Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s message to oil interests in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge is clear. “If you bring even one drilling rig into ANWR we will never forgive you,” Carter said.
But his views on ANWR pale in comparison to his concerns about global warming.
“Global warming is our biggest problem,” Carter said. “And Alaska is at the forefront of the struggles on global warming, with villages threatened by coastal erosion. You are the ones who will be affected by our nation’s horrific environmental policies. The other 49 states are with you. We are eager to be an army that protects our nation’s precious natural regions and the environment in which we live.”
Carter was the keynote speaker at the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act 25th Anniversary Celebration, July 6 and 7 at the Anchorage Hilton. A thousand people attended the event.
Carter signed ANILCA into law in December 1980, creating more than 100 million acres of national parks, wildlife refuges and forests in Alaska, including the creation of Gates of the Arctic, Kenai Fjords and Wrangell-St. Elias national parks. It also established a rural subsistence priority on those and other federal lands in the state.
Carter, who emphasized the importance of “National Interest” in the ANILCA name, said that national parks don’t just belong to the people of the state in which the park is located.
“In the Lower 48, Glacier National Park will have no glaciers in 25 years,” Carter said. “Polar bear populations are threatened in Alaska. Alaska will be the demonstrable proof that global warming affects people. Subsistence and commercial hunting as well as nature travel will be affected. The problem is equally disturbing in the South Pole, but nobody lives there, so fewer people care.”
Carter explained that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration approached his cabinet with concerns about remarkable and disturbing climate discoveries. He praised the administrations of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton for their participation in international efforts to address the problem of global warming, through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. But Carter was very critical of the present Bush administration as well as Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“The U.S. Senate called on our nation to do something about global warming,” Carter said, “but both Alaska senators voted against it. And on July 29, 2001 at the Kyoto Conference when it was the responsibility of all nations on the Earth to reach agreement to control global warming, the U.S. reneged and said we won’t…Except for the Iraqi war, the greatest international stigma on the U.S. has been our withdrawal from Kyoto.”
The conference drew attendance from a bipartisan political A-list. Democrat attendees included Fran Ulmer, Johnny Ellis and mayor Mark Begich. Republicans were represented by Walter Hickel, congressmen Tom Evans of Delaware and Mark Souder from Indiana as well as former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond, who introduced Carter saying that the ex-president “can fish my stretch of the river any time.”
Both Hammond and Carter reminded the crowd that the fight for ANILCA 25 years ago was a bipartisan effort that had the support of many Republican members of Congress, including conference attendees.
“Republican President Eisenhower was frustrated by members of the U.S. Senate from Alaska who fought what Eisenhower saw as a fair division of the lands,” Carter said. “In desperation, through executive order he designated that ANWR should be kept pristine forever. I inherited all that 18 years later as the president. ANILCA is the most important environmental legislation in history of the world.”
“This is a 50-year fight that began in the ‘50s with Eisenhower to designate ANWR a pristine place,” Carter said. “We need to continue to fight for it. At least three major oil firms don’t want to have anything to do with the drilling in ANWR. ANWR is sacrosanct.”
Kim Heacox, a wildlife photographer from Gustavus near Glacier National Park, said “Alaska is the Africa of America,” and quoted Edward Abbey saying, “‘Wilderness doesn’t need more defense. It needs more defenders.’”