The Willow Project: Avoiding Doomism within Climate Activism


Over the past few weeks, news and social media have been saturated with information regarding a new development in the ongoing climate crisis. The effects, climate activists say, will be tremendous. The Willow Project, a 6 billion dollar proposal by ConocoPhillips to drill oil in Alaska’s Petroleum Preserve was recently approved to move forward by President Joe Biden. According to NPR news, it certainly has its economic benefits, with Willow providing up to “$17 billion in revenue for federal, state and local governments creating over 2,800 jobs.” (Olson). Not only this, but the project would also “yield an estimated 600 million barrels of oil, a volume nearly 1.5 times the current supply in the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve” (Olson), with the hopes that it would help lower oil and energy prices.

Despite such benefits, there is a darker side to the project. Drilling would take place in a large portion of undisturbed Alaskan territory, which according to the Bureau of Land Management is “‘critical to local wildlife’” (Olson). Not only this, but ABC News cites the Biden Administration’s analysis of the project, writing that “the project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year — equivalent to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads.” (ABC). Such effects would be incredibly dangerous for the environment, with some environmentalists arguing that Willow could act as the point of no return in the climate crisis.

The Willow Project has sparked massive outrage across the country, with updates and awareness being spread across various social media platforms, especially on TikTok. Emily Olson of NPR news explores this phenomenon, writing that “Posts tagged with #willowproject have attracted over 88 million U.S. views in the last month alone,” adding that “a petition calling for an end to the project had amassed more than 3.1 million signatures.” (Olson). The use of social media platforms to spread awareness has been incredibly effective for resistance to the Willow Project. Many creators post helpful steps to taking action, providing links to petitions, organizing demonstrations, and showing other forms of activism, like calling the White House or writing letters in protest. 

However, the Willow Project has also inspired a phenomenon of “climate doomism,” or “climate nihilism,” a term that BBC’s Marco Silva defines as “ the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming – and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.” (Silva). Before it was approved, thousands of videos and posts online exaggerated the effects of the Willow Project, in a kind of nihilistic manner that creates mass panic. One TikTok user posted that if approved, the Willow Project would “make climate change irreversible, end humanity, and destroy the planet.” This type of awareness is not only incorrect, but also generally harmful to the environmental movement. When people believe that there is nothing we can do to stop something like the Willow Project from happening, then they are far more inclined to give up. For instance, climate scientist and activist Alaina Wood claims that “Doomism ultimately leads to climate inaction, which is the opposite of what we want.”

Recognition of the climate crisis and its potential effects is an important step for taking action, but doomism can sometimes be hard to avoid when learning more about climate change. Our generation has grown up hearing about climate change and its effects, and it is a strange thing to grow up in a world that sometimes feels like it is coming to an end. That being said, with topics like the Willow Project, climate doomism does little more than spreading panic and misinformation to the public. Scientists are telling citizens that although it will be difficult, and take the efforts of everybody, this crisis can be averted. There is so much that average people can do to make a difference, like signing petitions, going to protests, and taking steps within their own lives to be more environmentally conscious. So amid these new developments, it is important to not revert to climate doomism. Instead, take action, no matter how small.

Works Cited

“Fed judge rules Willow Project can move forward as environmental groups’ lawsuits proceed.” ABC News [Chicago], 4 Apr. 2023. ABC 7 Eyewitness News,’s%20own%20environmental,powered%20cars%20to%20the%20roads. Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.

Olson, Emily. “Can TikTokkers sway Biden on oil drilling? The #StopWillow campaign, explained.” NPR, 10 Mar. 2023. National Public Radio, NPR, Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.

“Opinion: How to live with the climate crisis without becoming a nihilist.” Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles], 15 Sept. 2019. Los Angeles Times, Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.

Silva, Marco. “Why is climate ‘doomism’ going viral – and who’s fighting it?” BBC, 23 May 2022. BBC, Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.

Solnit, Rebecca. “Big oil coined ‘carbon footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep them on the hook.” The Guardian, 23 Aug. 2021. The Guardian, Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.