Rhetoric Analysis of Jimmy Carter’s speech on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Explain how Jimmy Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry.

In response to the attempts being made to industrialise the Arctic wildlife refuge area, ex-president Jimmy Carter argues that US cannot afford to let a beautiful natural reserve be consumed by a web of pipelines and roads over short term economic concerns. Through his use of logic and persuasive techniques as well as rich imagery, he firmly establishes his point that letting the refuge be devastated for the sake of economic progress is not favourable for either the US society or economy. Apart from his use of a personal anecdote, his reference to facts from US history strengthen his argument.

Carter starts with a breathtaking description of the natural beauty of the Arctic wildlife refuge. He recounts his visit to the area with his wife. In this way, he takes the audience on a short journey to the area. His aim is to help the audience personally connect with the scene and understand the value of the reserve as a wildlife habitat. He paints a rich image of the refuge through his words to make the audience understand its special value. Carter first draws the audience’s attention to the natural beauty of the reserve, establishing the magnificence of the scene and its special value in the context of awesome geographical and cultural riches of US. He augments his point further by referring to the vulnerability of certain species whose population would otherwise decline due to destruction of their habitat by human trespassing and industrialisation. The arctic wildlife refuge is home to the Porcupine caribou herd and watching their herds move is an awesome spectacle. He refers to this place as ‘America’s Serengeti.’ His use of rich imagery, makes his personal account interesting as well as engaging. Phrases like ‘wolves howl in the midnight sun’  and ‘mosses, and lichens that hugged the tundra’ makes the audience feel like being a part of the journey and closer to the natural settings of the refuge.

Initial parts of Carter’s speech mainly draw attention towards the natural wealth and beauty of the refuge. However, he soon brings the audience’s attention to the central point that rigging in this area will destroy the homes of several precious animal and bird species. Next, the sets the urgency of his point by making the audience weigh the outcomes. Rigging may offer potential short term benefits. However, it will also be a potential tragedy for the Caribous and America will lose significant natural wealth. While other means of economic progress can be discovered, to rebuild a beautiful natural reserve would be impossible once its beauty and originality have been devastated by rigging and laying down roads. This strengthens his point. Arctic wildlife refuge is the habitat of several animal species and also a valuable natural resource. The speaker compares two different scenes; one is a scenic landscape that comes alive with the moving herds of caribou and the other of an industrialized  landscape rid of the same natural beauty. He does this to make the selection easier for his audience. He makes them think and compare whether they want a scenic landscape covered with natural wealth or a bald piece of land that does not offer the same peace and tranquility.

To make his point stronger, Carter briefly alludes to the historical importance of the issue and how previous governments had worked to maintain the beauty of this area. Before Carter, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had established the original 8.9 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range to preserve its natural beauty. However, since Carter left office, attempts were being made fiercely to open the area for rigging. The idea had met stiff opposition from indigenous and American people, Carter spells out in his speech. In this way, Carter establishes the natural and social importance of the issue and the special place the wildlife reserve holds for Americans. It is difficult to disagree with his point seeing the enormous natural wealth at stake. While oil companies would stand to benefit form rigging, the natural beauty once lost cannot be rebuilt. Moreover, Carter uses facts and stats to show that there was much more to lose than the nation could gain by opening the area to drilling. At most, it will offer 1 to 2 percent of the nation’s daily consumption of oil. However, America could save much more by using energy efficient vehicles and cutting down its oil consumption. In this way, Carter shows his audience that the people and government of America must not take the myopic step which could destroy a precious natural reserve. Saving the reserve from drilling companies will be a win for them and the coming generations as well.

Ethos, Pathos and logos:

The speaker makes use of ethos, pathos and logos as well as rich imagery to deliver his point. To make people see the need to preserve the wildlife refuge, he refers to the steps taken by a former president and the steps he himself had taken while he was in office. This adds ethical appeal to his speech.

Carter also adds emotional appeal to his speech by showing the vulnerability of the species that inhabit the wildlife refuge. He shows that the tens of thousands of caribou with their newborn calves would be rendered homeless which is a pathetic thing to do for drilling companies. In this way, he is able to evoke  the audience’s sympathy for the animal and bird species that inhabit the wildlife refuge.

Carter also backs his speech with strong logic. He compares the petty gains to be obtained from drilling and the large and permanent loss that could occur if America proceeds with industrialising the area. While the gains are limited to just one or two percent of nation’s daily consumption, America cannot sacrifice as much natural beauty and wealth for petty gains.


Adapted from former US President Jimmy Carter, Foreword to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, A Photographic Journey by Subhankar Banerjee. ©2003 by Subhankar Banerjee.

Abhijeet Pratap

I am Abhijeet Pratap, editor of notesmatic. I am an MBA with marketing (major). Apart from writing on various topics in business management, marketing and English literature, I like to read and write about technology.