Connecticut's Role in Protecting the Arctic
On September 7th, the Gwich’in Nation Steering Committee, along with Sierra Club Connecticut, Connecticut Citizen Action Group, and Insure our Future, delivered a petition to Connecticut-based insurance companies, The Hartford and Travelers. The petition called on these corporations and other global insurers to commit to the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska from the harms of fossil fuel development. The petition was co-signed by 240 environmental, social justice, and faith organizations, and sustainability minded corporations like Patagonia. We then held a community conversation at the Charter Oak Cultural Center about their continued fight to protect this amazing natural and cultural treasure. The conversation featured Bernadette Dimientieff, the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee; Kate Finn, Executive Director of First Peoples Worldwide; and Dan Ritzman, Director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America.
The conversation centered around the need to protect the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The refuge has been under constant threat of drilling for over 50 years, and in that time, advocates have pressured the U.S. government to permanently protect the area, led by the Gwich’in Nation.
The Gwich’in Nation has been on the front lines of protecting land in the refuge since the beginning. For thousands of years, the Gwich’in traveled alongside the Porcupine Caribou Herd, developing a cultural and spiritual relationship with the caribou. The herds' migration, one of the largest in the world, leads them right to the coastal plain of the refuge to give birth to more than 40,000 calves each year. The Gwich’in consider this place so sacred they have never stepped foot on it, even in times of great need and hunger. They call it, “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins”.
After the Coastal Plain was opened for drilling for the first time ever by the Trump Administration, the Gwich'in Steering Committee has gone directly to banks to ask them to not to underwrite new oil and projects that would harm the people, land, and animals that depend on the refuge. They have had a lot of success. Twenty-nine global financial institutions, including every major U.S. and Canadian bank, have committed to not underwrite new drilling projects in the refuge. Since 2020 they have been engaging with insurance companies to get similar commitments – 14 international insurers have come alongside the Gwich’in, but no U.S. insurer has stepped up. And this is where Connecticut activists can make a real difference.
For the past four years, Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Sierra Club Connecticut, along with the Insure our Future campaign, have been pressuring Connecticut based insurance companies to adopt policies regarding their underwriting and investments in fossil fuels. Connecticut insurance companies have over $220 billion invested in fossil fuel companies and underwrite some of the dirtiest drilling and pipeline projects on the planet. And again, not one of them has pledged to not insure drilling projects on the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge.
So what can we do here in Connecticut to protect this beautiful and sacred place for generations to come?
If you are a shareholder with Travelers or The Hartford, you can use your position and your voice to insist that they rule out insuring drilling in the Arctic. You can call these companies as a customer or as a concerned citizen and tell them you want them to commit to not underwriting new drilling projects in the refuge. You can take to social media and tag Travelers or the Hartford and ask them why they haven’t ruled out drilling in the Arctic using the hashtag #ProtecttheArctic or #InsureourFuture. You can keep an eye on our event page for direct actions that call out these companies and ask the important questions.
The pressure we can put on these companies as the Insurance Capital of the World is enormous and impactful. They are a huge part of life here in Connecticut and have been for a long time. They employ us, insure us, sponsor our baseball teams and golf tournaments. We should insist that they are truly sustainable, eco-friendly, do not harm people, and do not contribute to the further destruction of the planet.
Ann Gadwah is Advocacy & Outreach Organizer with a focus on our legislative work at the State Capitol.