Hello, my name is Norm and I’m 19 years old. I was born in the year 2000. I’m 11 years younger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill that rocked Alaska back in 1989. However, I am not younger than the damage that it caused. Still, over 30 years after that spill took place, oil is on the beaches and wildlife in the area has never been the same. Unfortunately, unless we take serious action, we could be on the verge of another catastrophe.
Almost immediately upon taking office in 2017, President Trump began rolling back safeguards that president Obama put in place for the Arctic. Trump reversed the wilderness protection on the Arctic and in doing so, ended the restrictions put in place to stop drilling. That was in 2017. Now, in 2020, time is running out. Lease sales have taken place in many states already and it is only a matter of time before they start taking place in the Arctic.
Once drilling and oil development in the Arctic begins a spill is all but inevitable. Whether on land or in the sea, harsh conditions such as high winds, crashing waves, and temperatures far below zero can erode equipment. If a spill were to occur response to it would be slow due to its extremely remote location and the ecosystem in the region would be devastated. Thousands of fish and mammals would get poisoned and die off. Animals who rely on those fish to eat would starve. Polar bears who hunt on the sea ice would have no animals to hunt and it would ravage an already endangered species. If the oil were to spill on the ground a huge portion of the plants would die off. The Porcupine Caribou who, at their peak can travel by numbers upwards of 150,000, feed on lichen, a plant that would no doubt be harmed by an oil spill. If the number of lichens go down it would have a direct impact to the number of Caribou in the region which would harm the Gwich’in people. The Gwich’in are an Indigenous tribe inhabiting portions of the Arctic Refuge. They often refer to themselves as people of the caribou. Traditionally, they believe there is caribou in each one of them, just as there is Gwich’in in every caribou. Their fates are inextricably linked together. If the caribou start dying off it would ravage the Gwich’in not only spiritually and culturally, but physically and economically as well since they rely on the caribou for food as subsistence hunters. Everything in the Arctic: plants, animals, and people, would be devastated if there was an oil spill. We can still feel the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill that took place in 1989. If nothing is done our children and grandchildren can be feeling the effects of an Arctic Refuge spill well into the latter half of this century.
The Trump administration has proven time and time again that its main concerns are monetary. Anything environmental is put on the backburner and often times forgot about entirely. Did that scare you? It scared me. I fear for the future of my planet and I have a feeling you do too. So, what now? Well, it is 2020, otherwise known as an election year. Arguably the most impactful steps you, as an individual, can take to bring forth change in this time of crisis is to get out and vote. Make your voice heard. Vote out people who see climate as a hoax or the resources in the world as a potential payday. Put into power people who will fight for survival of the planet, who will stand up for those like the Gwich’in when their voices cannot be heard. This is the most important election in recent history and looking on as a bystander is no longer an option. Get out and vote.
Norm Schoff is an SNU junior.