From Incompetent to Incomprehensible

Tomorrow is an Arctic Day of Action to tell President Obama that allowing Royal Dutch Shell (or anyone) to drill in the Arctic is, as Al Gore put it bluntly yesterday, "insane."  

In response, paddlers from Alaska to Florida are holding floating protests -- inspired by the hundreds of "kayaktavists" of Seattle who attempted to block Shell's drilling rigs. If there's no event on the water near you, you can still participate by printing your own ShellNO sign, hopping onto anything that (safely) floats, and uploading a pic with the #ShellNO hashtag. Or, if you prefer to keep your feet dry, you can send or tweet a message to the president using AddUP.  

Why is it so important that we act right now? Because time's running out to prevent a three-way collision between the incompetent, the incomparable, and the incomprehensible.

Let's start with incompetence. Shell's track record in the Arctic would be laughable if the potential consequences weren't so severe. The company's previous misadventures have been well-documented, and the screwups just keep coming. Just last week, Shell's icebreaker returned to Portland, Oregon, for repairs after sustaining a 39-inch gash in its hull while en route to the drilling site. The more Shell insists the risks of its drilling operations are "negligible," the more deluded it sounds.

The incomparable, of course, is the Arctic. President Obama supposedly will make his first-ever "real" visit to Alaska next month (refueling stops for Air Force One don't count), but I don't know how much of the incredible Arctic wilderness he'll get to see. You could spend a lifetime and barely scratch the surface. I returned to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this summer for a trip on the Kongakut River from the Brooks Range to the Beaufort Sea and was blown away all over again. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has described the Refuge as "the only conservation system unit that protects, in an undisturbed condition, a complete spectrum of the arctic ecosystems in North America." To his credit, President Obama has been vocal about not drilling in the Refuge and has taken steps to strengthen protection for most of it -- which brings us to the incomprehensible.

Why would the president defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge yet risk drilling in the waters of the Arctic Ocean, which is an essential part of that same arctic ecosystem, for both wildlife and for native Alaskans? Why would he do this even when he knows that there is a 75 percent chance of a major spill if Shell is allowed to proceed? Is it really worth courting a disaster of that magnitude for the sake of oil and gas that we not only don't need, but can't afford to burn if we want to avoid destroying our climate? Shell actually has an official position on climate change. It boils down to we must reduce emissions from fossil fuels while also burning as many fossil fuels as possible. Like I said -- incomprehensible.

The good news is that we -- and President Obama -- still have a chance to put a stop to this madness. Let's all do our part tomorrow, by land, sea, or social media, to say ShellNO!