An open letter calling upon Congress to remove reckless Arctic Refuge drilling proposal from the budget.
by Subhankar Banerjee, Terry Tempest Williams, Finis Dunaway
[Note to scholars: To sign the ‘Scholars for the Arctic Refuge’ letter that follows, please visit this link at the Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) website. The AWL is a leading conservation group, and the only DC-based environmental organization specifically focused on Alaskan issues. Given the time sensitivity of the issue, the site will be open for just a few days—until end of Thursday, November 30. At that point, AWL will distribute the letter to all members of Congress. Would you please take a moment to add your name to the list of signers?]
Open Letter to Members of the United States Congress:
In the next few weeks, the US Congress will decide whether or not to mandate oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the 2018 federal budget bill. The Arctic Refuge may seem far away to many, but its ecosystems sustain a diverse array of species that matter to Americans and to people around the world. Opening this refuge to fossil fuel development would ignore the will of the American people, who have for decades urged their elected officials to protect this irreplaceable ecological treasure. It would also violate human rights and jeopardize the food security of the indigenous Gwich’in people of the US and Canada. We are scholars from a wide range of fields—including the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences, the arts, and other areas—united in our belief that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would be a grave mistake. We call upon Congress to remove this reckless provision from the budget.
There is no justification for using the budget process to push through oil development in the Arctic Refuge. Drilling proponents claim lease sales will generate 1 billion dollars in revenue over the next decade to help defray the 1.5 trillion dollars of proposed tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Even if the anticipated revenue figure turned out to be correct (many estimates predict a far lower amount), it still represents an incredibly minute fraction of the tax-cut proposal. This abuse of the budget process would sacrifice one of the nation’s most ecologically and culturally significant places for a paltry sum of federal revenue.
As the ecological heart of the Arctic Refuge, the coastal plain provides critical calving and nursing habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd. Almost 200,000 caribou embark every year on the longest land migration of any animal on earth, journeying from the taiga and boreal forest ecosystems of northeast Alaska and the adjacent northwest Canada to the coastal plain, where they calve and nurse their young. Caribou biologists have repeatedly warned that oil development would have catastrophic effects on the herd. In addition to nurturing caribou, the coastal plain provides nesting and feeding habitat for millions of migratory birds. Nearly two hundred different species travel from all fifty states and six continents to breed and find nourishment in the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain also offers the most important on-shore denning habitat in the US Arctic for polar bears, now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As we are in the midst of what scientists call the earth’s sixth mass extinction, the vast nursery of the coastal plain needs protection now more than ever.
For Gwich’in communities on both sides of the US-Canada border, the prospect of drilling represents an existential threat to their cultural survival. The Gwich’in have relied upon the Porcupine caribou herd for nutritional, cultural, and spiritual sustenance for millennia. To them, the coastal plain is “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”
Drilling in the Arctic is risky—the inevitable and chronic spills of oil and other toxic substances onto the fragile tundra would scar this land and disrupt its wildlife. The pollution caused by the sprawling infrastructure of oil development would threaten wildlife populations and harm indigenous communities that rely on the biotic life. Moreover, as the effects of climate change become more apparent, and as the global community continues to move away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, why would we now destroy the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System?
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must not be auctioned off to Big Oil. Its natural values far exceed any oil that may lie beneath the coastal plain. As scholars from across the United States and Canada, we ask that you keep this cherished place and vibrant ecosystem protected for generations to come.
Subhankar Banerjee, Lannan Chair and Professor of Art and Ecology, University of New Mexico
Finis Dunaway, Professor of History, Trent University
Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University
Terry Tempest Williams, Writer-in-Residence, Harvard Divinity School
Christoph Irmscher, Provost Professor of English, Indiana University Bloomington
Robert Newman, President, National Humanities Center
Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin
Catherine Jurca, Professor and Executive Officer of the Humanities, Caltech.
Scott Tremaine, Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Catherine Xu, Visiting Student in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
Janet Pritchard, Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Connecticut
Michael Hecht, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University
Jennifer Tucker, Associate Professor of History and Science in Society Program, Wesleyan University
Scott Fraser, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and of Molecular and Computational Biology, and of Pediatrics, University of Southern California
Mark Meadowcroft, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State College of Medicine
Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College
Anne Coleman, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame
Lynn Ramert, English instructor, University of Nebraska
Trevor Fristoe, Postdoctoral Researcher, Washington University in St. Louis
Shirley Roburn, Postdoctoral scholar in Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Paul Sutter, Professor of History, University of Colorado Boulder
Douglas Sackman, Professor of History, University of Puget Sound
Karl Jacoby, Professor of History, Columbia University
Erika Doss, Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Notre Dame
Anthony Lioi, Associate Professor of English, The Juilliard School
Aaron Frith, Post-doctoral Researcher, Philosophy of Water Project, University of North Texas
Laura Kay, Professor of Physics, Barnard College
Marsha Weisiger, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon
Elizabeth Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University
David Pengelley, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, New Mexico State University
Lillian Ball, Ecological art, visiting professor, Cooper Union School of Art
Terrence Gosliner, Senior Curator, California Academy of Sciences
Arlene Plevin, Professor of English, Olympic College.
Adriene Jenik, Professor of Art/Intermedia, Arizona State University
Daniel Brotman, Adjunct Professor of Economics, Glendale College
Frank Zelko, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Vermont
Rick Steiner, Professor, University of Alaska (ret.)
Ross MacPhee, Curator in Vertebrate Zoology/Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History
Karla Armbruster, Professor of English, Webster University
Harvard Ayers, retired Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sustainability, Appalachian State University
Nicole Seymour, Assistant Professor of English, California State University at Fullerton
William Goldsmith, Professor emeritus of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University
Mark Stoll, Professor of History, Texas Tech University
Julianne Warren, Ecosphere Studies, Center for Humans and Nature
Jon Wlasiuk, Environmental historian, Michigan State University
David Stradling, Associate Dean of Humanities and Professor of History, University of Cincinnati
Phaedra C. Pezzullo, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder
Jon Corey Hazlett, PhD Candidate, Case Western Reserve University
Kathleen Segerson, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut
Catriona Sandilands, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University
James Morton Turner, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Wellesley College
Grace Hale, Commonwealth Chair of American Studies and History, University of Virginia
Hilary Stamper, Visiting Professor of Psychology, Stanford University
Michael Sherwin, Associate Professor of Art, West Virginia University
Originally appeared on Commondreams.org
Photo: Subhankar Banerjee, 2002