After Shell Defeat, People Are Asking “What’s Next?” Here’s Their Answer.

by Cassady Craighill

October 2, 2015

Shell announced it was cancelling its Arctic drilling plans this week citing reasons of cost, regulatory challenges and reputational damage. Now the question is what's next for Arctic drilling?

© Marcus Donner / Greenpeace

The news broke in the early hours of Monday morning.

Shell announced it was cancelling its Arctic drilling plans.

By lunchtime on Monday, one question was on everyone’s mind.

“So, what’s next?”

It’s an important question and a common one considering the environmental movement can often feel like it’s playing an endless game of whack-a-mole, batting away ludicrous projects from Arctic drilling to Keystone to exploding oil trains.

Before thinking about what’s next, though, it is equally important to acknowledge what has been built — a sturdy infrastructure of climate activism. This movement is made up of people with a diverse variety of backgrounds, motivations, advantages and disadvantages, but we all have one important thing in common. Every person in this growing movement has woken up to the increasing urgency of what we face if we don’t do something now about climate change.

Whether they are already feeling the impacts of a changing climate change or they listen to scientists, they are busy doing something about it. They’re calling their representatives, they’re protesting in canoes and kayaks, they’re rappelling off bridges, they’re creating renewable energy solutions in their communities.

We’re already on borrowed time, so it’s going to take that determination — that heart and soul — tomorrow and the day after since there is much still to be done.

Permanent Protection for the Arctic

One important detail missing from the headlines is that the Shell No movement was actually asking President Obama to revoke Shell’s drilling leases in the Arctic. He didn’t. There are still proposed lease sales for drilling in the Arctic and elsewhere in the United States as part of the Interior Department’s five-year plan of opening up the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration.

While the oil industry will hopefully not follow in Shell’s ill-fated footsteps, we’re certainly not going to count on that. There were several reasons involved in Shell’s cancellation of its Arctic drilling, including the overwhelming public protest. Opposition from the Obama administration was not one of those reasons. That still needs to change and will be the priority for the movement to save the Arctic in the months to come.

The fact of the matter is that if oil prices hadn’t dropped or Shell found more oil or the environmental community hadn’t said a word, the world would still have to deal with the disastrous consequences of Arctic drilling. Luckily, none of those things happened, but we need more than luck. We need a binding ban on offshore Arctic drilling.

Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground

What made Arctic drilling particularly dire was its inclusion in a list of fossil fuel projects that cannot go forward if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change. One guaranteed method of slowing climate change and avoiding that catastrophic level is for the federal government to stop fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans. Various agencies within the Department of Interior manage taxpayer-owned fossil fuel leases all over the United States — from coal in the Powder River Basin to offshore oil and gas in the Alaskan Arctic.

So what good would it do to stop leasing those extreme fossil fuels? Well, for starters, a lot of good — like 450 billion tons of unreleased carbon kind of good. According to the government’s own estimates, the burning of our publicly owned fossil fuels costs society between $16 billion and $155 billion in climate-related damages per year.

A broad coalition of environmental organizations met with the White House and the Interior Department last month asking the president to stop the leasing program, showing the scope of climate leadership needed while countries prepare for the UN climate talks in Paris. The strong initiative to keep those fossil fuels in the ground will be distributed throughout the country, fostering the continued collaboration between local groups and national organizations that we saw in the movement to stop Shell.

Electing a White House That Cares

If you pay attention to the news, you’d think the presidential election was next week and our options were Trump… and Trump. Luckily, we’ve got a little more time than that to pressure presidential candidates to make climate change a top priority. While President Obama has made historic first steps towards tackling climate change — the Clean Power Plan being one of them — it’s not enough.

Despite the epic victory of Shell halting its drilling plans, the climate movement must continue to be as visible and as loud in the months to come as it was this year. All three major Democratic presidential candidates stated opposition to Arctic drilling, and it’s up to voters to pressure all the candidates to come clean about what they plan to do about climate change. 

Greenpeace does not officially endorse any political candidate or party. However, we’re determined to show each candidate that our membership is looking for meaningful climate action and environmental justice  in their platforms and policies.

President Obama said in a recent speech during his historic visit to Alaska, “Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety — now.”

As daunting as that statement sounds, people in tiny kayaks defeated one of the biggest oil companies in the world this year. So anything can happen.

TAKE ACTION NOW to keep Arctic offshore drilling off limits for good. 

Cassady Craighill

By Cassady Craighill

Cassady is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based on the East Coast. She covers climate change and energy, particularly how both issues relate to the Trump administration.

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