Activist group protests ExxonMobil sponsorships
Alaska Rising Tide, a statewide climate change activist group, is protesting ExxonMobil’s long-time sponsorship of the Iditarod on the grounds that fuel companies are damaging the environment.
“The Iditarod committee should recognize that fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil are causing climate change,” said Jeff Chen, a volunteer with Alaska Rising Tide. “It’s reckless for a snow and ice dependent race to take money from an oil company that knew about climate change since the 1970s and subsequently funded climate change denial projects.”
The group displayed a banner reading “We’d Rather Be Led By Dogs” at the Iditarod re-start in Fairbanks this March.
Along with other UAF students, Stephen Greenlaw, a senior in the Fisheries program, is part of Alaska Rising Tide. Greenlaw says he joined the group because of his interest in climate change and his concern about the current political rhetoric regarding the issue.
“With the current Trump administration, climate justice is an important issue now more than ever,” Greenlaw said.
Both men see conflicts of interest in our politics these days.
“Now, we got former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State,” Chen said. “And the white house just copy and pasted a press release from ExxonMobil, and announced a $20 billion deal with them in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Greenlaw is concerned about how the Trump administration will handle climate change.
“I have no faith that current administration will intend on taking on climate change in a positive way,” Greenlaw said. “The Trump administration is rolling back on environmental regulations put in place by President Obama.”
For Greenlaw, this administration brings up concerns about more than just the Iditarod.
“Pebble Mine is likely to be put back on the table again, which has negative implications on Alaska’s salmon,” Greenlaw said. “Another concern is the Arctic Refuge, [which] if opened up for oil and gas development would negatively impact the porcupine caribou herd which the Gwich’in people depend on for subsistence.”
The intersections between indigenous rights and environmental degradation are troubling to him, Greenlaw said.
For some, climate change is directly affecting their home. Frontline coastal communities like Kotzebue and Shishmaref, for instance, are experiencing astronomical erosion due to a lack of consistently frozen sea ice protecting the shoreline.
By displaying this banner, Chen and Greenlaw hope the Iditarod committee starts to place more focus on the longevity of the race, pays more attention to climate change and ultimately rejects ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of the race, they said.
In addition to rejecting ExxonMobil’s funding, Alaska Rising Tide also wants the Iditarod committee to remove Rule 53, a “gag rule” that removes mushers freedom of speech to discuss issues like race funding and conflicts of interest.
“Alaska Rising Tide is a volunteer group, and we’re not bound by gag rules and neither is the public,” Chen said. “The mushers shouldn’t be gagged either.”