Dune Lankard (left) leads the Dec. 14 rally outside the federal fossil fuel lease-auction in Anchorage.

Line in the Snow: Saving humanity means defending the Arctic

Trump plan to open more areas to oil drilling, reduce regulations, is a recipe for climate, coastal disaster

A decisive battle for humanity’s future is being fought over the Arctic. We can either let the oil industry have its way in this magnificent area of the world, or we can get serious about minimizing the dangerous impacts of global climate change. But we can’t do both. Alaskans are on the front lines at this pivotal moment in human history — and this is where I’m drawing my line in the snow.

Senate confirmation of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a bad sign for the planet. Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson worked all his adult life, owns the fossil fuel rights to 63.6 million acres in Russia, mostly in the Arctic. The company has been unable to drill there because of U.S. sanctions, which Tillerson and President Trump are almost certain to try to erase.

Opening up the Arctic to increased fossil fuel production would light the fuse on the planet’s biggest untapped carbon bomb. Climate scientists are clear that drilling and burning the Arctic’s vast oil deposits would trigger runaway global warming, well beyond the 2-degree Celsius hard cap that almost all nations agreed to a year ago in Paris.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 changed my life, spoiling my Native fishing grounds in Prince William Sound and propelling me into environmental activism. I directly experienced Exxon’s greed, its divide and conquer strategy, and its broken promises “to make us whole again”. I have little faith that Tillerson will act in the public interest.

Even before his worrisome confirmation hearings, I saw signs that Trump’s corporate cronies were making an aggressive advance on Arctic oil. Over the last decade, oil industry interest in the Arctic had been waning because of a combination of low oil prices, high drilling costs, and a growing global consensus around the need to reduce carbon emissions.

Everything changed with the election of Trump, who has promised to open up new areas to drilling, greatly reduce regulatory burdens and costs, and to simply ignore climate change. Oil investors listened to his promises and decided to place their bets on Arctic drilling.

I helped organize a climate change demonstration outside the final oil and gas lease auction of Obama’s presidency in Anchorage on Dec. 14, 2016. Before the protest, some people told us they didn’t believe there was much industry interest in Arctic drilling.

But as we stood outside with our bullhorn and protest signs, crowds of oil investors streamed past us into the lease sale fueled by Trump’s promises to relax regulations and allow unfettered oil drilling. The results were shocking, and a big increase from the last federal auction before Trump’s election.

Oil companies are gambling on drilling in the Far North– and they believe Trump is going to make that as cheap and easy as possible. But it is a short-sighted risk, and one that threatens to destroy this fragile landscape and wildlife, my Arctic brothers and sisters’ subsistence way of life, and the climate.

We can’t let that happen. Just as large numbers of people are rising up to protest Trump’s Muslim travel ban, his extremist appointees, and his conflicts-of-interest, we must recognize the serious planetary threat posed by rampant Arctic drilling — and do everything we can to stop it. Join us, with your voice, too.

Native Alaskan Dune Lankard is a fisherman, tribal leader and senior Alaska representative for the Center for Biological Diversity.