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'Giving up is not an option': Opponents outraged over approval of controversial $8 billion 'Willow' oil-drilling project

The project is projected to have the same environmental impact of adding an additional two million cars to roads every single year.

Willow project

President Joe Biden gave dirty energy giant ConocoPhillips the green light to begin an oil and gas drilling effort in Alaska, dubbed the Willow project, on Monday, in a move that sparked immediate backlash.

What is the Willow project?

The controversial Willow project is projected to be the biggest ever oil and gas drilling project on American public lands.

The $8 billion drilling operation, set to take place in the western portion of Alaska's fragile Arctic region, was approved by President Trump's administration in 2020 before a federal judge halted it, expressing concerns that the project's environmental impact review didn't fully consider the effects it would have on our climate and wildlife. 

But Willow moved forward this year, largely driven by a desire for profits. According to Reuters, ConocoPhillips estimates that, in addition to creating thousands of jobs, the Willow project could generate nearly $17 billion for federal and state governments and local Alaska communities. 

At the same time, President Biden's approval of the project may be part of a larger effort to keep consumer energy prices low, despite his campaign promise: "no more drilling on federal lands, period."

The sheer magnitude of the Willow project has catapulted it into the national spotlight, causing anti-Willow activism on TikTok and other social media sites to surge. 

On TikTok alone, trending hashtags that demonstrate opposition to the project, such as #StopWillow, have received almost 50 million views. And on Change.org, anti-Willow petitions have received millions of signatures.

Why the pushback?

In a time when our Earth is rapidly overheating, several Indigenous communities, climate advocates, and activists are pointing to the dangerous environmental implications of further expanding oil drilling in the Arctic. 

Evergreen Action, a nonprofit devoted to working with the government to protect our environment, slammed Biden's decision on the 30-year plan, which would lock a dangerous amount of planet-overheating pollution in our atmosphere.

"Over the next 30 years, the Willow project could pump between 278 and 287 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution into our atmosphere," the organization explained on its website. "That's equivalent to the annual emissions of 74-76 new coal-fired power plants."

The Willow project is projected to have the same environmental impact as adding an additional two million cars to roads every single year.

Abigail Dillen, the President of Earthjustice, a leading public interest nonprofit, also decried the Biden administration's decision, writing in a public statement:

"We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing."

And while the pushback did not successfully stop the Willow project, Alaina Wood — a sustainability scientist and climate communicator based in the Appalachian Mountains known on TikTok as The Garbage Queen (@thegarbagequeen) — succinctly explained in a now-viral video how those disheartened can view the situation.

@thegarbagequeen #stitch with @.definitelynotray This is really scary stuff we're dealing with, so it's okay to feel what you're feeling. Just don't let it lead to inaction — or to give up on your future. Together we will address it — no matter what happens with Willow. Don't feel like you have to carry the weight of all of it in your shoulders though. This is a team effort, and our team is growing in numbers and power every single day. Don't give up the fight, but don't be afraid to take steps to protect your mental health. #StopWillow #StopTheWillowProject #WillowProject #ClimateAnxiety #ClimateChange #ClimateGrief ♬ original sound - Alaina | Good Climate News

"It's not going to be too late [to address the climate crisis] if Willow gets approved … Giving up is not an option," she said.

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