Clean Energy Quest

by Carolyn Chase


When Jeff Barrie pedals into San Diego next week, a man will be confronting his own personal mountain: a quest to ride his "beach cruiser bicycle" across the United States. Why ever for? Barrie's 4,500-mile human-powered journey across America is a grassroots effort to protect Alaska's remaining spectacular wilderness from unnecessary oil development. Barrie will pedal his bicycle from San Diego to Washington, DC, where the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is being decided. Along the way, Barrie will be showing his award-winning documentary film, Arctic Quest: Our Search for Truth, while promoting cleaner, more efficient forms of energy and transportation.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - as the name implies - is currently off limits to oil development. But Alaska representatives have introduced legislation to allow oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain of the Refuge. The oil industry claims that more extraction will have minimal impact on wildlife. Critics contend that oil drilling would destroy the remaining wilderness area and its 150,000 member Porcupine Caribou Herd, which provides subsistence for the Gwichíin people, indigenous to the Arctic. This debate is portrayed in Barrie's film Arctic Quest, the true story of five teenagers who travel to Alaska in search of the truth behind the debate rhetoric. Their discoveries shed light on the complexities of this debate and the film presents a solution through energy efficiency.

San Diego EarthWorks will be hosting a San Diego screening of Arctic Quest on Tuesday, February 15th at the City of San Diego, Environmental Services "Green" Building, 9601 Ridgehaven Ct. Following a 6pm reception, the film will show at 7pm and Barrie will answer questions beginning at 8pm.

Barrie wants to attract America's attention to the issues of oil development facing the Refuge and enlist the support of the public in helping protect this wilderness area. Barrie plans to collect thousands of letters from concerned viewers and deliver them to Congress when he arrives in DC.

Protecting the Refuge is only part of Barrie's mission. He also advocates embracing more efficient cars and renewable forms of energy. It is this shift to cleaner and more efficient energy sources that can make the additional intrusion into wilderness for oil unecessary.

Barrie's trek is being accompanied by a new super-efficient Toyota Prius, driven by Alex Tapia, one of the stars in the film. The new "hybrid" Prius uses a combination of gasoline and electric motors to achieve nearly 70 miles per gallon. "We'll cross America on less than 7 tanks of gas, more than 800 miles per fill-up," boasts Tapia. Barrie adds that "by driving cars like this and riding bicycles on short trips around town, we could simultaneously protect Alaska's wilderness and clean our nation's air."

The fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been fiercely debated between oil interests and wilderness preservationists for nearly 20 years. According to Barrie, the resolution to this hard-fought environmental battle lies in Congress. Barrie hopes letters from the public will convince Congress to permanently protect the Refuge. Such protection has been proposed in the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Bill (HR 1239) which counters efforts to open the area to more exploitation. This bill needs more support before it can be passed, which is the motivation for his grassroots effort.

Coincident with the global Earth Day 2000 campaign with the theme, "New Energy for a New Era," Barrie's quest represents perhaps the purest form of clean energy: that of a person's individual drive to make a difference and save the places that they love.

The Arctic Quest Clean Energy tour is crossing the United States passing through Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and on to Washington D.C. arriving by June 20th. People can follow the tour at