British primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall sent a letter to every U.S. Senator on Tuesday, persuading Congress not to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
ANWR is one of the most pristine areas of the U.S. The land is home to a diversity of wildlife and is considered "the sacred place where life begins" by Alaska's native Gwich'in people. If drilling proceeds, environmentalists and scientists like Goodall are worried the untouched and revered ecosystem will be destroyed forever.
Goodall sent the letter one day before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was set to vote on a measure that would open up a part of the refuge to arctic drilling.
"If we violate the Arctic Refuge by extracting the oil beneath the land, this will have devastating impact for the Gwich'in people for they depend on the caribou herds to sustain their traditional way of life," Goodall said in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
According to Goodall, the protection of ANWR is vitally important because its "very wildness speaks to our deeply rooted spiritual connection to nature, a necessary element of human psyche."
"Around the globe so many indigenous people have been harmed in the name of 'progress' - let us not add one more tragedy to the list," wrote Goodall.
"We have other sources of energy."
Nor is Goodall the only scientist weighing in on this pressing issue. Her concerns are echoed by a group of 37 other scientists who research arctic wildlife. Last week, the group of experts urged Congress not to sacrifice the environmental refuge for money, arguing such a measure would be "incompatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established."
Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the energy committee, told Reuters she was doing everything she could to get her fellow lawmakers to listen to the scientists.
"Does it take the voice of Jane Goodall to beg Senators to stop hurting indigenous people and animals?" asked Cantwell.
"She's calling on them to set a conservation example instead of creating the next tragedy."
But when have politicians ever listened to the desperate pleas of scientists? The very next day, the Senate Committee passed the measure largely along party lines.
"Our bipartisan vote today is another positive step forward for Alaska and our nation, and I thank my colleagues for their strong support," said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a leading advocate of the measure.
"Opening a small part of the non-wilderness 1002 Area for responsible energy development will create thousands of good jobs, keep energy affordable for families and businesses, ensure a steady long-term supply of American energy, generate new wealth, reduce the federal deficit, and strengthen our national security."
The measure authorizes the Interior Department to begin two leases in two areas of the refuge, which amount to around 400,000 acres a piece. Yet, according to environmentalists, these lands are important calving grounds for some of the largest caribou herds in the U.S.
If senators continue to ignore the voices of scientists, precious lands like ANWR will pay dearly.