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  • Korina Leyl

The Willow Project: The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back?

Imagine a world in which polar bear families and packs of wolves live happily in the arctic. The snow is white and the ocean is a beautiful crystal blue. The water is so rich with nutrients and marine life that a simple splash of it causes an eruption of fish catapulting themselves upward and out of the water in a flurry of glory. Wildlife thrives, untouched by humans. Suddenly, the sky turns gray. The sun disappears. The fish stop jumping out of the water.. The polar bears grow weak and scared. The once-thriving ecosystem has become a desert of destruction. The oil infested water is a black puddle of death with floating fish. The polar bear family begins to lose faith in the restoration of its once wondrous habitat. The wolf pack diminishesThey ceased to exist in the world, and nobody seemed to care. The polar bears watch in agony as the once crystal blue water is tainted by the disastrous effects of oil. The ocean and oil start to rise slowly but surely as the polar bear's home begins to melt. Soon the polar bear’s family would begin to die. The mother takes her last breath as her baby tugs on her ear frantically. The oil starts to cover the baby polar bear’s paws. Its white fur was stained black. Defeatedly, it lies down as the oil inevitably rises above his head. All that remains of its beloved home is a black blob of nothingness. The Willow Project brings us one step closer to this dystopian society, in which many of our favorite childhood animals no longer exist because of our inaction against unjust projects and policies.

The Biden Administration recently approved ConocoPhillips' Willow Project. The project entails a massive oil drilling venture on Alaska’s North Slope. The venture will be built upon the National Petroleum Reserve, a land owned by the federal government. The project was initially approved by the Trump Administration in 2020, and since then Conocco had obtained the necessary leases to use the area. According to a CNN source, the Biden Administration felt as though their hands were tied when it came to rejecting their proposal. Since Conocco had valid leases to continue their project, the Biden Administration would face legal repercussions if they were to halt or reduce the scope of the project. The administration conceded that the continuation of the project would release roughly 9.2 million metric tons of carbon annually.

Since the Biden Administration failed to halt the project, the duty falls to students, environmental activists, and scientists. Although the project is projected to begin in 2027, its approval was met with a massive uproar by environmental activists who fear that the project will have lasting effects on the environment. Millions of letters articulating concern and distaste for the project were sent to the White House. Moreover, a petition has circulated approximately 5 million signatures, with the number of signatures increasing every day.

The Willow Project will not only leave a drastic impact on wilderness species native to Alaska, but it will also reach species all over the world. The Willow Project will only exacerbate the disproportional effects of climate change on marginalized communities and species.. Conservationists have expressed concern that the operation could drive endangered and vulnerable species extinct. The animals most vulnerable to the project’s environmental consequences include whales, seas, otters, birds, fish, caribou, and polar bears. For many of these species, climate change and global warming have already threatened their daily lives. The ice that makes up the polar bears’ habitat is diminishing. Increasing vessel traffic and noise patterns will significantly increase the risk of injury or death from vessel collisions. Moreover, it may upset migration patterns for birds, caribou, and other forms of marine life.

The Arctic is especially vulnerable to the whims of climate change. The Willow Project’s location and scope will only drive arctic animals closer to the brink of extinction. NASA records indicate that in 2017, the Arctic region experienced the lowest level of sea ice coverage. The melting ice caps are forcing polar bears to travel further inland for their survival, away from their ideal habitat. It is also paving the way for increased traffic, which brings more pollution, displacement of wildlife, and fatal collisions with marine life.

For many college students, this is very unsettling.. We live in a culture of selfishness that prioritizes profit and industrialization over health, safety, and happiness. Time and time again, our cultural values have failed marginalized communities and vulnerable species. What can a college student do to protect endangered species and marginalized communities from climate change? The answer is simple. Keep engaging in environmental activism. If you are able to, attend marches, rallies, and volunteer events for the climate movement. Individually, our actions may not seem meaningful, butas a collective, there is nothing more powerful. Together, we can reshape society’s cultural values to form a more inclusive society that is capable of sustaining the lives of all species.


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