As a young climate activist, I’m deeply concerned about the fact that our political leaders are not doing enough to combat climate change.

Case in point: the decision by Congress in 2017 to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development.

The Arctic Refuge is one of the last wild places on earth — home to breathtaking wildlife such as polar bears, Arctic fox, and muskoxen. In addition, the refuge supports the Indigenous Gwich’in people who depend on migrating porcupine caribou for their survival.

Unfortunately, the refuge is also ground zero for climate change. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the planet and melting permafrost is threatening food sources for humans and wildlife alike. Drilling for oil and gas in this region will only compound these devastating climate impacts, releasing far more carbon into the atmosphere.

Now, Congress has the chance to rectify the mistake it made four years ago. Prohibiting oil and gas development in the refuge is critical for the survival of wildlife and the Gwich’in people — and is an important step to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

I ask people to join me in urging Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to stand up for wildlife, the Gwich’in people, and all of us young people who are concerned about our future. We can’t continue to stand idly by while the planet’s most vital and vulnerable environments are destroyed.

The time to protect the Arctic Refuge is now.

Madison Sheppard, Waterford

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