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Trump green lights oil and gas drilling in Alaska

Oil and gas companies will be allowed to drill in a protected nature reserve, 7.8 million hectares of wilderness across northeastern Alaska.

Donald Trump has pulled the plug on six decades of conservation efforts. On Monday 17 August he finalised the plan to open part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The 78-million-square-kilometre area is the United States’ last remaining large expanse of wilderness, and the only region in the Arctic Circle home to many animal species such as migratory birds, polar bears, foxes and caribou. But none of this matters to the current administration.

Alaska oil pipeline © Malcolm Manners/Flickr

Oil companies have always had their eye on Alaska

Trump’s decision is the last act in a long story that began during the Reagan administration. At the time, Republican politicians had already focused their attention on this part of Alaska, which is significant because of its important wildlife but also rich in fossil fuels. Disputes in Congress between those who wanted to open the area up to oil companies and those who wanted to protect this extremely delicate ecosystem had, until recently, always swung in favour of the latter. But in 2017, the Grand Old Party took advantage of its majority in both the House and Senate to approve a bill authorising the auctioning of land lease agreements to be allocated by the end of the year.

A threat to indigenous people

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough in terms of its environmental impact, the issue also affects the indigenous peoples who have inhabited this territory since antiquity. People who have spiritual and cultural ties to the land and its animals, ties upon which their history and traditions depend. Alongside environmental groups, the heirs of these traditions have set out to oppose Trump’s decision, claiming that the environmental risk assessment carried out by the administration has produced is faulty and that it doesn’t withstand the test of scientific scrutiny.

In fact, in it the Bureau of Land Management defines the current warming climate as a normal phenomenon linked to cyclical temperature shifts, therefore sacrificing the vast body of scientific evidence proving that climate change has anthropogenic causes at the altar of its own opportunism.

Fossil fuels are a deadly threat to the environment © Christian Lue/Unsplash

Investing in fossil fuels is a lost cause

The problem is also closely linked with the question of continued investment in fossil fuels. The Trump administration has always denied anthropogenic climate change, which is affecting the Arctic at a much faster rate than the rest of the world, with species such as caribou, for example, already starting to change their migration patterns. Not to mention the risk highlighted by many scientific studies that altering or destroying natural ecosystems will lead to the spread of new viruses and bacteria, a pattern seen with the emergence and spread of Ebola, HIV and the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Instead, Trump wants to rebuild the economy by adopting solutions that might have worked thirty years ago, in the Reagan era, when the harmful effects of an oil-based economy weren’t as obvious as they are today.

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