Money talks. And this time, for all the right reasons. Some of the biggest Investors, collectively worth more than $2.5 trillion in assets, came together to protect the largest wildlife refuge in America – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On Monday, they wrote an open letter urging oil and gas companies not to drill in the region.
“We strongly urge banks and oil and gas companies to honor their fiduciary duty to investors and refuse to engage in drilling in the Arctic Refuge,” the investors wrote. “We, as investors, encourage expanding support for the wide range of clean energy solutions and sustainable industries in Alaska, instead of helping to destroy this natural wonder.”
US government under President Donald Trump has opened the pristine land for oil and gas companies to start drilling in Arctic Refuge and now with a nod from GOP tax bill, the land is all set to be disrupted. But the big investors are trying to turn the tables.
The investors include some of the highly sought firms, New York State Common Retirement Fund, Paribas Asset Management, Episcopal Church and the Dominican Sisters to name a few. The investors joined the Gwich’in Steering Committee, the committee of an indigenous group of Gwich’in people who live near the Arctic refuge.
The wildlife Arctic Refuge is holy for the Gwich’in tribe. They call it “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins”. The 19 million acre refuge is home to some of the most exotic and endangered species of the world and not many such wildlife refuges are left in the world. Calving porcupine caribou (not actual porcupine, they are antelopes), rare musk oxen, polar bears and numerous migratory birds live and migrate on the sacred land. The Gwich’in people have lived in the region for their livelihood for thousands of years. The Gwich’in diet majorly depends upon the herds of porcupine caribou.
The Gwich’in people wrote their own letter which is backed by more than 100 environmentalist and conservation groups and various indigenous rights groups.
“It is both deeply unethical and unwise to permanently destroy lands vital to the culture and existence of the Gwich’in to pursue this high-risk gamble,” wrote the Gwich’in committee. “Any oil company or bank that supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge faces enormous reputational risk and public backlash. Their brands would be associated with trampling on human rights, destroying one of the world’s last remaining intact wild places, and contributing to the climate crisis.”
However, Alaska’s congressional representatives, are putting high pressure to lure the drilling companies as it would be beneficial for the government because it would fetch more than $1bn in the business.
According to Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, “Responsible development is limited to just 2,000 federal acres – just one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR.”
But according to the letter by Gwich’in committee, “This place was originally set aside by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 as a refuge, not for development. Roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips and other facilities that would be developed to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge, fragment habitat and displace wildlife. And oil spills, which already occur on the North Slope, would harm fish and wildlife.”
The investors are not only driven by diverse ecological and human rights impacts of the drilling. There is also a financial risk of doing the business in the Arctic Refuge. As global economies are backing away from fossil fuels, the fuel prices are about to drop and investing in the drilling business doesn’t seem like a fruitful prospect.
Apart from finance, there’s also a risk of defamation. Drilling in the sacred land may make them look like a villain in the eyes of the common public. They sure don’t want that.
The fact that building up walls, setting up big industries in highly biodiverse lands does create an ecological turmoil, cannot be overlooked. Development at a cost of violating human rights and altering the ecological balance is not development, just plain destruction.