What happens in the Arctic doesn’t just stay up north. It affects the world, as that region is the integrator of our planet’s climate systems, atmospheric and oceanic. At the moment, the northernmost places on Earth are warming at more than twice the global average, a phenomenon whose impact is already being felt planetwide. Welcome to the world of climate breakdown—and to the world of Donald Trump.
The set of climate feedbacks contributing to further warming in the Arctic are about to be aided and abetted by President Trump, his Interior Department, and a Republican-controlled Congress. The impact of their decisions will be experienced around the world. While the United States is still recovering from the deaths, suffering, and devastation caused by extreme hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as historically deadly wildfires across the West, Trump’s Department of the Interior is preparing a five-year strategic plan that never once mentions climate change or climate science. It does, however, plan to open previously protected public lands of all sorts to the increased exploitation of fossil fuels—and Arctic Alaska is anything but exempt.
“Alaska [is] open for business,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a cheering crowd at an Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference in Anchorage earlier this year. The secretary was visiting as part of a presidential mandate to “prepare our country to be energy dominant”—even though the United States has been the largest global producer of oil and gas since 2012 and, in this era, has often been referred to as “Saudi America.” What that energy-dominance slogan signals is nothing short of the beginning of a war against environmental conservation, justice, and the planet as a welcoming habitat for all life.
“The only path for energy dominance is a path through the great state of Alaska,” Zinke assured the Anchorage audience. What he evidently wants to do is sell off the most ecologically and culturally significant places in the state to Big Oil. On the sacrifice block is a long endangered stretch of public land, Area 1002, or the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a biological nursery of global significance and a place sacred to the indigenous Gwich’in Nation. Like her father, also a Republican senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski is championing the task of opening the refuge to drilling by abusing the filibuster-proof budget process rather than debating this controversial issue as stand-alone legislation in Congress.