Gen-Z TikTokers Are Fighting to Stop Willow Project

Young climate activists are rallying on social media in an effort to stop a multibillion-dollar drilling project on Alaska's North Slope.

The Biden administration is currently weighing approval of ConocoPhillips Alaska's Willow Project in a federal oil reserve roughly the size of Indiana.

A decision is reportedly imminent, although a spokesperson for Interior Secretary Debra Haaland told Newsweek on Monday they did not have an update on when it might come.

With Willow, the president faces a massive dilemma.

The Dilemma

Supporters say the project, which could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, will strengthen energy security, create jobs and stimulate economic growth, according to the ConocoPhillips fact sheet. Rejecting it could alienate Alaska lawmakers in Congress.

But the project would be a blow to Biden's climate agenda: the administration's own environmental review estimated that Willow would generate about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

What Do Opponents Say?

Opponents say approval would be a betrayal by a president who campaigned on a pledge to end new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and has made fighting climate change a top priority.

Students and community members protest Willow
Students and community members demand President Biden stop the Willow Project by unfurling a banner on the Ellipse outside the White House on December 02, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Paul Morigi/Getty Images for This is Zero Hour

A Change petition urging the Biden administration to reject Willow has gained considerable support in recent weeks and is nearing 3 million signatures.

What Are Activists Doing?

Activists say more than a million letters have been sent to Biden voicing opposition for the Willow Project, thanks, in part, to content on TikTok—where videos with hashtags like #StopWillow have amassed hundreds of millions of views.

Alex Haraus is among those who have made videos urging people to send letters. "This is a chance to make the White House do what you want and it's time-sensitive," he said in a recent TikTok video that has amassed more than 1.5 million views.

"In order to stop Willow, people need to know about Willow," Elise Joshi, 20, said in a TikTok video posted in early February that has since been viewed more than 300,000 times. "All of us need to raise our voice against this."


Biden isn’t a climate champion if he approves an oil drilling project. Help get the word out about Willow! @wildernesssociety #stopwillow #alaska #nativetiktok #environment #greenscreen

♬ original sound - elise

Joshi, the acting executive director of Gen-Z for Change, told Newsweek that the goal "is to have the Biden Administration stop the Willow Project entirely, despite the approval of the Bureau of Land Management."

Her message to Biden, she said, is that "young people need hope in the midst of a climate emergency, abortion bans, and the GOP's war on education."

She continued: "We voted for you to put us on a path toward a sustainable and just future, and you passed the largest climate bill in the country's history.

"Now, we're asking that you continue that momentum by stopping the Willow Project. We cannot afford new oil and gas exploration and extraction. Instead, we must create millions of jobs for wind and solar, an energy-efficient grid, public transportation, and more. Please stop Willow and be a climate champion!"

The effort to stop the Willow Project "is a culmination of shared values across America," Haraus told Newsweek. "At this scale, the millions participating prove that care for our health and future quality of life is a shared priority for all Americans and that we all know how tightly bound our health is to that of the world we choose to help or hinder.

"Doubling down dependency on a pollutive energy source is not the path to a healthy future. Bolstering support to clean energy sources and transitional funding to communities currently producing energy via fossil fuels is."

Who Wants The Willow Project?

Willow's supporters, including groups representing Alaska Natives, have championed the project as a much-needed source of revenue.

"Willow presents an opportunity to continue that investment in the communities," Nagruk Harcharek, the president of the advocacy group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, told CNN. "Without that money and revenue stream, we're reliant on the state and the feds."

Concerns About Impact

But officials in Nuiqsut, the community nearest to the proposed development, are concerned about the impact it could have on public health and the environment.

"We're only seeing more and more oil and gas development projects being promoted for profitability over our life, health, and safety," Nuiqsut mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak said in February.

"The Willow project should not be approved. The risk for our village is too high, and we are not the acceptable cost for approval of this project. Make the right decision and do not approve this project."

Ahtuangaruak and other Nuiqsut officials sent a letter to Interior secretary Debra Haaland on Friday, saying their concerns have been ignored by the Bureau of Land Management.

Proposals to mitigate Willow's impact are "payoffs for the loss of our health and culture," they wrote. "No dollar can replace what we risk."

Dennis Nuss, a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips, told Newsweek on Thursday that the company believes the Willow project squares with the White House's environmental priorities, adding that it would help "facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security."

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.

Update 3/7/23, 7:23 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to add comment from Alex Haraus.