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The Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Yarmouth.
Once it is gone, it is gone. If a child breaks a toy or if you inadvertently burn a letter to you from your grandmother, it is gone. It doesn’t come back.
The world has a very special asset, located in Alaska, that might face that same plight. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a breathtaking parcel of God’s creation. It has unique wilderness qualities and ecological integrity.
The Gwich’in people have lived in northwestern Canada and on the Arctic Refuge for millennia. The Gwich’in people rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou as a major source of sustenance. For them, the caribou is more than food and clothing; it is literally and spiritually who they are. The 197,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd migrates throughout their land. The pregnant female caribou come to give birth each year on the coastal plain.
The Trump Administration is about to destroy something that goes back in history almost 10,000 years and it will happen right before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. In fact, the administration will now hold a lease sale for drilling on Jan. 6. The sale was announced in haste before the required comment period even concluded. And like that broken toy, once it is gone it is gone.
In its waning days, the Trump administration is inviting oil companies to request specific parcels of land in the Arctic Refuge to be made available for drilling. Oil giants, like Chevron, could have drilling leases in hand within weeks. The sale could take place right before the inauguration.
President-elect Biden has promised to protect the Arctic Refuge permanently, and there are suits already in federal court to stop Trump’s Arctic drilling push. But Trump’s moves could stack the deck against both those critical efforts.
In a study, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that oil development would harm the Arctic Refuge’s wildlife and habitats in many ways. The Porcupine caribou herd, specifically, is vulnerable to human-caused and natural stresses. Because of the pressures of oil development in their calving grounds, it is virtually certain the size of the herd would be gravely diminished, effectively ending the Gwich’in way of life.
Why would anyone want to destroy an ancient culture that still lives after 10,000 years? It is a wonder that is studied by anthropologists and others that has much to teach us.
It makes no sense to open the refuge to drilling. It’s a needless risk that would defile this incredible landscape and its Gwich’in inhabitants. Because of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world is committed to move from the burning of fossil fuel to renewable energy to produce our energy. Automobile companies plan to build a significant number of electric vehicles soon. We don’t need a surplus of oil.
Sen. Susan Collins has said, “I believe we can create an energy policy that will provide sufficient energy to meet the needs of today and of future generations without compromising America’s environmentally sensitive areas. With this in mind, I have opposed efforts to open areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Georges Bank off the coast of Maine to drilling.”
The stakes here are too high to not take a position. In a world where oil drilling peppers the landscape, there must be places where drilling is simply not allowed. The Arctic Refuge is one of those places, a region of irreplaceable value that should forever remain as it is.
We must aspire to our highest calling here and defend the values that move us to care about other people. I ask our elected leaders in Washington not to succumb to irresponsible and unnecessary projects that place the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its people in great jeopardy, but rather to stand for the values of kindness and consideration for our fellow human beings and God’s creation.