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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 to industrialize the Arctic wildlife refuge area, ex-president Jimmy Carter argues that the US cannot afford to let a beautiful natural reserve become a web of pipelines and roads to address 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 reserve be devastated for the sake of economic progress is unfavorable for the US society and economy. Apart from his use of a personal anecdote, his reference to facts from US history strengthens his argument.

Carter starts with a description of the breathtaking natural beauty of the Arctic wildlife refuge. He recounts his visit to the area with his wife. He takes the audience on a short journey to the area. His main 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 with 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 importance in the context of the awesome geographical and cultural riches of the United States. He augments his point further by referring to the vulnerability of certain species whose population would otherwise decline due to the destruction of their habitat by human trespassing and industrialization.

The Arctic wildlife refuge is home to the Porcupine caribou herd and watching these herds move through the reserve is an awesome spectacle. He refers to this place as ‘America’s Serengeti.’ Carter’s use of 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’ make the audience feel like being a part of the journey and closer to the natural settings of the refuge.

The initial parts of Carter’s speech mainly draw attention to 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 valuable animal and bird species. Next, he sets the urgency of his point by making the audience weigh the outcomes of industrializing the area. Rigging may offer potential short-term benefits. However, these benefits are not sufficient to let the natural wealth of the area be plundered. It will also be a potential tragedy for the Caribous and America will lose something very unique. While many other means of economic progress can be easily discovered, rebuilding a beautiful natural reserve would be impossible once its beauty and originality have been devastated by rigging and construction of roads.

The 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; bald and rid of the same natural beauty. He does this to make the selection easier for his audience. He makes them think and weigh the two choices that whether they want a scenic landscape covered with natural wealth or a bald piece of land without the same peace and tranquility and not offering any significant economic advantage. Exploiting whatever potential the natural reserve holds will help in the short run and may appear profitable at first, but in the longer term, it will prove disadvantageous.

To make his point stand out, 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, fierce attempts had been made to open the area for rigging. The idea had met stiff opposition from indigenous and American people which Carter spells out in his speech.

In this way, Carter establishes the natural and social importance of the issue and the special significance 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 from 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 oil consumption. However, America could save much more using energy-efficient vehicles and cutting down its oil consumption. Carter shows his audience that the people and government of America must not take a myopic step that could destroy a unique and precious natural reserve. Saving the reserve from drilling companies will be a win for them and their coming generations as well.

Ethos, Pathos, and logos:

The speaker makes use of ethos, pathos, and logos as well as imagery to deliver his point. To help people see the need to preserve the wildlife refuge, he refers to the steps taken by a former president and the efforts he had made while he was in office. This adds an 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. These animals cannot save their habitat from human plunder but it is our moral responsibility as humans to help them stay safe in their natural surroundings.

In this way, he is able to evoke the audience’s sympathy for the animal and bird species inhabiting the wildlife refuge. While it is easier to keep economic concerns above the others, understanding the situation of the helpless animals would be more human.

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 industrializing the area. While the gains are limited to just one or two percent of the nation’s daily oil consumption, America cannot sacrifice as much natural beauty and wealth for such a small gain.


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.