A year and a half ago, we had one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of all our travels while visiting the nursery lagoons of gray whales in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Coming eye to eye and skin to skin with these magnificent creatures changed us forever, and we often think of the newborn whales we met as they travel from Mexico to Alaska and back every year. Their journey is not an easy one, filled with many natural (orcas) and human-made (ships, pollution) obstacles, and the ever-increasing challenges and dangers they face are tied to the same ones the Younger Fives will have to navigate in their own futures.
A week and a half ago, we were reminded of this interconnectedness as we watched the efforts of activists in Portland, Oregon to delay a ship carrying a key piece of equipment Shell Oil needs to start drilling in the Arctic. The area Shell is looking to explore for oil is the Chukchi Sea, the other end of the gray whales’ epic migration from Mexico. These waters, like any waters off the coast of the United States, are managed in the public trust by the government, so only the government can weigh whether the risks of drilling are balanced by the benefits to the public. Unfortunately, the fact that the Obama administration granted Shell conditional final permits to drill is just another example of politicians neglecting their moral duty to protect the interests of all Americans and to empower people to reach their full potential.
The government is especially charged with safeguarding the future of America’s youth, providing essential services like public education, local libraries, health care for those who go without, etc. The government does not have a moral mission to subsidize oil companies and ensure the price of gasoline is artificially cheap. We as a family certainly do our fair share of traveling and like just about everyone else hate to pay more for gas, but we rarely stop to consider that we are already paying extra through our taxes, hundreds of billions of dollars worth which go to subsidizing oil exploration to ensure private profit, paying for Navy and Coast Guard protection for oil tankers, protecting operations of American oil companies abroad in places like in Iraq, etc. Not to mention the other costs we never see at the pump, like the costs of adapting to a warming planet and of cleaning up the inevitable spills.
Given the widespread damage caused by oil spills in relatively calm waters near major ports that can provide logistical support, like the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it is hard to imagine drilling in a rough and remote place like the Chukchi Sea (which also has the added danger of sea ice) will have different effects. And the bottom line, according to the overwhelming weight of scientific study, is that the oil reserves in the ground right now need to stay there to avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Therefore, every day our government and we as a people delay the critical conversations about how to move beyond fossils fuels is a day stolen from our children. Every taxpayer dollar the government puts in the hands of private interests, focused only on profit, at the expense of its moral responsibility to provide for the public good is a dollar squandered at the expense of our children. And it’s not just the youth of America being robbed day after day, it is the young of every species on the planet.
Since the oceans, rivers, lakes, public lands, and skies are held in the public trust and belong to the people, the Younger Fives have just as much right to decide what happens to them as Shell does. So they decided to write letters to President Obama urging him not to completely finalize the permits for Shell to drill in the Arctic. Will the Obama administration listen to the concerns of three children? Probably not. What is certain, though, is that our youth should not be the only ones advocating to avoid the live-threatening consequences of decisions made by their parents and the parents that came before them.
Five Ball’s Letter:
Dear President Barack Obama,
My name is ********. I am six years old.
I am writing because I am really really upset Shell is drilling in the Arctic for two reasons. If theirs a oil spill it would kill thousands and thousands of animals, and Shell has already killed many animals in the North Sea spill in 2011. Also, that it’s increasing Global Warming.
I made a picture of polar bears, otters, and birds throwing snow balls at Shell.
Five of Heart’s Letter
Dear President Barack Obama,
I am *********, and I am eight years old.
Polar bears happen to be my favorite animal. I even have a stuffed polar bear. When I heard about how you gave Shell the permits to drill in the Artic I was really upset because that is where polar bears live!
My mom and dad even went to Democracy Now and read to me about how GreenPeace tried to block Shell’s ship and how Shell is trying to drill in the Arctic. There was even a video showing what GreenPeace did. They also showed me pictures of the places around where Shell is trying to drill. They looked so pretty! Then after that I made a water color picture of what I imagine the area where Shell is trying to drill looks like (which I have included with this letter).
Anyways though I am afraid that if you let Shell drill in the Artic that there will be a big oil spill and if I ever come to visit everything will have oil on it. I know that you can be the good guy here, so I urge you President Obama to not give the final permit to drill in the Artic. If you don’t give Shell those final permits you will be my hero!
Thank you for your time.
“Five of Hearts”
High Five’s Letter:
Dear President Barack Obama,
Hi. My name is ******. I am 4.
Please stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. I am scared about an oil spill.
Thank you ,