March 15, 2005

Save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Republicans in the Senate are trying to sneak legislation through attached to the federal budget that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The ANWR is nineteen million acres of American environmental beauty, one of the last places on Earth where artic and sub-arctic lands are protected. The Arctic Refuge is home to caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, golden eagles, snow geese and much more wildlife. The Arctic Refuge is also used by a variety of birds as nesting grounds during migration. This is not to mention the Gwich'in tribe of Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada, who have depended on the Arctic Coastal Plain for centuries. They consider the Arctic Coastal Plain sacred ground. Destroying it in the name of more energy for the American industrial machine would just be another profound slap in the face for Native Americans who have been stewards of the American lands for millennia.

The Republican argument is that we must use the oil resources of the Arctic Refuge in the name of energy independence. Unfortunately, this argument is (intentionally?) misleading. The oil from the ANWR won't even begin to touch America's overwhelming energy needs, leaving us still dependent on foreign oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the oil from the Arctic Refuge will only meet American needs for six months, and oil companies admit that even this six month supply of oil will not be available for ten years. Are we really willing to destroy one of the last arctic refuges, a land held sacred by Native Americans, for a six month supply of oil that we won't see for ten years? Will we desecrate a people's sacred land for its oil, ignoring their freedom of religion and the protected status that their holy places should enjoy?

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) don't want to do that. They've cosponsored an amendment to put an end to the Republican scheme to begin drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Now they're calling for our support to make sure that their amendment is passed, and it can only be passed with the support of seven key Republican Senators: Sen. Coleman (R-MN), Sen. Smith (R-OR), Sen. Specter (R-PA), Sen. Martinez (R-FL), Sen. Lugar (R-IN), Sen. Gregg (R-NH), and Sen. Sununu (R-NH). Americans nationwide, and especially in these Senators' home states, must urge them to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This is not just a political issue. It is an issue that finds solid basis in Catholic social teaching on stewardship of the environment. In Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (after which this weblog is named), the Holy Father wrote:

Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks -- alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it -- called the "cosmos." Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration which it is useful to reflect upon carefully.

The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate -- animals, plants, the natural elements -- simply as one wishes, according to one's own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the "cosmos."

The second consideration is based on the realization -- which is perhaps more urgent -- that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.

The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.

Once again it is evident that development, the planning which governs it, and the way in which resources are used must include respect for moral demands. One of the latter undoubtedly imposes limits on the use of the natural world. The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to "use and misuse," or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to "eat of the fruit of the tree" (cf. Gen 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.

A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization -- three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #34).

It is clear from the Pope's encyclical that respectful stewardship of the environment is a Catholic moral value, and one which cannot be ignored by the faithful regardless of their political affiliation. Therefore, I urge all Catholics to support the Cantwell-Kerry Amendment that would prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the grounds that stewardship of the environment compels the Catholic Church to act on behalf of the environment whenever it comes under political attack.

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Further Reading:

- "In 24-48 Hours," by Sen. John Kerry,

- Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #29,34, by Pope John Paul II.

- Populorum Progressio, #22,69, by Pope Paul VI.

- Mater et Magistra, #246, by Pope Bl. John XXIII.

- Rerum Novarum, #33-36, by Pope Leo XIII.

- Justice in the World, #47, World Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971.

- Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, #3,5,6,16,18,40, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

- Economic Justice for All, #34,228, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Action Alerts:

- Contact your Senator and let him or her know that you support the Cantwell-Kerry Amendment to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

- Contact the seven crucial Republican Senators and let them know that you support the Cantwell-Kerry Amendment: Sen. Coleman, Sen. Smith, Sen. Specter, Sen. Martinez, Sen. Lugar, Sen. Gregg, and Sen. Sununu.

- Sign the Citizens' Roll Call in support of the Cantwell-Kerry Amendment.

- Contribute to Sen. John Kerry's advertising campaign to draw support for the Cantwell-Kerry Amendment in the home states of the seven crucial Republican Senators.