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Porcupine River caribou migrating to the coastal plain for calving in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Subhankar Banerjee, 2002)

Scholars for the Arctic Refuge

An open letter calling upon Congress to remove reckless Arctic Refuge drilling proposal from the budget.

[Note to scholars: To sign the ‘Scholars for the Arctic Refuge’ letter that follows, please visit this link at the Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) website. The AWL is a leading conservation group, and the only DC-based environmental organization specifically focused on Alaskan issues. Given the time sensitivity of the issue, the site will be open for just a few days—until end of Thursday, November 30. At that point, AWL will distribute the letter to all members of Congress. Would you please take a moment to add your name to the list of signers?]

Open Letter to Members of the United States Congress:

In the next few weeks, the US Congress will decide whether or not to mandate oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the 2018 federal budget bill. The Arctic Refuge may seem far away to many, but its ecosystems sustain a diverse array of species that matter to Americans and to people around the world. Opening this refuge to fossil fuel development would ignore the will of the American people, who have for decades urged their elected officials to protect this irreplaceable ecological treasure. It would also violate human rights and jeopardize the food security of the indigenous Gwich’in people of the US and Canada. We are scholars from a wide range of fields—including the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences, the arts, and other areas—united in our belief that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would be a grave mistake. We call upon Congress to remove this reckless provision from the budget.

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must not be auctioned off to Big Oil. Its natural values far exceed any oil that may lie beneath the coastal plain. As scholars from across the United States and Canada, we ask that you keep this cherished place and vibrant ecosystem protected for generations to come."

There is no justification for using the budget process to push through oil development in the Arctic Refuge. Drilling proponents claim lease sales will generate 1 billion dollars in revenue over the next decade to help defray the 1.5 trillion dollars of proposed tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Even if the anticipated revenue figure turned out to be correct (many estimates predict a far lower amount), it still represents an incredibly minute fraction of the tax-cut proposal.  This abuse of the budget process would sacrifice one of the nation’s most ecologically and culturally significant places for a paltry sum of federal revenue.

As the ecological heart of the Arctic Refuge, the coastal plain provides critical calving and nursing habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd. Almost 200,000 caribou embark every year on the longest land migration of any animal on earth, journeying from the taiga and boreal forest ecosystems of northeast Alaska and the adjacent northwest Canada to the coastal plain, where they calve and nurse their young. Caribou biologists have repeatedly warned that oil development would have catastrophic effects on the herd. In addition to nurturing caribou, the coastal plain provides nesting and feeding habitat for millions of migratory birds. Nearly two hundred different species travel from all fifty states and six continents to breed and find nourishment in the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain also offers the most important on-shore denning habitat in the US Arctic for polar bears, now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As we are in the midst of what scientists call the earth’s sixth mass extinction, the vast nursery of the coastal plain needs protection now more than ever.

For Gwich’in communities on both sides of the US-Canada border, the prospect of drilling represents an existential threat to their cultural survival. The Gwich’in have relied upon the Porcupine caribou herd for nutritional, cultural, and spiritual sustenance for millennia. To them, the coastal plain is “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Drilling in the Arctic is risky—the inevitable and chronic spills of oil and other toxic substances onto the fragile tundra would scar this land and disrupt its wildlife. The pollution caused by the sprawling infrastructure of oil development would threaten wildlife populations and harm indigenous communities that rely on the biotic life. Moreover, as the effects of climate change become more apparent, and as the global community continues to move away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, why would we now destroy the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System?

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must not be auctioned off to Big Oil. Its natural values far exceed any oil that may lie beneath the coastal plain. As scholars from across the United States and Canada, we ask that you keep this cherished place and vibrant ecosystem protected for generations to come.


Subhankar Banerjee, Lannan Chair and Professor of Art and Ecology, University of New Mexico

Finis Dunaway, Professor of History, Trent University

Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University

Terry Tempest Williams, Writer-in-Residence, Harvard Divinity School

Christoph Irmscher, Provost Professor of English, Indiana University Bloomington

Robert    Newman, President, National Humanities Center

Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin

Catherine Jurca, Professor and Executive Officer of the Humanities, Caltech.

Scott Tremaine, Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Catherine Xu, Visiting Student in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

Janet Pritchard,    Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Connecticut

Michael Hecht, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University

Jennifer Tucker, Associate Professor of History and Science in Society Program, Wesleyan University

Scott Fraser, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and of Molecular and Computational Biology, and of Pediatrics, University of Southern California

Mark Meadowcroft, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State College of Medicine

Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College

Anne Coleman,  Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Lynn Ramert, English instructor, University of Nebraska

Trevor Fristoe, Postdoctoral Researcher, Washington University in St. Louis

Shirley Roburn, Postdoctoral scholar in Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Paul Sutter, Professor of History, University of Colorado Boulder

Douglas Sackman, Professor of History, University of Puget Sound

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History, Columbia University

Erika Doss, Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Anthony Lioi, Associate Professor of English, The Juilliard School

Aaron Frith, Post-doctoral Researcher, Philosophy of Water Project, University of North Texas

Laura Kay, Professor of Physics, Barnard College

Marsha Weisiger, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon

Elizabeth Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University

David Pengelley, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, New Mexico State University

Lillian Ball, Ecological art, visiting professor, Cooper Union School of Art

Terrence Gosliner, Senior Curator, California Academy of Sciences

Arlene Plevin, Professor of English, Olympic College.

Adriene Jenik, Professor of Art/Intermedia, Arizona State University

Daniel Brotman, Adjunct Professor of Economics, Glendale College

Frank Zelko, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Vermont

Rick Steiner, Professor, University of Alaska (ret.)

Ross MacPhee,  Curator in Vertebrate Zoology/Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History

Karla Armbruster, Professor of English, Webster University

Harvard Ayers, retired Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sustainability, Appalachian State University

Nicole Seymour, Assistant Professor of English, California State University at Fullerton

William Goldsmith, Professor emeritus of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University

Mark Stoll, Professor of History, Texas Tech University

Julianne Warren, Ecosphere Studies, Center for Humans and Nature

Jon Wlasiuk, Environmental historian, Michigan State University

David Stradling, Associate Dean of Humanities and Professor of History, University of Cincinnati

Phaedra C. Pezzullo, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder

Jon Corey Hazlett, PhD Candidate, Case Western Reserve University

Kathleen Segerson, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut

Catriona Sandilands, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University

James Morton Turner, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Wellesley College

Grace Hale, Commonwealth Chair of American Studies and History, University of Virginia

Hilary Stamper,  Visiting Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Michael  Sherwin, Associate Professor of Art, West Virginia University


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Subhankar Banerjee

Subhankar Banerjee

Subhankar Banerjee works closely with Indigenous Gwich’in and Iñupiat community members and environmental organizations to protect significant biological nurseries in Arctic Alaska. Author of "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land" (Mountaineers Books, 2003), and editor of "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point" (Seven Stories Press, 2013), Subhankar is currently completing two books: coeditor (with T.J. Demos and Emily Eliza Scott) of "Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture and Climate Change" (Routledge, Spring 2021), and coauthor (with Ananda Banerjee) of "Biological Annihilation" (Seven Stories Press, Spring 2022). Subhankar serves as the founding Director of the Species in Peril project at UNM.

Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams is an American author, naturalist, and conservationist. Her work ranges from issues of ecology and wilderness preservation, to women's health, to exploring our relationship to culture and nature.

Finis Dunaway

Finis Dunaway

Finis Dunaway is a professor of history at Trent University and author, most recently, of "Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images."

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