Tradition tells us that Santa Claus travels every year on Christmas Eve from his home in the North Pole to make the children of the world happy.
But exactly 50 years ago, Santa was especially generous with all Americans, young and old.
He gave us a historic present: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in Northern Alaska, not too far from the North Pole.
Santa, of course, had the valuable help of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who signed into law the protection of one of the few complete ecosystems left in the Western Hemisphere.
This precious gift is home to a huge variety of wildlife, comparable to Africa's Serengeti. In the Refuge's pristine tundra and on its shores there are almost 200 species of birds, a formidable caribou herd, plus the largest polar bear habitat in the U.S., muskoxen, wolverines, grizzly bears and several species of whales.
And watching over all this bounty is the ancestral Gwich'in Nation, the Native Americans who for millennia have lived in harmony with the environment and have depended on a vital caribou herd.
This natural treasure, however, has been under siege for decades by the greed of Big Oil and their deputies in Congress. They all aim to drill in the Arctic tundra in search for yet another fix for our national oil addiction.
"Destroying this place would constitute a crime because the wildlife would be put in deadly danger," says Brenda Lemus, a Guatemalan-American and a Sierra Club activist who has committed herself to fight for the protection of our special places. "Words cannot express enough why protecting the Arctic Refuge is so important."
Big Oil's siege threatens to intensify in January once the new Congress begins. Many of the newly-elected conservative politicians will come determined to turn the Refuge into an industrial wasteland in the name of corporate greed.
And all this for a handful of dollars. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the oil production in the Refuge would reduce the price of an oil barrel by 75 cents by the year 2025. If we consider that an oil barrel today costs $90, that reduction would be insignificant for the consumer. In fact, if OPEC were to play around with oil prices, that meager savings would be completely wiped out.
This rampant greed is a direct assault against common sense and the rules of arithmetic. With only 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. burns 25 percent of the planet's oil production, while our country has only 3 percent of the global oil reserves. To continue drilling this hole of an energy crisis benefits only Big Oil's bank account.
In the meantime, an endless supply of alternative energy is already at our fingertips: the sound use of our resources. By improving our vehicle emission standards and the weatherization of our buildings, we could save all the oil that would be extracted from the Refuge, and all the oil we get from off our shores and from the Persian Gulf.
We not only would preserve a natural treasure of critical ecological importance. We would also improve our air quality exponentially and no longer be at the mercy of the dictators and autocrats who control the oil wells half way around the globe.
So, what is the immediate alternative for the Refuge?
"It is of extreme importance to designate the Arctic Refuge as a National Monument," says Brenda, "so that once and for all we stop this insanity of wondering when the Refuge is going to become one more memory of the past."
Turning it into a national monument would be the perfect antidote to Big Oil's greed because this natural jewel would be excluded from any form of development.
And the only person who can do this is President Obama, who has the unique opportunity to become one of America's great conservationists.
President Obama, save that lovely bearded man some work and be our Santa: turn this monument to Nature's greatness into a national monument.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.
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