In the far north of Alaska, there is a vast, remote refuge that stretches nearly 20 million acres. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is roughly the size of South Carolina and encompasses a range of ecosystems. It’s also home to many animals, including all three species of bear (brown, black, polar), musk oxen, caribou, and even the tundra bumblebee. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has, on more than one occasion, been called America’s last great wilderness.
However, this refuge is currently facing threats from oil drilling, as Trump’s administration is trying to push a leasing program that would allow access to the area for oil companies. A majority of Alaska’s northern coast is already open for drilling and the refuge is the last bit of coast not open. As of today, January 6th, 2021, lease sales are open after an Alaskan judge sided with the Trump administration yesterday.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds cultural and environmental significance so oil drilling can have a significant impact on many different areas. A federal report from the Bureau of Land Management supported that sentiment, stating that the impacts from drilling could worsen the effects of climate change and 69 of the total bird species in the area could be extinct in the next 85 years.
While drilling would bring jobs and has, at one point, been estimated to bring in $1.1 billion to the federal Treasury by 2027, the short term benefits of the leasing program are not worth it. Drilling could bring jobs and money into a remote area but research has shown that in the long term, there are far-reaching consequences of climate change that can bring chaos and disruption to the economy and society at large. Climate change has been worsening natural disasters, which have caused the loss of life, property, and productivity. As climate change worsens, the impact on the economy will also worsen and the global GDP will significantly decline if temperatures continue to rise.
- Arctic Ocean: climate change is flooding the remote north with light – and new species from The Conversation
The ANWR, like the rest of the Arctic, is particularly susceptible to climate change and fossil fuel extraction (like oil drilling) has been linked to high amounts of climate emissions. Polar bears, just one species that call the ANWR and the Arctic home, need a pristine coat to act as insulation against the cold and coming into contact with spilled oil can destroy that insulating ability. Spilled oil can also fatally damage their lungs, kidneys, and other organs when ingested after grooming.
According to The Wilderness Society, fossil fuel extraction is also fueling the rise in climate change and that “federal lands leased to the [oil and gas] industry in the last three years could produce as much as 5.9 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases. That’s more than half the emissions that China—the world’s largest emitter—releases per year.“
The decision to pursue this lease sale in the ANWR is yet another example of how Donald J. Trump and his administration have been bad for the environment, indigenous people, the climate, and many other issues and people. Over the last few years, Trump has been inciting violence against the most marginalized people in so many ways. He has cultivated support from white supremacists and his actions have led to the deaths of people like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, VA, as many white supremacists and alt-right groups look to him as a source of encouragement. Just today, Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol Building in DC to object to Congress’ election certification, causing a riot and utter chaos. His tenure as president has caused many, many issues that will surely last years.
If you’d like to take action to help the ANWR and the Arctic, there are plenty of resources to help you get started. We have just a few years to make substantial changes to avoid an irreversible change in the climate.