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#StopWillow and the momentum behind Gen Z’s environmental action

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APRIL 06, 2023

The mission of the Bureau of Land Management is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the future use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” But how can this be the mission statement of a government that would sacrifice the Arctic ecosystem and the demands of young people for Big Oil profits? 

On March 13, the Biden administration approved the Willow Project on federal land in Alaska. Despite millions of signatures and letters sent to the White House and over half a billion views urging to #StopWillow, the Biden administration has failed our generation. In the fight between people versus profits and polluters, the Biden administration bowed to polluters and sided against people and the planet. 

The Willow Project, a ConocoPhillips drilling project, is a carbon bomb. The project will release 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses, produce 3 billion barrels of oil and decimate the Alaskan Arctic. The Biden administration announced protection for federal Arctic waters from new leasing, but this pales in comparison to the destruction the Willow Project will create. Any environmental progress occurring in the arctic region would be wiped out by Willow’s implementation. 

Led by UC Berkeley student Elise Joshi and other climate social media creators, in just a few weeks, young people got more views on #StopWillow than there are people in the United States. 

We echoed the voices of the local Nuisqut people demanding #StopWillow for the devastating impacts it will have on ecosystems, Indigenous cultures and the planet. We demanded #StopWillow because developing any new fossil fuel projects speeds up the warming of our planet. We came together as young people to #StopWillow because we will bear the burden of climate change and we deserve a livable future.  

Regardless of the relentless opposition, the Biden administration ignored all our pleas, videos, letters and petitions, and is moving forward with the Willow Project. This project will not “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands” for future generations. 

This project was approved days after Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the Aspen Ideas: Climate Conference on addressing young people’s climate anxiety, which directly contradicts the administration’s approval of the Willow Project. As stated by Jamie Margolin, founder of Zero Hour, “@POTUS has chosen to betray every single young person who put him in office under the condition he would fight the existential threat of the climate crisis.”

Imagine if our leaders listened to the needs of people demanding justice, demanding the right to clean air, demanding a liveable planet. It is abhorrent that corporations and their political allies have control over our future when we are the ones dealing with those consequences. How can we hold our leaders accountable when they won’t even live to see the impending impacts of climate change? 

Imagine if our leaders listened to the planet, with disappearing ice sheets, endangered ecosystems, polluted oceans and aggressive natural disasters. The planet is sending us a clear message: We need to stop. Stop the Willow Project, stop extraction, and stop corporations only motivated by profits to the detriment of the planet. 

Finding hope amid a time where the government and polluters are so closely aligned is difficult, but it is possible and has been done before. With #StopWillow, youth have connected hundreds of millions of people over the world through online action. Now we must continue the momentum of #StopWillow and organize in our communities. If the federal government will not side with us, we need to find strength and community with each other. 

As young people, we must advocate for tangible action within our communities. As young people, we must hold our elected officials accountable to uphold their commitments to climate action and put people over profits and polluters. As young people, we must center around the leadership of Indigenous people of color who deeply understand the Earth. 

Although it has been approved, the project has not started yet, which gives us precious time to organize and fight back. Call the White House to demand the Biden administration rescind the approval for the Willow Project. Contact your members of Congress to urge them to pause the Willow Project. Follow Gen-Z activists like Elise Joshi leading the movement of young people. Tell everyone you know that the Biden administration will sacrifice precious Arctic lands and communities for corporate profits, and don’t stop speaking. 

As painful as this decision is, our fight is not over. The #StopWillow movement has ignited a generation to come together to fight for a livable planet in the face of direct threats from politicians and corporations. 

On March 15, climate organizations and Indigenous groups filed lawsuits against the Willow Project, demonstrating that our momentum is working. Members of Congress have called out Biden for this abhorrent decision on behalf of their constituents. We will organize, we will protest, we will vote and we will fight for a livable, equitable future.

Alexandra Masci is a second-year student at UC Berkeley, an activist against Big Oil in California, and the founder of the social media platform @actionwithalex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 23, 2023