were published of Obama pointing at melting glaciers, partaking in native dance, and holding up sockeyed salmon, it became clear that Palin had a point: Obama’s visit amounted to little more than a series of well-staged photo opps.Thankfully the insights from the “Let’s speak American” hockey mom stopped there, as she articulated – first in a post on IJReview and then on CNN’s State of the Union – that “[d]evelopment creates jobs…it’s the only real “stimulus package” the Feds should have engaged in. Drill, baby…eh, you know the rest.” The irony that the real criticism Obama faced during his trip to Alaska was actually for permitting drilling off its coast, all the while reciting soundbites like, “Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change,” was lost on Palin. It wasn’t on anybody else. Neither was the irony in Obama’s statement that “any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously, or treats it like a joke, is not fit to lead”.
Indeed. On Saturday, the president feebly defended his decision to allow Shell to drill in Arctic waters claiming, “[his administration] made it clear that Shell has to meet [its] high standards in how they conduct their operations.” And in saying so, Obama showed he’s missed the point entirely. Because it’s no longer about the calamity of a potential oil spill in the glacial, remote waters of the Chukchi Sea. We’re passed that. The fact of the matter is, when there is a strong scientific consensus that over 80% and 30%, respectively, of known coal and oil reserves must not be burned to keep global warming below the agreed 2ºC “manageable disaster” ceiling**, then permitting the exploration and extraction of more fossil fuels is nonsensical. And much like Palin, who sees herself as a good Secretary of Energy to a President Trump because “energy is [her] baby”, saying things that don’t make sense really undermines any valid point or plan you might have made beforehand.
** Read former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s editorial on the paper’s “Keep it in the ground” campaign, if you’re interested in finding out more about climate change and fossil fuel divestment.