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Willow Project approval provokes climate change uncertainty

Photo used with permission Unsplash
The Biden administration approved the Willow Project March 13. The Willow Project entails an oil drilling plan to use the natural resources in Alaska, which will release significant carbon dioxide emissions.

The Biden administration approved the Willow Project March 13, according to The New York Times. The project, an oil drilling plan to access the petroleum found in Alaska’s North Slope, according to CNN. Although it will create jobs and increase domestic energy production, the project could produce over nine million metric tons of carbon every year and harm wildlife in the Arctic.

Sustainability Council Advisor Mariam Mathew said she is very worried about the potential impacts of the Willow Project given that the Arctic is warming at an extremely fast rate.

“We already know we’re in trouble,” Mathew said. “We’re going at the present rate, and we’re already in trouble. How can we accelerate that process and think we’re going to be okay? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Meanwhile, Nicolas Abadie Capel (’26) said he recognizes how the implementation of the project will have favorable economic effects at the same time as negative environmental impacts. 

“We have the side of finance and economics but we also have to look at the environmental consequences,” Abadie Capel said. “The consequences that this will have on our environment, such as contributing to global warming, entail why this is such a controversial topic.”

In addition, Abadie Capel said the project will be a new major oil mining area, which is needed since Russia has previously been a large oil mining resource that is now limited according to The Guardian. He said although the project will provide oil and jobs, it will also harm the environment and habitats in Alaska’s North Slope. 

“Since Russia used to be one of the major countries that provided and exported oil, the U.S. being one of the NATO countries and producing large amount of oil will have a beneficial effect,” Abadie Capel said. “It really came down to what’s more important, the U.S. economy or the nature.”

That will have irreversible effects on the climate and wildlife.

— Nathaniel Seminara ('24)

Sustainability Council member Nathaniel Seminara (’24) said despite the project’s benefits, he does not support the plan due to the permanent effects it will have on the environment. 

“That will have irreversible effects on the climate and wildlife,” Seminara said. “It isn’t really worth it, in my opinion, because of its effect on the natural habitats.”

Seminara also said the side effects of the project are too consequential and detrimental and will lock in another 30 years of oil usage in the U.S., which he said should be going toward renewable sources instead.

Furthermore, Saba Hejazi-Tehrani (’25) said future generations will be strongly harmed by the carbon footprint we leave behind, which will “only grow” as the Willow Project moves ahead. 

Moreover, Seminara said he felt helpless when he heard the government had made the decision to approve the project since he thinks more input from the public should have been solicited.

“[The U.S.] is supposed to be a democracy, but really all we can do is sit and watch as the people in power make these decisions for us,” Seminara said.

Mathew said the Biden administration has made commitments to the environment in the past which were somewhat invalidated with the approval of the project. 

“It’s concerning because first the Biden administration had said they wouldn’t be engaging in further drilling and working to reduce this gas and oil usage,” Mathew said. “It really has a lot of impact for future generations so it’s not something to take lightly.”

Seminara said a benefit of the project would be decreasing foreign oil reliance, since gas prices increased during COVID-19. However, he said the approval of the oil mining project shocked him due to the U.S. government’s previous commitments toward climate goals.

“It’s just absolutely deplorable, really no words, the fact that Biden would do such a thing given that he has previously committed to climate action,” Seminara said. “It’s just really sad to see what’s going to happen.”

Mathew said her response to the approval of the Willow Project came with disappointment, although she understands Biden’s position in wanting to gain votes, grow economically and increase jobs. Despite the political advantage, she said it also disproves previous promises he had made towards improving the environmental crisis.

“Economics always seem to win out over environmental concerns – the short term over the future,” Mathew said. “These are big questions as a leader, I can imagine, but [Biden] is going against what he said, and it is something that I think is really devastating for future generations.”

Young polar bears stick together over melting ice in northern Alaska. Melting ice can be a detrimental result of climate change towards animals’ habitats. (Photo used with permission from Unsplash)

The Sustainability Council released a statement regarding the Willow Project March 7 through the Morning Announcements. In the statement, they recommended a petition to sign against the Willow Project. On Change.Org, there were multiple popular petitions against the approval of The Willow Project prior to its approval. “Stop the willow project” and “Stop the willow project” were two of many. 

Overall, Hejazi-Tehrani said approving the Willow Project “put all of our hard work down the drain.” She said she believes that there are other solutions that would be less damaging to our environment and future generations. 

“Global warming is already really bad, and this is going to make it irreversible,” Hejazi-Tehrani said. “We could find other ways to create oil and jobs that aren’t as harming.” 

Similarly, Abadie Capel said there has been progress such as recent transitions of hydrogen planes and the development of electric vehicles. However, he said the Willow Project will erase our steps forward and detrimentally harm our environment. 

Seminara said he still hopes changes could be made to the approval of the Willow Project given there is “a strong force of people who really don’t want to see this go through.”

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About the Contributor
Leila Meilman, Media Team
Leila Meilman is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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