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Obama's climate legacy in the balance
By Catherine Ware Kilduff
ANY DAY NOW, President Barack Obama will finalize a plan that will set the national course for decades of offshore oil and gas drilling and, more immediately, the local course for flooding.
Obama’s legacy is at a critical turning point: whether to lease millions of acres for offshore oil and gas drilling. Hampton Roads’ future rides on that decision.
Obama can double-down on his old “all of the above” energy strategy — his draft nationwide plan includes new offshore oil leases in the Atlantic and the Arctic oceans where drilling has largely been off limits, and it auctions off the entire Gulf of Mexico. Or he can end all new leases, stop speculation on untapped reserves and start a conversation about keeping Virginia’s coastal areas above water.
Sticking with business as usual will fan the flames of the climate crisis, risk more oil spills, and put Norfolk and surrounding cities on an unalterable trajectory for sea level rise. Keeping the oil industry off public lands, on the other hand, will buy time for us to cement our culture, preserve our place in history and keep our economy humming. A move toward cleaner energy provides a safer climate future for all.
It’s a choice between words and deeds — one that will send a clear message to the world about how serious we are about addressing climate change, an example other countries will follow.
The pending decision on whether to expand offshore oil leasing in federal waters could define his presidency, decide the fate of endangered species from Alaska’s polar bears to North Atlantic right whales, and have a major impact on the quality of life in coastal communities around the country.
For example, the increasing number of floods and the increasing severity of those floods means more damage and cleanup costs. Rises in sea level have an exponential financial impact because floods cover more land, according to research published recently by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In other words, damage increases faster than sea level itself.
In Norfolk, in the past 37 years the relative sea level has risen more than eight inches. According to the Potsdam Institute research, a doubling of losses can be expected from a mean sea level rise increase of only about 4.3 inches. We owe it to our children to put the brakes on climate change every way we can.
Ending new offshore oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf of the United States — which contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil — would prevent the release of more than 60 billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere, altering our climate or acidifying our oceans.
It should be a no-brainer. Offshore oil drilling poses such major threats to wildlife today and the climate of tomorrow that environmental groups of all stripes have come together to demand a ban on new leases in the Arctic, Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
After making international commitments to limit global warming, Obama has recently taken important steps away from his misdirected energy policies. His decisions to suspend coal leasing on public lands and to clean up the dirtiest power plants are laudable.
But those actions alone are not enough. This is a historic moment. We’re all prepared to fight new offshore oil and gas leases with everything we have, from the streets to the courtrooms.
So the president can spend his final year in office defending a doomed strategy of expanded fossil fuel production along our beaches, bluffs and coastal communities. Or he can work with us to permanently ban new offshore drilling in federal waters and create a framework that will prevent future presidents from sacrificing the health of our oceans to the demands of Big Oil. The choice is his — and all of ours.
Catherine Ware Kilduff, a Norfolk resident, is staff attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Copyright 2016 The Virginian-Pilot.
This article originally appeared here.