How can we say no to drilling in the Arctic when we use oil every day? We use it for heating our houses, fueling our four-wheelers and cooking our meals. But saying no to oil does not mean we have to go back to old times.
When I grew up in Point Hope, 50 years ago, we used dog sleds for transportation, seal oil for warmth, whale bones and sod for shelter. All these energy sources came from our land and our ocean through the animals to us.
We were an independent sovereign culture. Fossil fuel was introduced to us. We weren’t looking for it. It changed our way of living; it made life easier, more comfortable, it afforded us luxuries – but it certainly came at a price. We have become dependent on an outside energy source; just like any other modern community in the world.
Shell believes there is oil in our ocean. But extracting it comes at too big a risk for the indigenous people of the Arctic. The Inupiaq culture is centered around the harvest of marine mammals. We are who we are because the animals give themselves to us on their yearly migration.
We exist because they feed us with their body and their spirit. We don’t hunt for fun or for trophies, we hunt to subsist, to sustain what is left of our sovereign way of life. An oil spill will destroy the Arctic and it will destroy our subsistence way of life.
The US government predicts a 75% chance of an oil spill happening. Even in the small likelihood there is no spill, the drilling itself will disturb our animals. Shell itself estimates in its last environmental permit application that drilling activity will harass 13% of endangered species like bowhead whale, grey whale and ringed seals.
Using the oil locked in the Arctic Ocean will accelerate climate change.
Climate change is already here for us. The ice has changed. It comes late, it leaves early. It has become unreliable and hard to read, making it dangerous to cross during hunting. Our ice cellars are melting and eroding, making it difficult to store our subsistence food. It rained this past winter, it never rains in the winter. The ice in the fall used to protect our coastline from heavy waves. Now the waves wash away our shores.
To keep climate change from destroying the Arctic any further, Arctic Ocean oil needs to stay in the ground. According to a recent study funded by the UK Energy Research Centre a third of the oil reserves should remain in the ground and not be used before 2050 if global warming is to stay below 2C (3.6F). A temperature rise limit set for this century that will hopefully prevent catastrophic climate change.
There is energy in the Arctic other than oil. Solar and wind power is available for everyone here. What we need is the affordable technology to develop and store these natural unlimited energy sources. There certainly is enough room for wind farms and solar farms. We can make a different choice now – just look at Hawaii’s recent commitment to become completely fossil fuel independent by 2045.
“Alarm Bells are ringing”, says president Obama about climate change in an infomercial announcing his visit to the Arctic. Here in the Arctic, those sirens have been sounding for decades. Shell is drilling in our ocean, threatening our way of life with its noise and probable oil spills. Climate change is happening in the Arctic, with the Arctic ice pack melting faster than ever. The rest of the world is in the same boat, they just don’t know it yet.
President Obama, time changed and it will change again. It is now that we have to make the transition to new energy sources for the world. Moving away from oil is not going back into time, it is moving forward. There will be a time that talking about fossil-fueled car will sound as old as dog sled transportation sounds now.
For the sake of the Inupiaq and for the sake of the earth, leave the oil in the Arctic and put the government’s money and energy into perfecting the technology to unlock natural renewable energy sources that are available to everyone. We need energy sources that can be used locally and that will give us back our independence – and we need it now.