Despite widespread concern about climate change and environmental degradation, President Biden’s approval of the Willow Project in Alaska has alarmed young people and environmental groups. The project, set to produce 600 million barrels of oil, threatens fragile Arctic ecosystems and disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations globally. The article calls for the administration to prioritize the planet’s future by stopping the Willow Project and committing to no new fossil fuel development.
“The project would produce up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years, equal to the annual emissions of 76 coal power plants.”–Center for American Progress
Democratic erosion refers to the gradual decline in the effectiveness and legitimacy of democratic institutions and norms; it undermines citizens’ trust in the political system and creates disillusionment with democratic processes. The Willow Project, a massive oil drilling initiative in Alaska, can be seen as an example of democratic erosion through several interconnected factors.
Firstly, the Willow Project’s approval represents a betrayal of campaign promises, contributing to democratic erosion by undermining citizens’ trust in the political system. During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to halt drilling on federal lands and promote clean energy. However, the approval of the Willow Project contradicts these promises, contributing to democratic erosion by undermining citizens’ trust in the political system; voters feel deceived by the politicians they elected. The erosion of democratic norms, such as upholding campaign promises, is a key indicator of democratic decline. Furthermore, it demonstrates a disconnect between the administration’s climate rhetoric and its actions, which undermines the credibility of democratic institutions and erodes public trust in the political system.
The Willow Project’s approval illustrates the administration’s clear disregard for the public. Millions of young people, indigenous groups, and climate activists have voiced their concerns about the Willow Project, yet their opinions have been largely ignored. The #StopWillow movement on TikTok has garnered around 300 million direct views and over 4 million petitions. This disregard for public opinion indicates a failure of democratic representation and responsiveness, eroding the political system’s legitimacy. When citizens feel unheard and unrepresented, their faith in the democratic process weakens.
Page and Gilens (2014) illustrate the influence of economic elites in the policymaking process; the preferences of the economic elite have a much more significant impact on policy outcomes than those of average citizens. This displays the American political system is more susceptible to economic elite domination, as their preferences disproportionately shape policy decisions.
Furthermore, Gilens (2005) argues that this inequality in democratic responsiveness undermines the principle of political equality, as the voices and preferences of average citizens hold less weight in the policymaking process. This can lead to policies that disproportionately benefit the economic elite while marginalizing disadvantaged communities, exacerbating social inequalities, and further eroding democratic legitimacy.
“Young people and members of marginalized communities are the ones who will bear the brunt of the consequences of the escalating climate emergency. The rubber-stamping of such a project sends a message not just to our generation but humanity as a whole: The future of our planet and the present well-being of frontline communities are being sacrificed for short-term economic gain and political expediency.”-Sophia Kianni, Greta Thunberg, and Vanessa Nakate
The Willow Project serves as an example of how economic elite domination may influence policy decisions, as the interests of corporations like ConocoPhillips played a significant role in the project’s approval. This undermines the democratic principle of equal representation and responsiveness, as the concerns of average citizens and Indigenous communities are sidelined in favor of corporate interests.
To address the issue of economic elite domination and its impact on democratic erosion, it is crucial to implement policies that promote transparency, reduce money’s influence in politics, and ensure that all citizens have equal access to representation and policy influence. By tackling these challenges, democratic institutions can be strengthened, and the legitimacy of democracy can be restored. Furthermore, in the context of projects like the Willow Project, considering the interests of all stakeholders and balancing economic development with environmental sustainability and social justice is vital to preserving democratic values and preventing further erosion. By doing so, we can work towards preserving democratic values, promoting environmental sustainability, and ensuring a just and equitable future for all.
Chasinghorse, Opinion by Quannah. “Opinion: #Stopwillow Has Become Too Big to Ignore — Are You Listening, President Biden?” CNN, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/10/opinions/willow-project-alaska-climate-change-chasinghorse/index.html.
Cramer, Katherine J. The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Gilens, Martin. “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness.” Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 5, 2005, pp. 778-796.
Hananel Director, Sam, et al. “4 Reasons the Willow Oil Project Is Unfit for Approval.” Center for American Progress, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/4-reasons-the-willow-oil-project-is-unfit-for-approval/.
Kianni, Sophia, et al. “Opinion: Biden Betrays Our Generation by Greenlighting the Willow Project.” CNN, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/07/opinions/biden-willow-project-climate-kianni-nakate-thunberg/index.html.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Crown, 2018.
Page, Benjamin I., and Martin Gilens. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 12, no. 3, 2014, pp. 564-581.