Climate Change Action

Arctic Wildlife Refuge: A Quick Overview

What is ANWR exactly?

In accordance with a landmark legislative agreement reached in 1980, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was expanded to include a total of 19.6 million acres in exchange for the opening of the Prudhoe Bay area to oil and gas exploration. At approximately the same time, a congressionally mandated study examined the coastal plain area of the refuge and determined that, while oil and gas existed along the coast, the benefits of extraction were far outweighed by the risk of permanent and irreversible ecological destruction to the area, and by extension, to the rest of the planet.

Why Is the Refuge Important?

Only about 30,000 polar bears remain on earth today, and the species may likely disappear within our lifetimes. Roughly 50 of these bears enter the refuge each year in September and begin the denning process in the late fall. As climate change reduces the sea ice necessary for polar bear reproduction, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge remains the only conservation area where the bears regularly den, and has become a critical habitat for the members of this diminishing population.

More than 200 species of birds also rely on the refuge, as well as migrating herds of caribou, wolves, muskoxen, and countless other fragile species, some of which are listed here:

And yet the oil and gas extraction industries and Alaska’s congressional delegation have long been engaged in an ongoing push to open the refuge to drilling, a push which has gained new strength under the current administration.


What’s Happening Now?

The president’s 2018 Budget recommended opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling operations, claiming this would generate $1.8 billion in revenue over 10 years without citing any information on how this number was attained, and republican members of congress are expected to add a pro-drilling provision to their eventual tax overhaul legislation, citing the unexplained $1.8 billion as a mitigation for reduced tax revenues.

As of last week, this special legislation will require only a 51-vote majority in the Senate before it is sent to the President’s desk.

What Can We Do About This?

A sense of helplessness and resignation tends to take hold in situations like this one, and passively hoping for the best may feel like the easiest response. But passive resignation isn’t the only option (it never is). In the spirit of prioritizing action over anger, we encourage our readers to take the following steps:

Call all three of your members of congress using the congressional switchboard number (202- 224-3121) and ask them to protect the refuge from drilling. When you encounter a full voice mailbox, visit the homepage of your representative, find the email contact form, and send them a written message.

Keep paying attention. No final tax overhaul legislation has yet been established; so far, only the initial budget legislation has been passed. The Arctic Refuge is not yet in imminent danger, but only a few steps remain before this point has been reached.

Become a leader and Refuge Advocate. Encourage others to take the steps described above by using your personal influence and social media accounts. Start by setting an example with your own behavior. Recognize that fighting climate change and reducing oil and gas consumption contribute to this effort. 

Learn more. Visit the websites of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, and When you visit these sites, your traffic demonstrates an interest in the issues surrounding the refuge and its protection. Gather information and leave a trail. 

Contact Just Atonement for more tips on individual leadership and climate change advocacy. No matter the scope of responsibility you’d like take on, we’re here to help.

Preparing for a New Normal

Thirty-eight million people live in the metropolitan region of Tokyo, and even while the city (and surrounding area) have struggled over the past few years with the challenges that face any dense population (resource distribution, crime management, etc), they’ve managed to dedicate over two billion dollars and an extraordinary amount of human capital to a project that might once have been impossible to believe: a vast underground network of concrete tanks that protect the city from the existential threat of a warming planet.

An expensive, enormous underground water management system completed in 2006 will soon be tested by the changing weather and rising sea levels that surround the island nation of Japan. And these vast tanks and reservoirs—deep enough to hold the Statue of Liberty—push the boundaries of our imagination and help us accept a new reality; a major city that can survive, thrive, and continue to serve as an economic powerhouse and the wellspring of a flourishing culture while resting several feet below sea level. As the city sinks and the water rises, Tokyo has demonstrated a concrete determination (literally) to adapt to this new normal and continue to exist. Instead of yielding to a set of problems that occupy a bewildering overlay of physics, financial management and city planning, this city simply said: We can do this. The result: not a miracle, but a very human solution. Will it work? We don’t really know. We can’t predict every economic, environmental and culture event that might contribute to an answer. But the underground reservoirs exist. They have traveled the entire path from incomplete plan to real material change, and they are extraordinary to behold.

There’s a lesson in this for us as we work to lay the foundations of Just Atonement amid a flood of challenging news and shifting global events that require our full attention. As we read through bills presented to Congress and examine procedural details and committee rules, once stable global economies are rumbling beneath our feet and once quiet populations are shaking off the status quo and drafting their own destinies. Shared resources are running short, cultural shifts are happening overnight, and meanwhile, a changing climate is bringing new forces to bear on what were already complex ecosystems. How can Tokyo’s reservoirs help us make sense of these things? They can remind us that change happens a single step at a time, and if each step leads consistently to the next, vast new objects and lifesaving enterprises can appear in the world that weren’t there before. Action matters.

As we assemble our team and select specific cases from the disputes arising around us, we’d like to enlist your help! Each day, help us illuminate connections and find order in a disordered world with one small action, and then another, and so on. We’ll try to share an action with each blog post (we’re aiming for at least one or two each week) and our actions will become more involved over time. Here’s our action for today:

Read the list of ingredients on everything you eat today. If you don’t understand or recognize a certain ingredient, spend just five minutes looking it up. Learn at least one new thing about the food that sustains you and gets you through the day. An easy start! Later we’ll talk about food distribution, a topic that’s laced with intersections—links between disciplines, populations and economic drivers that constantly surprise us.

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