To the editor,

            Ted Stevens has been the primary driver in the futile effort to destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska .  Now, he is under indictment. 

            This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the issue, and how brazenly Stevens has spewed lies to destroy the last 5 percent of the North Slope of Alaska, when oil companies already have access to 95 percent of it, as well as most of the Arctic Ocean .  More than the fact that just a tiny amount of oil is under the refuge must have been motivating his lust for destruction, and now we have proof: he was bought off by Big Oil.

            In my first personal encounter with Stevens, I had just flown out of the Arctic Refuge in a small bush plane, having stayed with the Gwich’in people, boated down the Porcupine River and then backpacked with a group from North Carolina in the refuge.  Stevens had called a public meeting in Kaktovik where he expected the support of the Inupiat people.  They presented him with a petition of 60 signatures from the village with a population of 212 requesting the protection of the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness.

            When I tried to take a photo of Stevens, I was ordered not to, even though others were allowed.  When Stevens said Congress had promised him drilling in the refuge, I shook my head in disagreement, though said nothing.  Stevens stopped talking, and in front of a group of about 200, ordered me to stop shaking my head.  “If you don’t stop shaking your head, I will have you removed from this meeting,” the Senator ordered.

            While Stevens characterizes the coastal plain, where drilling is proposed, as a small part of the refuge.  The fact is the coastal plain is the biological heart of the refuge, where 123,000 caribou go to give birth to up to 50,000 calves every year.  The wetlands are also the sacred ground of the Gwich’in People, who will not even walk there.  Oil companies have vast areas that they can drill, they just want to get it all while oil man Bush is in the White House.

            Stevens demonstrates the character of those chomping at the bit to destroy the refuge, in many ways.  First, were lawmakers to look at the facts, they would see the USGS report that drilling would at most reduce gas by a penny per gallon at the pump in 20 years.  Raising efficiency standards would save hundreds of times more oil, and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The fact that Stevens, and others (like Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana who was found with $90,000 of cash in his freezer) still want to drill in the refuge, shows there is more to their decision than what is best for our country.  The fact is, Stevens had taken a quarter of a million dollars worth of home improvements (and who knows how much else that is yet to be uncovered) from oil companies.

Lastly, it is the moral issue involved that we must rise to.  There is only so much oil on our planet.  It took hundreds of million of years to create it and we have burned more than half in a hundreds years.  What will future generations do?  With the climate disaster we are creating in burning it, what legacy are we leaving? 

We must change course to efficient high speed rail and mass transit and efficient vehicles used only when needed running on renewably generated electricity.  With better community design, we can walk and bicycle for most of our needs while improving our health and quality of life.  Trains offer much greater freedom to use ones time than the wasted chore and danger of driving, and can easily run on wind, solar, waste methane, geothermal, wave or tidal generated electricity while going 200+ miles per hour.  I argue this would improve our standard of living while completely eliminating our need for oil, and above all reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Chad Kister

Kister is the Author of Arctic Quest: Odyssey Through a Threatened Wilderness Area; Arctic Melting: How Climate Change is Destroying One of the World’s Largest Wilderness Areas and Against All Odds: The Struggle to Save The Ridges.  He is also the producer of the 2006 film, Caribou People.  The second edition of Arctic Melting is coming out soon, with 100+ more pages and thoroughly updated throughout.