Where we call home not only helps define us but offers us community. We value not only our families and communities, but also the natural world that is woven into the fabric of life here in Maine.
As a faith leader, I believe that not only should we care about others, wherever they may live, but also care for the places that they call home. Serving as stewards of God’s creation and caring for each other are central to Christian, Jewish, Islamic and other faiths.
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.”
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 Maine values of caring for the Earth and each other.
The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass 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.
Sen. Susan Collins has in the past 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.
Now is the time for Collins to provide outspoken leadership on this issue and to join with the rest of the Maine delegation in insisting that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be protected from drilling.
The stakes here are too high to not take a position. 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 and defend the values that move us to care about other people and to protect the places that we each call home — whether that be here in Maine or in Alaska. We must see that we are connected across communities and are part of a whole. And we must help one another because everyone is equally 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.
The Rev. Richard Killmer of Yarmouth is a retired Presbyterian minister and founding executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture who has engaged in environmental work with the National Council of Churches and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.