We can show good stewardship by protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
By: The Rev. C. Craig Topple
Recently, I was loaned a book. I was reading it outside, got distracted, and left it outside. That evening it rained and the book was ruined. I felt terrible. How do I make it right for the owner of the book? Even if I replace it, can I expect the owner to loan me another? Will I even ask?
Stewardship is an underappreciated word and concept. In its simplest terms, it means to take care of something that has been entrusted to our care. It feels good and right to take good care of our homes and our vehicles, our community and our families. But, what about when we don’t? It’s easy to tell the difference between a good steward and a-not-so-good steward.
As a spiritual leader, a pastor and a healthcare chaplain, I am called to both exemplify and teach the importance of stewardship to those I serve. Quite often I fall short. I am not alone. At the highest level of responsibility, evidence suggests that humans collectively are falling short — as we witness mass extinction of species and suffer with a warming planet. We have not been good stewards of God’s creation.
While I love exploring God’s handiwork in the small wooded area where I live, I am aware there is perhaps no more magnificent evidence of the handiwork of the Divine than in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Indigenous people there, the Gwich’in, call this special region “the sacred place where life begins.” In the spring and summer months — when 200 species of migratory birds flock to the region and when wooly caterpillars emerge from their frozen cocoons and transform into butterflies — it is truly a wildlife paradise. Polar bears give birth to their young in dens they have built on the coastal plain; pregnant porcupine caribou travel some 400 miles to give birth and raise their young. For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have followed this migration route, hunting caribou for food and clothing and incorporating the caribou into their culture and rituals.
A provision in a 2017 tax bill, of all places, opened up this pristine wildlife area for oil and gas development. While I recognize the importance of energy for human wellbeing, this provision significantly threatens the wellbeing of the entire coastal plain ecosystem. Fossil fuel extraction would disrupt migration patterns and destroy polar bear dens, not to mention further contribute to warming our planet. The Gwich’in people, who consider themselves stewards of this region, oppose this provision. It is designated a refuge, something “safe.” Should it not remain so?
Returning to the concept of stewardship, often a way the word is used in churches is with respect to finances. We conduct “stewardship” campaigns in preparation for our church budgets. Fossil-fuel extraction in the wildlife refuge, apart from adverse ecological and cultural aspects, demonstrates poor stewardship from a financial perspective. The first lease sale in January resulted in participation from none of the major oil companies. Only half the parcels received bids, and despite projections that the lease sale would raise $1.8 billion, a mere $14 million was collected.
We, in Georgia, can join many other communities of faith, as well as the Gwich’in people, in being good stewards of God’s creation with respect to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Please join me in urging our congressional delegation to take action to permanently protect this “sacred place” that is unparalleled in its beauty, diverse wildlife, vast wilderness and remarkable ecological integrity.
The Rev. C. Craig Topple is chaplain of the St. Mary’s Health Care System.