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Why Many Care about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

There is an old expression, “Home is where the heart is”. Our home is not just our family or our community, our nation or the family of nations. Our home is also God’s creation. 

As a faith leader, I believe that not only should we care about the human beings who live on this planet, but we need to care for the earth itself – our home. Serving as stewards of God’s creation and caring for each other are central to Christian faith.

This breathtaking parcel of God’s creation, home to the Gwich’in people, is so unique.

Our call to be good stewards of God’s earth and care for one another, however, is under threat in many places, but none more notable than Alaska. For the first time, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located in the northern part of Alaska is slated to be opened up to oil drilling. This breathtaking parcel of God’s creation, home to the Gwich’in people, is so unique in its wilderness qualities and ecological integrity that many who have been to the refuge say it has forever changed their lives.

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 defines who they are. The 197,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd migrates throughout the refuge and northwestern Canada. The pregnant female caribou come to give birth each year on the Alaskan coastal plain, which the Gwich’in call “ The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

The size of the herd would be gravely diminished, effectively ending the Gwich’in way of life.

Unfortunately, the coastal plain is precisely the area slated for proposed oil drilling. In a study, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that oil development would harm wildlife and habitats in many ways, and the Porcupine caribou herd is the most vulnerable to human-caused and natural stresses. With the threats 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, which has been in place for centuries.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would also contribute to the carbon pollution that fuels climate change. Surely, drilling in this sacred place is not congruent with our values of caring for the Earth and each other.

The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed legislation that would for the first time protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling. But, in order to protect the Arctic Refuge and the Gwich’in people, the U.S. Senate would have to follow suit and it would need to be signed by the president.

The stakes here are high.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine 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,” she wrote in a letter to a constituent.

The stakes here are high. In a world where oil drilling is ubiquitous. there must be places where drilling is simply not allowed. The Arctic refuge should be one of those places, a region of irreplaceable value that should forever remain as it is.

We must aspire to our highest calling

We must aspire to our highest calling and defend the values that move us to care about other people and to protect our home, whether we live there or not.  We must see that we are connected across states and nations and are part of a whole. And we must help one another because everyone is vulnerable.

Consideration of our fellow human beings and serving as stewards of God’s creation should guide us and our policymakers in Washington and will provide us with a vision of the future that is both sustainable and just.


Photo by Christal Yuen on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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