Caring for Our Coasts: Florida's Stake in Arctic Protection

While Congress debates an underhanded push to open drilling off the Arctic’s coast and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there’s a much bigger picture at playone that speaks to the fate of places like Ft. Lauderdale. The Trump administration’s blatant favoritism for fossil fuel interests is fueling a full-on push for drilling and exploration in some of the world’s most cherished landscapes, which now includes almost every edge of this continent. If there’s any way to stop the dangerous carbon pollution from those fossil fuels from worsening climate change and leading to the creation of more superstorms like Irma and an even faster rate of sea level rise, we must consider the Arctic.

Florida’s ocean families cherish the value of our tourism and fishing industries. Healthy waters are absolutely essential to our state economy and our quality of life. The Gwich’in Nation hold similar ties to the natural world. They face irreversible impacts to caribou populations that support their livelihood if the Arctic’s coastal plain is drilled. Unfortunately the worth of the Gwich’in nation and one of the world’s most valuable natural spaces are being completely pushed under rug.

With the support of this oil-addicted administration, a few senators are well on their way to attaching a horrendous proposal to the federal budget that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. This isn’t just about pretty pictures of glaciers or polar bears, it’s a serious human rights issue and one that speaks to our lack of leadership in tackling global climate change. Alaska is warming twice as fast as the rest of the country. Decisions like this to drill there foreshadow what’s at stake right here. Simply put: we know drilling off Florida’s coast would be absolutely detrimental to our climate and that it would disproportionately damage local communities who have a true economic and cultural stake in the area’s health. For the Gwich’in Nation in the Arctic, that’s the exact case. The proposed drilling site in this proposal is the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain. The spot represents a highly sacred area for Gwich’in families who have depended on the caribou who have calved there for centuries.

The risks of drilling, in the Arctic Refuge or off our coasts, are way too high. Research suggests that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would impact migration paths for marine life and harm the coastal plain’s caribou herd. Not to mention, extraction would certainly increase our already-concerning carbon outputexpediting the melting of the region’s ice caps and leading to global sea level rise all while fueling more severe natural disasters across the globe. We have the responsibility to fight for future generations of Americans who will surely face the devastating climate disruption to come if we continue drilling with no consideration. It’s time to call out these false promises of market growth and energy stability; they’re just not true. Over and over, the science has been linked to industry- tainted and biased reports. With high extraction costs and low oil prices, the economics aren’t there. It’s continually confirmed that drilling there cannot secure any aspect of American energy security.

Our coastlines not only support some of the most important natural systems in the world but remain ground-zero for the effects of a changing climate. In Florida, that means driving currents that fuel superstorms like Irma resulting in more humanitarian crises. In the Arctic, that means harming the Gwich’in Nation while drastically increasing climate disruption. If this illogical push to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain goes ahead, Florida might be fighting something similar and sooner than later. The fight for the Arctic represents so much more than the sole viewpoint of a conservationist. It’s about people and places who face the significant threat of unchecked exploitation of our landscapes and communities. Congress must reject this budget proposal to avoid devastating climate impacts and to protect families and their environments.