Drilling for Oil in the Arctic: The Loss of the Sacred Wild

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Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge

“Humans are not the sole inhabitants of God’s Earth and indeed there are numerous places where wild paw prints in the dirt vastly outnumber our own.” – Tom Martinez

In December of 2017, Congress opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas drilling as part of the tax overhaul. With 45 species of land and marine mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, ANWR is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic. The  coastal plain portion (Area 1002) especially represents arctic diversity and is the area now being opened up to exploration and drilling.

ANWR is home to the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska and supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares and dozens of fish species. It also serves as temporary home for millions of migrating waterfowl and the Porcupine Caribou herd which has its calving ground there.

The biome of the tundra environment is particularly vulnerable to any disturbance of the land. “It’s easy to do something on the tundra but it’s very difficult to restore,” said Francis Mauer, a retired biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. “Once you start disturbing the tundra vegetation, it takes sometimes nearly forever for the mark to go away.” Arctic Drilling

The good news is that there is time for counter action by environmentalists, state and local groups and people of faith. The new legislation requires that the Department of Interior conduct one sale within four years and a second within seven. However, there are several procedural steps that must be taken before those sales can be held, and the process is not clear. Lawsuits and other actions by opponents of drilling could slow things, both before and after any lease sales.  Additionally, as The New York Times reports, Democrats’ ability to halt progress toward drilling in the refuge is dependent on the party’s ability to recapture the majority in one or both houses of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. Arctic Drilling As Process

Within the ongoing efforts of the current administration to overturn Obama-era legacies, the Interior Department has additionally rescinded the rule that would have added regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal and tribal lands. Also, the Interior Department has repealed offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill. The Obama administration had blocked drilling on about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, the submerged offshore area between state coastal waters and the deep ocean. However, the recent legislation now allows for new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard. The governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington have all opposed offshore drilling plans.

Interior Department officials have indicated that they intend to hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven areas offered for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California, where drilling has been off limits since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara. Though the current US president claims that the decades-old ban “deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth,” this is simply not an accurate statement.  Offshore Drilling

Even if oil companies find oil in the Arctic refuge, it will increase U.S. oil reserves to a bit more than 3% of the global total. OPEC has 70%. There is no conceivable path to oil independence by producing oil domestically. Offshore Drilling Facts

In addition to the impact on land and animal populations, drilling for oil in the Arctic means that indigenous peoples will suffer from the loss of culture, lifeways and spiritual practice. Fifteen villages and small towns scattered across northeast Alaska and northwest Canada are the home of approximately 7,000 Gwich’in – the most northernly location of all indigenous nations.

The Gwich’in’s cultural affinity with area caribou herds has deep spiritual roots. Ancestral stories describe how northern people lived in peaceful intimacy, with all animals. When The People became differentiated into distinct cultural groups, it was agreed that the Gwich’in would hunt the caribou. The modern day manifestation of this spiritual belief is that “every caribou has a bit of the human heart in him; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.” The belief is that the Gwich’in will always have partial knowledge of what the caribou are thinking and feeling, while the caribou will have a similar knowledge of humans and attachment to them.

The indigenous peoples’ historical respect for the caribou is reflected in stories and legends that include the importance of using all parts of the animal, community cooperation, and sharing. The traditional caribou management belief system of the Gwich’in has continued to the present, including in legislation of modern game management practices and through the establishment of an International Porcupine Caribou Commission [IPCC]. The members of the Commission represent the villages of ArcticVillage, Venetie, Fort Yukon, and [Inupiat] Kaktovik in Alaska; andOld Crow in the Yukon Territory. ANWR and The Gwich’in

The consideration of human-animal relationship as spiritual practice and theology must be raised as a central concern to Christian faith practice and belief.  An avid hiker and UCC minister, Tom Martinez, offered this reflection after his recent trek through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

In our modern world we have become alienated from our integral relationship to the ecological systems of God’s Earth. Perhaps the physical, emotional and spiritual distance we have put between ourselves as humans and the natural world allows us to approach the wild as a place to conquer. A place we can guiltlessly raid as we extract resources such as oil and gas… The price we pay for our disconnection with God’s creatures and wilderness is vast and life-threatening… Perhaps most profound is the spiritual price we pay as we desperately seek for what we have lost, tormented by our disconnection and isolation as a species. With an expanded awakening to the meanings we have heretofore lost, there comes a growing sense of urgency and a call to deepen our understanding of our true place in God’s creation — moving from a place of dominance to one of stewardship and caregiving. As we begin to shift our consciousness from a view of the planet as an object to be conquered to one more akin to how the Gwich’in experience it, as ‘the sacred place where life begins,’ only then can we find our true selves as God’s created beings.  The Rev. Tom Martinez, Article

Truly, my friends, healthy environmental stewardship is rooted in a Creation spirituality that appreciates and strives to comprehend humanity’s interdependence with and responsibility for the diversity of life that God created and called, “Good.” Our connection with the Sacred cannot be alienated from ecologically sustainable practices and an understanding of the scientific, economic and political realities that inform the background of what is essentially THE spiritual struggle of our age.

Our true dependence is upon the Earth, not upon oil.  Our deepest need for connection with God is satisfied only by the experience of the wilderness – that most sacred place where we are compelled to go, in order to encounter God face to face. Sometimes the face of the Divine takes the form of a fox, or a bear, or a hummingbird, or a caribou.  The Sacred is wild, after all, and in its vulnerability, we are called to discover our truest strength.

ANWR Polar Bears

Polar Bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Transforming the Toxic Masculine: Resistance for Our Time

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Indigenous Father 2

Maori Father & Son

Over the past few years, the term “toxic masculinity” has entered mainstream conversation.  The term refers to an unhealthy social and self-concept among men, of every nationality, belief and culture. Like any illness or addiction, not all men suffer from toxic masculinity.  Being male is not a “problem” and men are not “the problem.” However, the wellness of men – and of every society and nation – is subject to the effects of toxic masculinity, so it behooves all of us – of every gender – to understand its symptomology and global impact.

The concept of toxic masculinity is used to describe behaviors among men that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Toxic masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions. Behaviors of misogyny, homophobia, and violence are considered toxic within the area of social sciences due to the harmful effects such behaviors have within society. Additionally, behaviors of extreme self-reliance and suppression of emotions are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.

Over the past few years, some very important research has been done regarding the link between toxic masculinity and environmental decline. For example, the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research included an article detailing a series of seven studies providing evidence that the concepts of greenness and femininity are cognitively linked in male behavior norms –  Journal of Consumer Research .  This is to say that, “Consumers who engage in green behaviors are stereotyped by others as more feminine and even perceive themselves as more feminine. Further, men’s willingness to engage in green behaviors can be influenced by threatening or affirming their masculinity.”

Living from and with toxic masculinity is typified in behavior that cares more about self-image than about others or the environment. Within its complex of behaviors, to the toxic masculine, the feminine – and anything associated with the feminine – is abused, disregarded and only deemed valuable insofar as it serves to serve the needs of the toxic masculine ego. I would add that the toxic masculine ego can likely never be satisfied, and can subsequently never experience fulfillment. The toxic masculine ego is the ultimate insatiable consumer.  Whatever it cannot consume or forcibly conform to meet its needs, it abhors and destroys.

Last month (December 2017), Scientific American published a follow up on the JCR article of the year prior – Scientific American . The authors note that, “Women have long surpassed men in the arena of environmental action,” making the suggestion that, “masculine affirmation and masculine branding may be effective in narrowing the gender gap in environmentalism.”  Basically, by making a man feel manly, he’s more likely to go green.

This isn’t a bad conclusion to come to, though I do think it’s somewhat narrowly focused.  I think the studies provide some backlighting to a larger social shadow that is broadly linked to the social/global history of patriarchal cultures and the heritage of patriarchal cosmology which our world is collectively attempting to transform.  I believe the global transformation to a new paradigm of equitable environmental sustainability will require the social, theological and psychological deconstruction of toxic masculinity.

In my opinion, toxic masculinity is at the root of every major social and environmental challenge in our world today. From violence against women and transgendered persons to wars for land and natural resources, from mass shootings to the military industrial complex, from prohibitions against women’s’ education in some societies to corporate and nationalistic lobbies in the halls of legislature of other societies, and from species extinction to loss of indigenous sacred sites, toxic masculinity is incapable of valuing life for all time because it truly only perceives its own here and now.

Finally, toxic masculinity in leadership is perhaps the greatest threat to the viability of our world.

The healthy masculine is not threatened by emulating behaviors that are generative, relationally equal and mutual. The healthy masculine exercises empathy, values the full spectrum of human/personal emotion and has an expansive sense of compassion. There are many historical, religious/spiritual, philosophical and cultural male models of the healthy masculine. Christ is one such model.

Jesus valued the perspectives of women, children and men – of people who were different from him. He did not value violence or see it as the answer to threat. He was courageous without bravado, caring without the need to be repaid, loving without self-interest and able to share his emotions of fear/grief/joy/love/pain without questioning his value as a person. He was fearless in his conviction that might does not make right, that one’s life is made whole through healing, nurturing and caring for others and by creating a new social reality through dialogue and greater mutual understanding. His courage was not found in conquering the will or lives of others but in his resistance to living as though he was conquered (by an emperor). He was free in heart and mind and spirit, and because he was a truly free man, he had no need to enslave anyone. He was a man who gave life where there had been only death.

Christ’s hope, I think, was that all  men should be freed from their emperors – from the ways of being men in history and in our day that keep all the world in thrall.

Jesus with Children, Fr. John Giuliani

Jesus with Children by Fr. John Giuliani