Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Save ANWR, Save the Climate
distributed 10/13/17 - ©2017

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Brock Leach of Sarasota, Florida. His generous support helps make this publication possible.

Sometime in the very near future, the US Senate will be voting on two budgets. They think they're just voting on one, but really there are two -- a fiscal one and an ecological one. The proposed fiscal budget will destroy the ecological budget.

The vote that the Senate knows about is on a piece of legislation that already has been passed by the US House. Included in that bill is a provision that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. The revenue from oil leases is supposed to help balance the fiscal budget.

The other budget is the global carbon budget. That "budget" provides an accounting for how much fossil fuel emissions can be released, and still keep Earth with some hope of remaining within a safe range of climate disruption.

If the Senate passes the fiscal budget resolution, the global climate budget is pushed into extreme crisis.

Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, was a strong force in pushing the idea of arctic oil revenue. To convince his colleagues that big money is involved, he said, "Potentially, though, we have a little over 20 billion barrels of oil. Think how much money that would bring to the Treasury immediately through the bidding process."

By comparison, the Prudhoe Bay oil field, which has been feeding the Alaska pipeline for 40 years, has produced 17 billion barrels of oil.

Somebody who loves numbers could calculate how many tons of climate-warping CO2 would come from burning that much oil (a lot!), but we really don't need to do the math. The simple fact of opening up a new oil field -- especially one described by Interior Secretary Zinke as "the largest unexplored, potentially productive geologic onshore basin in the United States" -- is guaranteed to break the carbon budget.

You might remember a report that came out a little over a year ago titled, "The Sky's Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production". The research found that carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world's currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming. The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.

The stuff that is already in active production is enough to push us past any "safe" climate levels. The report made it clear that no new fossil fuel deposits should ever be opened to production, and that some existing fields need to be shut down.

The budget plan to open a potentially large oil field under ANWR flies in the face of climate responsibility.

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If it feels like we've rallied to save ANWR before, you're right. There have been battles over the oil underneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for decades. The refuge has been part of big political battles in 1989, 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2005.

Through the years, those opposing drilling in the Arctic Refuge have spoken of the fragile and complex ecology of the place, which sustains a myriad of migrating species -- including the iconic Porcupine caribou herd and birds from across the western hemisphere. We've echoed the call from the Gwich'in people who are indigenous to that place, to not destroy their homeland and way of life. Sometimes, the appeal to save ANWR has been aesthetic. Recently, the President of the Wilderness Society said that the refuge is "simply too fragile and special to drill."

Those are all true and good. In the face of current climate realities, though, they are beside the point. Last year's study, which says that we cannot safely use even all of the oil that is now in production, shifts the frame of reference from protecting a wildlife refuge to protecting the entire planet. To rephrase, "Earth is simply too fragile and special to drill any new fields, anywhere."

We need to oppose oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because opening up such a large new oil field is climate suicide.

The budget bill now in the Senate can be passed with a simple majority vote. It is the same "reconciliation process" that we saw in summertime battles about health care. And as we saw over the summer, a few senators who are courageous enough to break with their party can make all the difference.

In the House last month, 18 Republicans (and all the Democrats) voted against the bill. It is possible that several Republican senators will vote against the ANWR provision. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) affirmed: "There is bipartisan opposition to drilling in our nation's most pristine wildlife refuge, and any effort to include it in the tax package would only further imperil the bill as a whole."

I strongly urge you to contact both of your US Senators, and let them know of your opposition to language in the budget bill allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If you're leaving a phone message, you don't even need to detail why you think drilling in ANWR is a bad idea. If you're sending an email, or talking to someone who actually seems to be listening, decide what reason might be most persuasive to that senator -- the climate crisis, the fragile and essential ecology of the refuge, or the "some places are just too special" appeal.

Be sure to tell your senators that you are a constituent, that you vote, and that this issue is very important to you.

In addition to contacting your senators directly, you also can sign a petition from Creation Justice Ministries -- but your direct contact with your senators is the more important and effective action.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a place of great ecological and cultural significance, and it is a place of great and wild beauty. It deserves to be preserved. And planet Earth is a pretty amazing place, too. Preserving ANWR from oil drilling is an essential part of protecting the climate of our entire planet.

Contact your senators today.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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