Open Challenge to Rebecca Rimel, President of Pew Charitable Trusts: Match Your Mission Statement With Your Position On Alaskan Oil Drilling

Dear Ms. Rimel,

I am an independent writer with an interest in environmental issues. I am a father, and an informed citizen. The credentials I hold as a writer and citizen are no less important than those of yours, which, I presume, may be bred from similar motivation: intellectual curiosity and, mostly, a committed citizen and parent with a deep concern for the state of the world which I — and you — will leave for my daughter and all the other children.

I have long admired the charitable work of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

I challenge you to reconcile the contradictions between your recently announced support of US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “National Petroleum Reserve” plan in Alaska — which would open 11 million acres to oil and gas drilling and extract hundreds of millions of barrels of new oil — with Pew’s organizational mission statement.

The Pew Mission (quoted verbatim here from your website), pledges ” …to help meet what we view as one of the seminal challenges of our time: saving the natural environment and protecting the rich array of life it supports.  We focus on the biggest problems facing our world, because they threaten to cause the greatest damage unless they are solved.”

In an op-ed published on September 27 by CNN, you praise the Salazar plan because it divides the reserve into two halves, with part of the territory reserved for wildlife protection: “The new guidelines would make 11.8 million acres — roughly half the reserve — available for oil and gas leasing, while protecting important wildlife and waterfowl habitat in the remaining half.”

Alaska wilderness via Shutterstock

This implies that the wildlife in the ‘protected zone’ would be far removed from, lets say, the dangers of a pipeline accident. Leaving that premise aside for now, you nevertheless fail to mention a much more permeable, long-lasting environmental consequence: climate change.

The words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ aren’t mentioned once in your article.

The omission is unfortunate because scientists acknowledge that 1) global warming appears to be causing greater and more rapid environmental changes in the Arctic than any other region of the world and 2) Arctic wildlife is profoundly vulnerable to these changes.

Which brings me to the Pew mission statement. Do you believe, Ms. Rimel, that climate change represents “one of the seminal challenges of our time?” If so, does not your approval of a massive new increase of greenhouse gas emissions run 100% contradictory to your own mission statement?

Do you really focus “on the biggest problems facing our world because they threaten to cause the greatest damage unless they are solved,” according to your mission statement? If so, how can you justify approval of the extraction of the vast fossil fuel reserves currently under the Alaskan tundra — into an atmosphere already at threshold levels of carbon and other greenhouse gases? Is this not “one of the biggest problems facing our world?”

Indeed, the contradictions inherent between your mission statement and your approval of the Salazar oil plan are summed up clearly in the very headline of the your CNN op-ed. I no doubt was not the only environmentally aware person left shaking my head in disbelief at the stunningly ignorant title to which you, of all people, were attributed:

Alaskan Oil and Wildlife: It’s not either/or

Yes, Ms. Rimel, it IS “either/or.”

You are aware, no doubt, of the dramatic and rapid declines and alterations reported in many of the Earth’s major ecological systems: coral reef depletion; ocean acidification; rising sea levels; forest health decline; shrinking arctic ice cover (may reach zero within the next decade); record-shattering global weather extremes, including droughts, floods, and heat waves — all of which have been linked with near-universal consensus within the global scientific community to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. That is, manmade climate change from fossil fuels. Alaskan wildlife is not immune from these effects.

Indeed, you proclaim that the Salazar oil plan is “great news for caribou and grizzly bears.” In your own words:

“As Salazar said, the plan ‘will provide a road map to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development’ and ‘builds on efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that’s needed to bring supplies online.’ This plan is great news for the caribou, grizzly bears, wolves and dense populations of peregrine falcons, golden eagles and other nesting raptors that live and breed on these lands.”

Let’s get this straight: You are suggesting that the development of oil industry infrastructure is ‘great news’ for caribou and grizzly bears?

Alaskan bears celebrating the good news! (Image via Shutterstock.)

(Aside to Ms. Rimel: Who writes your media copy? Seriously, I’m available for $75K and full benefits, and I promise never, ever, to write anything so absurd on your behalf.)

In all seriousness, global warming — the unspoken element of the Salazar plan conveniently left out of your op-ed  — is a disaster for Arctic wildlife, with experts across the spectrum agreeing that species such as polar bears, caribou, and beluga whales are not going to be able to adapt to the rapidly warming climate. Indeed, the rapidly warming planet — suffering the effects of greenhouse gas atmospheric saturation levels — is pushing Arctic species such as polar bears, walrus, narwhals, and seals towards extinction.

And the most important thing we can do to protect Alaskan wildlife, rather than unleash hundreds of millions of barrels of new oil, is, instead, to slow the rate of climate change and ultimately to stop it so that the habitat of ice-dependent species “does not entirely disappear.”

We expect better from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

So I challenge you to explain the contradiction between your support of the Salazar Alaska oil plan and the Pew organizational mission statement.

Or better: do the courageous thing and admit that your public approval of the “National Petroleum Reserve” plan for Alaska — even if offering some measure of immediate economic gain for a limited constituency — was a mistake, the wrong policy to pursue from a historical, science-based sense of responsibility to future generations, and, finally, contrary to the forward-thinking values of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Anything else, Ms. President, would be a sad legacy of your Presidency from an historic environmental perspective.

Are you up for the challenge, President Rimel?


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