How Big of a Climate Betrayal Is the Willow Oil Project?

March 16, 2023

On Monday, when President Biden approved ConocoPhillips’s $8 billion plan to extract 600 million barrels of oil from federal lands in Alaska, the announcement landed simultaneously with the thud of betrayal and the air of inevitability. On the campaign trail, Biden had promised “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.” But for all the talk about the renewables boom and the green transition, and all the money pouring into them as well, there has been little concerted effort, in the United States at least, to really draw down our profligate use of the stuff that is actually poisoning the climate: fossil fuels.

The green transition is indeed rapidly underway — more rapidly than many advocates believed possible just a few years ago. But on its own, even infinite clean energy doesn’t change anything about emissions trajectories or global warming. For that, it has to replace the dirty kind. And as Mark Paul and Lina Moe write in a new report for the Climate and Community Project, renewable subsidies can get you only so far, no matter how generous they are; at some point, if you are serious about any of our stated climate goals, you have to move on to a program of drawdown. In their report, Paul and Moe call this a “supply side” approach to decarbonization. You may recognize the principle from the old activist slogan “Keep it in the ground.”

New York Times, 3/16/23

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