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If You Want to Breathe Clean Air, Senate Reform and Democracy Matter

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

 

Watch the Netroots Panel “The Three Keys to Reclaiming Democracy” in this video

This week, the Senate will decide whether they will end Congressional gridlock with a simple majority, or if they will continue to allow obstructionist lawmakers to paralyze the government with partisan gimmicks. For our health, our communities, and for our planet that supports life in all its diversity, the Senate must adopt Harry Reid’s proposal to reform nominations rules now, and enact more sweeping reforms of the Senate rules in the immediate future.

Reid’s proposal to allow the Senate to end discussion of proposed nominations with a simple majority vote is the only sane way forward when Senate Republicans are bent on delaying and obstructing Presidential nominations like Gina McCarthy’s to the Environmental Protection Agency. The extremist faction isn’t filibustering because they think that there may be someone better to head the EPA than McCarthy (or Sharon Block for the National Labor Relations Board, or any of the other Republican-blocked nominations); they’re doing it because this is the only way they can keep the EPA from carrying out its congressionally mandated functions.

The problems of the gridlocked, broken Senate are nothing new to environmentalists. In her analysis of the failure of the 2009 climate bill, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol said, “The failure of the 2009-10 policy push for cap and trade legislation was, in one respect, quite unsurprising – attributable (in political science 101 terms) to Senate rules setting an insurmountable 60-vote bar.”

The Corporate Right knows this.

Grinding the federal government to a halt by abusing the filibuster is just one of the strategies that a handful of fossil fuel companies are using to undermine our democracy to keep their near-monopoly status in politics. While saving our democracy may seem a far cry from “Save the Whales,” moving closer to the dream of American democracy may be the only way to pass meaningful protections for our communities and our planet in the United States Congress. The environmental movement must engage in this fight.

The stakes are high. While a few Senators are working to ensure that President Obama’s election has no consequences by blocking him from staffing the administration, the Supreme Court has already pushed forward the Corporate Right’s two additional strategies to dismantle democracy of, by and for the people: suppressing the vote and unleashing limitless, secret money into elections.

This means that the voting blocs who most support the environment — youth and people of color — are being pushed out of the electorate, and powerful moneyed interests who fight environmental safeguards grow more powerful through keeping people out and pumping their money into politics.

The results of this bigotry and big money strategy show up in places like Art Pope’s North Carolina, where the legislature has gutted campaign finance laws for judicial elections and pushed bills to suppress voters, including a measure to remove a tax credit for parents whose college-student children vote at school instead of at their permanent address.

So what can we do about all of this? For one, we can start seeing ourselves as we are seen by the forces that are hell bent on fighting the promise of American democracy – as one movement with a shared vision of inclusion, of every voice counting, and of a government working for all of the American people.

United by this vision, a new force – The Democracy Initiative – was born, committed to getting big money out of politics, voters in (universal voter registration and an end to voter suppression), and reforming the Senate rules to get the government working again. Groups such as Greenpeace, the Communication Workers of America, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Public Campaign, Common Cause, People for the American Way, National People’s Action and dozens of others representing tens of millions of people are determined to win back what we’ve lost in the past four decades.

Big Money groups are still fighting as hard as ever across the country to disempower the majority who believe in the rights of communities to be safe and self-determined. The Democracy Initiative was formed to make sure that every voice is heard, and the people, not big money, control the future of this country. You can join this fight today by calling your senators and telling them that you support Senate rules reform now to end gridlock in Washington.

President Unveils “Obama Climate Pollution Test” for Future Energy Projects

4:55 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Today, in his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama challenged us to answer the essential question for every future energy policy decision we face – what will the net climate impact be if this project goes forward?

It was a bold, monumental speech, the best by not only this president, but any president to date on the climate crisis. Greenpeace supporters have told Obama for years that the longer he waited to take sides, the worse climate change would get. Today’s speech showed that the time has clearly gotten late enough for him to publicly side with the people, not the fossil fuel industry.

We proudly stand with the President in the fight against carbon pollution, but we know that this fight won’t be won with words alone.

The President framed the Keystone decision this way:

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Within this frame, it’s clear there’s no room in our future for the Keystone pipeline, fracking, Arctic drilling, or giving away our public lands to the coal industry. Each of these projects will have a significant negative climate impact and not be in our national interest.

*Oil Change International reported earlier this year that “the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.” Climate impact? You betcha.

*Fracking? Once you account for the impacts of extraction and not just burning natural gas, the climate impact of methane pollution from natural gas has the potential to be an even more severe driver of climate change than carbon pollution from oil and coal. That means it’s a bridge fuel to nowhere.

*In the Arctic, the climate impact isn’t as obvious as the impact of Shell’s oil rigs on Alaskan islands, but it’s coming more and more into focus every summer. If we continue to extract and burn oil and gas from the vulnerable Arctic region, the region itself will continue to disappear at an astonishing rate, short-circuiting our planet’s natural cooling system and making the vicious circle of climate disaster much much worse.

*And giving away publicly owned coal for pennies on the dollar? That’s a big climate lose. The expansion in US coal exports has the potential to release as much if not more carbon pollution than any other new fossil fuel project in the United States.

As the President said today at the end of his address:

“And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?”

Yes, Mr. President, we do. And we’re thrilled to know that you do too.

For Our Future, Today Can’t Be Obama’s Final #ActOnClimate

11:05 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

This afternoon at Georgetown University, President Obama plans to announce a series of “steady, responsible steps” to tackle climate change. It appears that the President will finally begin to make good on his climate promises, but to truly meet his obligation to future generations, this must be the foundation – not the final act – of his climate legacy.

The current Congress has made it clear that it will be on the wrong side of history, so it is absolutely vital for the President to use his authority to reduce power plant pollution, move forward with renewable energy projects on public lands, and increase energy efficiency. What the President will propose today is just a part of what it’s possible to do without Congress, and to solve the climate crisis, the solutions will have to be equal to or greater than the problem.

Greenpeace’s three million worldwide members will surely applaud the President beginning to lead on climate issues, but the bigger test will be whether Mr. Obama has the ability to follow through on this progress with concrete action. The President must finally abandon George W. Bush’s catastrophic “all of the above” energy strategy without half-measures or false promises. If the President intends to hand pass on a healthy and sustainable world for our children, there is no place for the Keystone pipeline, ‘clean coal,’ fracking, Arctic oil drilling, or giant giveaways to the coal industry.

While much of the President’s statement will be old policies repackaged, new carbon standards on power plants are one of the biggest steps that the President can take. The battle lines have been drawn; the coal industry will fight tooth and nail to stop new public health safeguards on carbon pollution. And the fight will continue to urge the President to take greater action to promote off the shelf, affordable clean energy.

We applaud the President for making this fight come into clearer focus. but his continued
actions on climate change in the days and years to come will mark his place, not only in environmental history, but in world history.

Protecting Our Communities From a Chemical Disaster

4:44 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

When was the last time you heard about Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something?

Christine Todd Whitman. Photo by Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Green.

Recently, the Center for Public Integrity reported that on April 3, Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to use Clean Air Act to prevent chemical disasters.

Yes, you heard that right, in a world where Newt Gingrich is calling for the abolition of the EPA, there is common sense bi-partisan support for the EPA using its authority to make us safer. Governor Whitman can speak with authority about this issue because she, as EPA chief under President George W. Bush, drafted such a program in 2002, driven by the country’s national security concerns following the 9/11 attacks.

The EPA’s 2002 proposal, complete with a roll out plan, hinged on using the “Bhopal Amendment” of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. Commonly called the “General Duty Clause” (GDC) this section of the Clean Air Act obligates chemical facilities who handle hazardous chemicals to prevent chemical disasters.

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Stands up to Big Oil and Polluter Politicians

5:59 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

President Obama stood up to Big Oil and its puppets in Congress and denied a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline yesterday. This is encouraging news for the communities whose air and water would have been directly threatened by this pipeline, from Canada to Nebraska to the Gulf Coast. And it’s an important piece of the struggle to avert a runaway climate catastrophe. But since the Keystone XL has become a pitched political battle, this announcement is also an encouraging affirmation of the power of people, creative protest, and grassroots organizing in the face of the entrenched power and big bucks of the oil industry.

Earlier this month, American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, the oil industry’s top lobbyist, directly threatened President Obama with “huge political consequences” if he rejected Keystone XL. Speaker of the House John Boehner has been pushing the tar sands pipeline at every opportunity. Like most of the members of Congress that support Keystone XL, Boehner has taken piles of campaign cash from the very oil companies that were hoping to boost their profits with this scheme to pipe Canadian tar sands through America’s heartland to the Gulf of Mexico and overseas markets.

This immense pressure from the oil industry came after months of grassroots organizing against the pipeline, weeks of creative protest in Washington DC where we and more than 1200 others were arrested in front of the White House, and a broad, diverse coalition mobilizing all around the United States and Canada to stop this pipeline.

Faced with a clear choice between Big Oil and all its money, threats, and politicians on the one hand, and a people powered movement determined to stop this enormous threat to our air, water, food security, and climate on the other, President Obama made the right call.

Of course, this does not mean the end of the oil industry’s efforts to expand production of the tar sands. TransCanada and other oil companies will continue to seek other ways to exploit the tar sands, and the politicians who do their bidding will devise new bills to push tar sands pipelines. No doubt the American Petroleum Institute will take out even more astroturf “Vote 4 Energy” ads slamming the President for his decision.

When that happens, we hope President Obama remembers how good it feels to stand up to the oil industry’s political threats, and keep working to make good on his promise to “end the tyranny of oil” and move America to a clean energy future.

Co-Authored by Greenpeace Executive Director, Phil Radford and Actress/Activist, Daryl Hannah

Follow Philip Radford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Phil_Radford
Follow Daryl Hannah on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dhlovelife

Obama’s Job: Protect Us from Pollution [video]

3:27 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

While Obama’s jobs speech is being framed as a turning point for his tenure as President, there is another job I would respectively suggest he concentrate on: protecting the lives of America’s children.

Here’s a quick video ad that I think gets right to point:

Late last week the President blocked reforms to the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to improve pollution measures to protect Americans against the harmful effects of toxic ozone smog. The President chose to side with big corporate polluters instead of with the 12,000 Americans that, according to the EPA, would have been saved by these proposed updates to pollution controls. Obama also chose to side with the big polluting industries instead of with the estimated 24 million men, women and children suffering from asthma in this country who are forced to suffer even more because of heightened smog levels.

The decision outraged his biggest backers in the Democratic Party. Barbara Boxer, Chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said that environmentalists should sue the Obama administration over the decision: “I hope they’ll be sued in court and I hope the court can stand by the Clean Air Act.” Read the rest of this entry →

Koch Industries Lobbying Puts Over 100 Million Americans in Danger

2:25 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

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Recent Greenpeace analysis of lobbying disclosure records reveals that since 2005, Koch Industries has hired more lobbyists than Dow and Dupont to fight legislation that could protect over 100 million Americans from what national security experts say is a catastrophic risk from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Koch lobbyists even outnumber those at trade associations including the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute. Only the American Chemistry Council deployed more.

In 2010 Koch Industries and the billionaire brothers who run it were first exposed as a major funder of front groups spreading denial of global warming in a Greenpeace report, which sparked an expose in the New Yorker. Since then, the brothers have been further exposed as a key backer of efforts to roll back environmental, labor, and health protections at the state and federal levels. Through enormous campaign contributions, an army of lobbyists, and funding of think tanks and front groups, David and Charles Koch push their agenda of a world in which their company can operate without regard for the risks they pose to communities, workers, or our environment.

Today, in a new exposé, Greenpeace has shown how Koch Industries has quietly played a key role in blocking yet another effort to protect workers and vulnerable communities – comprehensive chemical security legislation. The Report is called “Toxic Koch: Keeping Americans at risk of a Poison Gas Disaster.”

Since before the September 11, 2001 attacks, security experts have warned of the catastrophic risk that nearly every major American city faces from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Nevertheless, ten years later, thousands of facilities still put more than 100 million Americans at risk of a chemical disaster. According to the company’s own reports to the EPA, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries Invista, Flint Hills, and Georgia Pacific operate 57 dangerous chemical facilities in the United States that together put 4.4 million people at risk.

A coalition of more than 100 labor, environmental, and health organizations has advocated for comprehensive chemical security legislation that would help remove the threat of a poison gas disaster by requiring the highest risk facilities to use safer processes where feasible. Koch Industries and other oil and chemical companies have lobbied against legislation that would prevent chemical disasters, despite repeated requests from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for disaster prevention. Instead Koch favors an extension of the current, weak Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of DHS to require safer processes. As in other policy areas, Koch’s huge efforts have gone largely unnoticed.

Koch campaign contributions reveal the company’s influence over the chemical security debate in Washington DC. All of the key Senators and Representatives who have taken a lead role during the last year in pushing legislation that supports Koch’s chemical security agenda have received Koch campaign contributions. The House members who introduced two bills that would extend CFATS without improvements and block the DHS from requiring safer processes for seven years have all taken KochPAC contributions over the last three election cycles, including Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA), Gene Green (D-TX), Peter King (R-NY) and Dan Lungren (R-CA). And all of the cosponsors of similar legislation in the Senate – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (R-AR), and before his retirement, George Voinovich (R-OH) – received KochPAC contributions during their most recent elections.

As Congress debates how to protect Americans from dangerous chemical facilities, Koch is once again opposing legislation that would make America safer, despite the enormous risk its facilities pose to communities, workers, and our environment.

In Chicago, coal is the real crime

10:00 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

A sad fact of living in an American city like Chicago is that every time we open a newspaper or switch on the local news, we hear of some senseless, tragic crime that has claimed an innocent life.

We become outraged, and we demand justice for those who have lost their children, their parents, their siblings or spouses. In 1982, Chicago acted to stem the tide of gun-related violence when confronted with a disturbing rise in homicides. In fact, between 1980 and 2006, some 32,300 American died every year due to handgun violence, which is second only to car crashes in deaths by injury.

Ever since I got my start as an advocate for a healthy environment on Chicago’s West Side, I have wondered why we fail to feel that same sense of outrage when the culprit in a crime against innocents is not a gunman seeking cash, but a corporation seeking to improve its bottom line. Maybe the impacts of a company’s misdeeds are of a scale so grand that it is difficult for us to imagine.

Every year, the toxic pollution that spews from the smokestacks of America’s coal-fired power plants kills between 13,000 and 34,000 people, according to studies by the Clean Air Task Force and Harvard University. That staggering figure doesn’t include the carbon pollution–one third of all US emissions–that is driving the planet into runaway climate change.

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The lives lost to the coal industry are as real and as important as any other, as are the dollars the industry plucks from our pockets without us ever knowing it. Between healthcare costs for heart attacks, asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases; birth defects; and damage to communities done by mountaintop removal mining, land degradation, solid coal wastes, and other impacts; the hidden costs of coal amount to half a trillion dollars annually, according to a recent study by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

That’s five hundred billion dollars that you and I are paying to the coal industry so that they can continue poisoning our communities and standing in the way of clean, green energy. This massive, invisible public cost is only one of the many accounting tricks used by utilities to rob the public of billions each year.

If that scale is too hard to imagine, perhaps we should focus on a more local level. The city of Chicago is home to two ancient coal-fired power plants, owned by Edison International subsidiary Midwest Generation. The Fisk Street and Crawford plants spew millions of tons of pollutants–including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and barium–that cause health impacts like those mentioned above. They churn out more carbon pollution than any other single source in Chicago.

And, according to multiple studies, these two facilities kill more than 40 people of this city every year. If those numbers bother you, they should. But even more scandalous is this figure: the number of Chicago homes and businesses that they power is exactly zero. Fisk and Crawford were originally built in 1903 and 1924 to provide power to the city, but since California-based Edison International bought them in 1999 they have not been needed in Chicago and have instead sold their power to the open markets in the mid-Atlantic.

So these plants are sickening and killing Chicagoans to send power to the East Coast and profits to California. Adding insult to injury, while Edison is claiming that coal is the only way to preserve jobs in Illinois, they are investing millions of dollars in job-creating clean, green energy in Southern California. Instead of southern California’s skyrocketing clean energy industry, Chicago is saddled with $127 million dollars in health costs as a result of these two old coal plants.

This situation persists because of a failure of our government to have the courage to protect people. Lobbyists have gutted commonsense public health safeguards, with predictably disastrous results for regular people. One example is the EPA’s decades-long failure to rein in the pollution pouring from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants–a situation they’re finally looking to correct. Sadly, the failure also extends to Chicago’s city government, which last month failed to vote on Alderman Joe Moore’s Clean Power Ordinance, which would have reined in the pollution from Fisk and Crawford.

But sometimes overlooked is the fact that companies like Edison bear real responsibility to the communities that surround them. Fisk and Crawford are a good example. In pursuit of profit, Edison continues to run power plants whose electricity is no longer needed by Chicagoans while people get sick and die.

Chicago’s clean power coalition, made up of over fifty local groups, have continually shown Edison that people can stand up to the enormous and destructive power of the coal industry. The people who have written letters, showed up at hearings, marched, rallied and called their aldermen are my inspiration and our great hope for the future. Today, Greenpeace activists scaled the smokestack of the Fisk Street station to support them and make sure the message is heard all the way back in California.

Students Gear up to Protest Exxon Graduation Speech

4:41 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Rex CEO of ExxonMobile

As college students around the country are wrapping up their semesters, graduating seniors at Worcester Polytechnical Institute (WPI) find themselves in the midst of an ethical controversy.

On Saturday, WPI’s commencement speaker is none other than oil baron Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil, although perhaps you’re more familiar with his role as the national president of the Boy Scouts of America.

ExxonMobil has donated generously to WPI and has an executive on the school’s Board of Trustees. WPI students protesting their administration’s choice in commencement speaker question the social and environmental record of Rex Tillerson’s company, with emphasis on its “scientifically negligent response to global warming.” As ExxonMobil has spent over $25 million since 1998 on groups who deny the science or significance of global warming, I share their concerns.

In response the school’s choice, the WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future negotiated with the administration to host a counterpoint speaker, Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute, who will be speaking at 3:00pm following the graduation ceremony. Heinberg is known for his analysis of peak production of fossil fuels, and the decline of easily-extractable, non-renewable energy sources.

Students have also organized a respectful protest of Tillerson’s speech. Twenty-six students are refusing to attend the commencement address, opting instead for Heinberg’s counterpoint speech. Other students who feel compelled to attend the speech will sport green ribbons to demonstrate solidarity with seniors who are abstaining from ending their schooling with an address from the mouth of Exxon.

ExxonMobil stands at the forefront of what is wrong with corporate America. The company is one of the top air polluters in the United States, with facilities that disproportionately affect minority communities. It is infamous for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. It has a history of supporting brutal human rights violations in Indonesia. Through XTO Energy, ExxonMobil has already caused a major spill in the contaminating gas extraction practice known as hydrofracking.

While people and the planet bear the brunt of Exxon’s negligence, the company leverages its immense wealth and influence to buy the right to continue conducting dirty business as usual. In addition to funneling millions to industry front groups that peddle misinformation about climate science and belittle the significance of global warming, ExxonMobil spends tens of millions annually on federal political lobbying, and millions more on contributions to federal politicians to buy favorable policies. And even though Exxon made tens of billions of dollars in annual profit–Tillerson himself has made over $40,000,000 in the last five years–American taxpayers still handed out billions of dollars in subsidies to Exxon and other oil companies each year.

As Worcester Polytechnical Institute offers Mr. Tillerson an honorary degree for concluding the education of the graduates of 2011, someone should probably also offer Tillerson an honorary degree in corporate carelessness. He has certainly earned it.

Check out the full story, as told by WPI students, on their Facebook page. They invite all to attend Richard Heinberg’s speech tomorrow. Greenpeace applauds the students of Worcester Polytechnical Institute for standing up to ExxonMobil’s polluting influence.

A battle for the Earth’s last remaining frontier

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

A fire ship hoses down an iceberg near the Stena Forth drilling ship in Baffin Bay.

There are clear signs that a new Arctic oil rush has begun. Earlier this month Shell submitted plans to the US government for for new drilling in the icy waters off Alaska’s north coast, and now a Scottish company has won permission to take a similar gamble near Greenland. Tomorrow Hilary Clinton will fly to the picturesque town of Nuuk in Greenland to discuss how spill response equipment might work in one of the world’s most extreme and beautiful environments. I can save her the trip – it won’t.

Here are some facts. Over the next few years a handful of powerful oil companies will tow rigs beyond the Arctic Circle to drill for a few short months before the winter sea ice closes in. They’ll rely on untested equipment and wildly ambitious response plans in the event of a blowout or other major accident. When October comes, the sea ice will close in and leave the area completely isolated until the following summer.

Think about that for a moment. This means that if a blowout happened in the fall, oil could gush out underneath the ice from Halloween through Thanksgiving, all the way to Memorial Day or, depending on the oil spill and the ice, the fourth of July or longer. Wildlife like bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and walrus would have to fend for themselves as the world looks on helplessly and the oil companies make their excuses. We tried. We took precautions. It’s a big ocean. The Arctic will recover. Sound familiar?

Global warming is happening faster in the Arctic than on anywhere else on earth, and multinational oil companies are desperate to exploit the newly opened seas for huge profits. Safety is not their first priority, whatever the glossy brochures and reassuring words might say. The Deepwater Horizon disaster took 6,500 well equipped vessels over three months to cap. In the Arctic Ocean there aren’t even that many kayaks.

In the Arctic Ocean, the world’s last real frontier, Big Oil is taking bigger risks than ever before and dressing up their recklessness as necessity. They’re wrong. We can prevent extracting oil from the Arctic – and the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tar Sands in Canada -by taking it out of Detroit instead. We can ‘produce’ millions of barrels a year simply by not using it in the first place. Cleaner cars with better engines mean lower bills, less pollution and a healthier industry.

Our politicians have become hypnotized by the mantra of the fossil fuel lobby and are repeating it like drones – more, more, more. At some point this thirst, this reckless and desperate urge has to stop. One day, somewhere, we must draw a line in the sand and say: enough. This year just might be the moment, and Alaska’s Arctic Ocean might be the place.