Climate activists are using TikTok to try to stop US President Joe Biden from approving the Willow Project, a decision expected in the coming days, and their posts are going viral. While the project would create thousands of new jobs, it would also unleash around 287 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and is being described as a ticking “carbon bomb.”
In a press release, ConocoPhillips, the company behind the Willow Project, stated the drill would stimulate $8-17 billion in state and federal revenue, ensuring American energy security and stimulating economic growth.
Over three million people have signed a petition on change.org urging the Biden administration to stop the Willow Project in Alaska. #StopWillow has been trending on Twitter and TikTok for the last three weeks, and activists have demonstrated in front of the White House, hoping to halt the government’s plan.
What is the Willow Project?
The Willow Project is an oil and gas drill on the Alaskan North Slope, planned to produce up to 18,000 barrels of oil per day. The drilling area holds an estimated 600 million barrels of oil – more than the current US emergency supply.
ConocoPhillips, the third biggest oil producer in the US, acquired the Willow area in 1999. In 2018 the company started planning the Willow Project. After getting initial approval for the drill from the Trump administration, an Alaskan District Court Judge reversed the approval due to serious environmental assessment errors of the agencies in charge.
As of 2023, the project is back on track in an updated form, approved by the US Bureau of Land Management. They are now awaiting final approval by the Biden administration.
Erec Isaacson, the president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, said in a press release that “Willow will benefit local communities and enhance American energy security while producing oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.”
Willow is home to migrating birds from around the world, polar bears and caribous. The area is characterised by indigenous culture and groups such as the Gwich’in. Undeniably the landmass is of global ecological importance.
“Allowing Willow to move forward will pose a threat to some of Alaska’s last undisturbed wilderness, to the populations of wildlife that call it home, and to the public health of nearby communities and makes it harder to achieve our climate goals,” Mike Scott, a spokesperson of the Sierra Club said. “We must end new leasing on public lands and conserving more nature to secure our climate future.”
Only 34 years ago, the Exxon Valdez oil spill led to 11 million gallons of crude oil contaminating the water and killing marine life across the Alaskan coastline. With the Willow project expanding the gas and oil exploration in the arctic, these accidents could become more likely. What is certain is that additional oil and gas drilling will heavily disrupt wildlife and indigenous culture.
Stop the Willow Project: Protest and Petitions
While US legislators are trying to ban TikTok as it is said to be a threat to national security, young activists went viral using the platform to spread awareness about the Willow Project. A project that could become a threat to the environment.
The TikToker Elise Joshi was the first to reach thousands of TikTok users and created the #StopWillow TikTok movement. Her videos on the Willow Project now have over 300,000 views. Further, the account @cancelprojectwillow0 has generated over nine million views with a video on the potential effects of the drill. Thousands of TikTokers have shared and stitched videos under #StopWillow.
Online activism is nothing new; however, the sudden growth of the stop the Willow project campaign has surprised many climate activists. It will be exciting to see how the protest will evolve. Notably, many other climate groups and movements, such as Fridays For Future, had their beginnings on social media.
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#StopWillow has shown the impact TikTok videos can have. Petitions on change.org, actionnetwork.org and protectthearctic.org have received millions of signatures, and protesters have been rallying in front of the White House all week.
With campaigns like #StopWillow trending, monitoring future political trends on the platform will be interesting. With 60% of US TikTok users being between the ages of 16 and 24, many will be first-time voters in the 2024 presidential election. As was seen in the US Midterms in 2022, Gen Z participation can be an influential factor in election results. They are also a critical voting base for President Biden.
Biden and the Willow Project
One of President Biden’s election manifestations was the fight against climate change. With the approval of Willow pending, supporters of Biden get increasingly disappointed and doubtful of the President’s climate ambitions.
In 2019 the President said: “I guarantee you, we’re going to end fossil fuel.” At the last UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, COP27, the President promised young people around the world that he would continue to support them in the urgency of climate action. These remarks now sound like empty promises.
We must hold @POTUS to his climate promises.
He ran on climate.
He got elected on climate.
Young people and frontline communities elected him.
Biden owes us. He must #StopWillow.
— Fridays For Future U.S. (@FFFUnitedStates) March 6, 2023
With the 2024 elections overshadowing Biden’s efforts, the pending approval of Willow could have detrimental consequences on the President’s voting base, especially among the young voters.
At a press conference on March 6, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the standing of the administration’s decision regarding Willow.
“So, here’s what I can say about that.” Jean Pierre said. “The President did meet with the Alaska delegation last week at the White House. He always appreciates speaking and meeting with the full delegation and understanding what their concerns are. So, I’ll leave it there.”
On March 9, Congressman Jamaal Bowman addressed the Willow Project in the House of Representatives. He urged the President to stop the project and listen to the young people, reminding the President that it was them who brought him into office.
— Congressman Jamaal Bowman (@RepBowman) March 9, 2023
While it is likely that Biden will give his approval to the Willow Project, no final conclusions can be drawn thus far. The pressure from the public, the Alaskan delegates, the Republican leaders, and lobbyists is high, and so is the tension between them. A decision can be expected before the end of the week. Whatever the outcome, it can be expected that #Willow and #Biden will trend again.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A polar bear on thin ice: Stop the Willow Project campaign sheds light on the devastating consequences the project would have on the region’s wildlife and indigenous communities. Photo Credit: Robzor.