Representatives from the Gwich’in Nation, national environmental groups, and institutional investors participated in a telephone press briefing on Monday, May 14, 2018. The briefing unveiled a new effort to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from destructive oil and gas drilling.
Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, led speakers Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. Following the Trump administration’s recent launch of the process to hold a lease sale for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, Brune outlined how a diverse group of institutional investors have called for oil companies and the banks that fund them to pledge not to support oil and gas exploration in the Refuge’s coastal plain. The coastal plain is one of the world’s last truly wild places and is considered sacred by the indigenous Gwich’in people.
Mike Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said that “corporate polluters come first” to the Trump Administration, as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would create the same amount of climate pollution as 800+ coal plants. He demanded on behalf of the Gwich’in and investors that oil and gas companies reject any financial opportunities that open up as part of drilling in the Refuge.
Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said that her people “deserve to live as we always have. This will destroy our identity.” As one of the world’s last untouched ecosystems, she asked, “Do you want to be the people who destroy it? This is not only about money: this is about people’s lives, people’s livelihoods.”
The group of investors, which collectively holds more than $2 trillion in assets, sent a letter Monday to oil and gas companies and major banks that could have interest in the Arctic Refuge drilling operations, urging them not to initiate any oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. The Gwich’in, joined by a coalition of environmental and Indigenous rights groups, sent a similar letter.
Hitting Oil Companies Where It Counts: Capital Investments
Immediately, the investors identified themselves in their letter as a group that represented $2.52 trillion in assets under management. With opposition to any efforts to develop oil and gas in the remote and pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska, their stance was clear and unrelenting: they intended to raise their voices beyond oil and gas companies to the banks that fund them. Moreover, the investors hold grave concerns about negative impacts on the climate in conjunction with financial and reputational risks associated with pursuing “a speculative fossil fuel source.”
The letter, which was undersigned by about 120 investors, was broken into 4 parts.
Financial Risk: With so many corporations, governments, and investors developing business plans that assume a 2 degree Celsius climate risk scenario, the investor group acknowledged that climate risk analysis is rendering most fossil assets unburnable. The investors argued that capital investments to pursue Arctic Refuge oil would be an irresponsible business decision at a time when global economies are transitioning away from fossil fuels to keep energy within a 2 degree scenario carbon budget.
Reputational Risk: Opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge includes 70% of US voters, so drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would face enormous reputational risk and public backlash. Investors felt that brand identification would link companies to images of destroying pristine wilderness, contributing to the climate crisis, and trampling on human rights.
Human Rights Impacts: The investors recognized the rights, subsistence lifestyle, and culture of the Gwich’in, an Alaska Native tribe whose people have lived in the region for thousands of years. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to 200,000 porcupine caribou, which comprise up to 80% of the Gwich’in diet. Oil and gas development would degrade the health of this caribou herd, so protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a matter of physical, spiritual and cultural survival — a basic human right to continue to feed families and practice a traditional way of life.
Ecological Impacts: The 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the wildest places left on the planet, as it protects more abundant and diverse wildlife than any other conservation area in the fivenation circumpolar north. Calving caribou, rare musk oxen, denning polar bears, and millions of migratory birds nest or stage in the Refuge before traveling through every US state and five continents. The investors admonished oil and gas companies and banks that would fund them that roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips, and other facilities to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge, fragment habitat, and displace wildlife. Millions of gallons of fresh water needed to support drilling activities could be drained from fragile Arctic rivers, and more regional oil spills would harm fish and wildlife.
Cultural Responsiveness Pleas from the Gwich’in Steering Committee
Forecasting that disturbances of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain would have “devastating human and ecological impacts,” the Gwich’in Steering Committee and their letter co-signers opposed any efforts to develop oil and gas in the remote and intact Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.
“Any development in the fragile coastal plain would permanently destroy the primary food source of the Gwich’in people, our culture, and way of life; and we ask you to join us and the majority of Americans throughout the U.S. in our longstanding fight to defend the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Your leadership is needed now more than ever.”
Over 100 organizations co-signed the Gwich’in letter.
We support the Gwich’in Nation, the national environmental groups, and the institutional investors who have joined together and who have drawn up ethical rationale, environmental research, and fiscal persuasion to urge banks and oil and gas companies to refuse to engage in drilling in the Arctic Refuge. We are in a crucial moment in time in which expanding support for the wide range of clean energy solutions and sustainable industries in Alaska, instead of helping to destroy this natural wonder, is the only viable solution.