I don’t remember the last time I heard the term “ANWR” – the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge – before this weekend. I think I recall some controversy over it during the Bush Administration, around the same time Jennifer Lopez divorced her second husband, and then there was the time Sarah Palin declared that the caribou would be just as happy toddling around oil rigs as they are currently. But before Barack Obama declared that America’s highest priority this week is to preseve the pristine Alaskan wildnerness from the mere prospect of economic stimulation, the issue had lain dormant for approximately my entire adult life.
But, of course, that was until the Obama Presidency became more about goading Republicans into fights that might damage them ahead of a 2016 contest, and less about preserving the American economic machine. Cynical as that observation may be, it’s important to remember that shale oil drilling in the Dakotas quickly increased after the President declared a halt to drilling on Federal lands nearby, though his commitment to preserving the natural beauty of the Badlands ended when he wanted to take credit for lower gas prices in his State of the Union speech. And state permiting ahead of the Federal declaration, even in Alaska, is expected to continue unabated (and may even increase if they think the Department of the Interior is about to wall off the oil fields as a polar bear sanctuary).
And, you can tell the President isn’t super serious about his environmental commitment because he taped the video announcement from a giant, gas-guzzling military airplane.
Air Force One, which is a specially-outiffted Boeing 747, burns approximately 5 gallons of gasoline per mile. The flight between Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport and Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, where the President is currently, is about 8,000 flying miles. On a regular United Airlines flight that stops briefly in Newark, New Jersey, that’s a flying time of around 22 hours. In one round trip, the President will, by himself, burn 80,000 gallons of Climate Change-inducing fossil fuels, conveniently close to the atmosphere, where the gaseous byproducts will chew up the ozone layer to practically nothing.
Now, obviously, Obama’s behavior is right in line with the behavior of other world-leading environmental stewards – 1,700 private jets descended on Davos, Switzerland just last week to address the global fuel consumption crisis and heal the world’s environmental wounds – but that doesn’t make the irony of announcing an environmental policy change on a massive airliner any less hilarious.
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