Protestors Bring Fanfare and Rhetoric but No Substance to Nation’s Capital

May 17, 2016 in Blog

Break Free Protest

(Photo credit: Arctic Energy Center)

This past Sunday, protesters gathered outside the White House in Washington, D.C. to voice their opposition to fossil fuels generally and to offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico in particular. Although organizing parties proclaimed that the event featured “more than 1,000” participants, Arctic Energy Center saw no more than a couple hundred protestors – just one example of the misinformation peddled by activists at the protest.

In the midst of the noise, fanfare, and rhetoric, one thing was clearly missing: a sober, fact-based discussion of the real impact of Arctic energy development by people well versed on the topic at hand. Immaterial rhetoric prevailed instead. For example, President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, compared the protest to the Civil Rights Movement:

“We have a dream that we will stop using coal, stop using gas, stop drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Free at last, free at last, God Almighty, free from fossil fuels at last.”

Another speaker, Louisiana-based activist filmmaker Monique Verdin, argued against offshore drilling using only a personal account of her native city of New Orleans and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as evidence.

Break Free Protest 2

(Photo credit: Arctic Energy Center)

Had the protestors been more credible, the event might have extended beyond hype and noise to include some substantive discussion. As it was, however, the protestors neglected the voices of the Native communities that are most impacted by oil and gas development in the Arctic – and that support the industry as a vital component of their economy.

In response to the protest, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s Rex Rock, Sr. stated on behalf of over 13,000 Iñupiat shareholders:

“Today’s protest ignores the views of the majority of local Arctic residents who support culturally and responsible resource development. As the stewards of our environment, we not only have thousands of years of experience of living in the Arctic, but also have the most at stake in ensuring its future protection.”

Sunday’s protest featured plenty of hyperbole and colorful signs and banners, but it offered no insight into the role that Arctic oil and gas development plays in supporting local communities and their way of life. But then again, thoughtful commentary about our nation’s energy future and a serious discussion about the needs and concerns of Alaska Natives would have been too much to expect from activists clearly interested only in drumming up attention.