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Every breath you take for your grandchildren

As the stewards of our planet and the authors of the narrative arc of climate change, it is inevitable that the will necessary to alter what awaits us exceeds our grasp. But it still remains possible that we can bend that arc and in so doing say, “This one place we will defend for all the tomorrows. This we can do. For our children and their children.”

One such place, not unlike the Amazon, is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Its loss would be beyond tragic and one more example of the mindless predation of our planet.

This breathtaking place, called so aptly the Refuge, is some 19.2 million acres, part of the stretching Arctic Coastal Plain that includes the 9,000-foot peaks of the Brooks Range. It is a sanctuary, stunning in its isolation, and one of the last remaining intact ecosystems on earth. Its pristine geography cannot be exaggerated: formed by deep valleys and boreal forests and vast prairies of tundra, it is inhabited by iconic wildlife: polar bears, porcupine caribou (which migrate across the refuge in breathtaking numbers), musk oxen, grizzly bears, lynx and the Arctic fox. Some 200 species of birds use the Refuge to mate, breed and raise their young. It is a place of the midnight sun, infused with a stillness rarely found anywhere else on earth. Its indigenous people have lived along the Arctic Coastal Plain for more than 15,000 years, their footprint all but invisible, existing within the embrace of the Refuge’s natural rhythms.

Now know that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been designated by the Trump administration for extraction exploration, the result of a rider that was quietly inserted into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If successful, this would mean that massive “thumper” trucks (some 30 tons), used for seismic surveys, would roll along newly cut roads. Mobile villages, latrines, garbage, machinery, fences and eventually oil rigs would be the resulting detritus.

In the name of fossil fuel, all of this and more would descend on the Refuge. What is reprehensible and indefensible is that drilling in the Arctic Refuge is not being fast-tracked by Trump et al. to meet a national emergency or an essential economic need. Neither the nation nor the world needs those reserves, no matter if they are vast or merely a small pond. And that raises the question: Why this place and why now? Is it simply out of base avarice and rapacity, or an in-your-face response by the Republicans and big oil while giving a hand gesture to environmentalists who still point to the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and ask: why?

And there is, of course, this meta-truth: For the sake of our warming planet and all its inhabitants, today and tomorrow, what oil still exists beneath the earth’s surface should remain there. To mindlessly extract to the last worldwide drop will surely push the earth past a CO2 tipping point from which there will be no return.

How often, just in these past two weeks, has hurricane Dorian been described with words that begin at the outermost edges of the catastrophic envelope. And we then look at the images of what were the Bahamas and realize that much of it has vanished, leaving behind a desolation that rends the heart.

A thought that I often ponder: Did Trump’s base actually cast their ballots hoping that he and his administration would deny the existence of climate change, roll back environmental regulations impacting clean water and air while dismantling the EPA (effectively removing the “P” from the agency’s mandate)? And is it now Trump’s strategy, as he faces a 2020 campaign, to stand shoulder to shoulder with big oil while insisting that regarding the Refuge he is on the right side of history and it is he who will bend the arc of eventual outcomes?

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.