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Arctic oil scandal exposes Obama for the fraud he is


US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama

Is Barack Obama bipolar? Last week, he was in Alaska, pledging new measures to preserve the pristine wilderness, its scattered people and its polar bears and other endangered species.

The President spoke directly to native Alaskans in a number of tiny towns. He declared to the people of Kivilina, population 400, who have been told they may have to flee if sea levels continue to rise, that: "If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we would do everything in our power to protect it. Well, climate change poses the same threat right now, and we must respond in the same way."

In an address to a climate change conference in Anchorage - the largest town in the state - Obama warned that rising temperatures threaten not just the polar region, but all life on the planet. The New York Times characterised his remarks as "bordering on the apocalyptic".

Just days previously, however, on Monday last week, Obama had given Royal Dutch Shell the go-ahead to resume drilling in the Arctic - and to drill deeper than ever before.

The company had been forced to halt Arctic operations in 2012 after one of its drilling rigs had become detached in ferocious weather and crashed into an unspoilt, uninhabited island, Sitkalidak.

But now, just when the polar bears may have thought it was safe, Shell is back. The international conservation organisation, the Centre for Biological Diversity, said at the weekend: "Shell Oil's drilling rigs are on their way to drill for oil in a polar bear habitat. With that habitat already shrinking rapidly due to climate change, the last thing these bears need is the added risk of a potential oil spill."

The US Geological Society has published a reminder that the polar bear population is already in crisis. Survival rates for the young have been falling for 20 years.

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The society refers to "recent observations of cannibalism and unexpected mortalities of prime age polar bears" as evidence of a species headed for catastrophe.

No other company is currently prospecting for oil in the Arctic, mainly because the long-term economics of the operation are uncertain. But the green light for Shell could spark an oil rush.

Four other countries have a right under international law to search for oil in the area - Canada, Norway, Russia and Denmark (via its jurisdiction over Greenland.) Each is entitled to explore up to 200 nautical miles off its coast.

Norway and Denmark have backed off in face of public pressure to the extent of banning any extension of drilling. But Russia has been developing a floating nuclear reactor able to power huge operations far out on the frozen sea.

Canada has a similar project in development. Obama's decision will spur both to move ahead in order to keep pace.

On the other hand, if Obama was forced by public and political pressure to reverse his decision, the others would at least be deprived of the excuse that they were merely following America's lead.

The sort of pressure which would be required isn't out of the question. Hillary Clinton has directly contradicted Obama's reasoning: "Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling."

Clinton has never expressed a political opinion without having established in advance that it met with the approval of whatever constituency of voters she was targeting at the time.

US newspapers quote White House sources explaining that: "If we block drilling in the United States, some other country will just drill to satisfy the demand. Better we do it with proper safeguards in place than someone else" - an excuse which can be used, and commonly is, to justify anything at all.

Obama has managed to sustain his image as, essentially, an idealist, confined by circumstance and surrounded by reactionaries out to thwart him, but nonetheless still, deep down, pure at heart.

But risking disastrous damage to the Arctic and putting the polar bears at even more deadly risk may be a step too far, including for some of his erstwhile most earnest supporters. Such as radical columnist Paul Street...

"I would predict that Barack Obama will have a very long life, since it would take Satan's engineers many decades to construct a dungeon in hell hot enough for him. Among the many things that station Obama beneath the lowest snails on earth is his special, arch-cynical penchant for potently pretending to be something he isn't - a progressive.

"He is the ultimate fake-progressive poseur - an unmatched epitome of the nauseating triumph of symbol over substance and words over deeds."