President Obama had many opportunities to stop Shell’s advance to drill for oil and gas in our Arctic Ocean, and he made the wrong choice every single time. His decision to approve every permit Shell needed to turn the Chukchi Sea into an energy sacrifice zone was a critical test of his climate legacy, and he failed.  

According to the latest climate science, drilling for Arctic oil and gas cannot be an option if we are to keep dangerous global warming in check. The extraction and burning of Arctic oil and gas could release an estimated 15.8 billion tons of carbon emissions. Under any safe climate scenario, Arctic oil and gas are completely off the table. Giving Shell access to these resources takes us in the exact opposite direction we need to head in order to safeguard our climate future.

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Obama’s Alaska visit this week draws attention to how climate change is impacting the Arctic. Promoting fossil fuel development in the same region he’s using as an example of climate chaos is nothing less than hypocritical, especially when he has the authority to keep those fossil fuels in the ground.  

By stopping new fossil fuel development, Obama could keep 450 billion tons of carbon emissions from polluting the atmosphere, according to a first-of-its-kind report, The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels, written by Ecoshift Consulting on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth. The report underlies the case for the need to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by stopping the dangerous practice of leasing our public fossil fuels to private companies for profit.  

The pursuit of oil and gas in the Arctic will only lead to climate catastrophe. President Obama can prevent this from happening if he stands up to say “SHell No!” to future Arctic oil and gas drilling. By doing so, he can leave billions of gallons of oil in the ground and send an important message to Big Oil: the oil and gas deposits contained under the American Arctic Ocean belong to the American people and will be managed in their best interest, not the interest of growing Big Oil’s profits. Starting with the Arctic, Obama should stop extraction of all of our publicly owned fossil fuels. Obama can no longer hide behind his climate legacy rhetoric -- while giving Shell access to Arctic oil and gas -- without being called a climate hypocrite.

Knodel is a climate change campaigner and a member of the Climate and Energy team at Friends of the Earth.