Friday, March 18, 2005

In Lieu of a Poem

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Well, I was going to present here a poem entitled "The Ides of March", but as my muse has deserted me (Do let me know if you happen to come across that faithless woman. Tell her I didn't mean those things I said and that she always inspires me.) I shall have to make do with prose in lieu of a poem. Not to worry. I'll likely post another poem when my muse returns. Also, following Akerman's example, I will soon launch a short story of my own in serial installments. Stay tuned....

To What Do I Owe the ANWR?

Ah, spring. The time when the thoughts of crotchety old Republican politicians and the oil barons that own their souls turn to.... DRILLING! ("Quick, Horace, the permafrost is starting to thaw! Hurry with the ice picks, there be oil in this here glacial wilderness!")

That's right, the ExxonMobileShellBPAmocoChevronTexaco cartel is once again launching its annual "Drill in ANWR" campaign. This time, it looks like the oil industry has purchased enough Republican senators to finally acquire their Holy Grail.

Why should we care? ANWR (pronounced "Ann-whar" or perhaps "On-whar") stands for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was originally set aside by Dwight Eisenhower and given its current name by Jimmy Carter with the intent of setting aside some small part of the vast land area of America to remain forever untouched by human hands(except for the natives who live there; forcing them out would be wrong). That's actually the strongest argument for letting the ANWR be--is it so much to ask that at least one relatively small area be left aside, primitive, the way God made it? Nature for nature's sake?

It is a major wildlife sanctuary, after all, known as "America's Serengeti." According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the area of ANWR they propose to drill on has the greatest diversity of wildlife of any area the government protects above the Arctic Circle. The proponents of drilling point out that they don't want to drill on all of the ANWR, just the small part that is the coastal plain. But is that very coastal plain that is the ecological and biological jewel in the crown of the American Arctic. 45 mammal species, including polar bears, grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, muskoxen, caribou and 180 species of bird all inhabit this narrow strip. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the only thing worth protecting in the ANWR is the very coastal plain they would despoil. And make no mistake: the USGS and other governmental organizations and scientists assert that drilling, no matter how "environmentally-friendly" it may be, in this extremely sensitive ecosystem will have major detrimental effects on wildlife.

Also, the claims proponents make about how the drilling is "non-invasive" and will only take up the size of a small airport are the arguments the oil companies spout to justify it. (Since they would benefit from it, I'm naturally suspicious of their claims. I'd rather trust the claims of disintersted scientists over oil industry scientists whose financial future is staked to drilling. A wee bit of a conflict of interest.) Besides, the way you get such a small figure is by not factoring in the land the pipelines will pass over but only factoring in the land where it touches the ground.

Recently, the U.S. Geological Survey and Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimated that "The distribution of potential oil and gas of the Arctic Refuge is likely to be scattered in numerous discrete deposits across the coastal plain. This would require a large number of well pads, connected by pipelines, roads, airports, housing facilities, processing plants, and other infrastructure with effects that would radiate across the entire coastal plain. Other industrial operations, such as seismic exploration, water withdrawals, gravel mines, noise from operations, air pollution, and exploratory drilling would have effects over a much larger area. Since the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the NRC found that the North Slope oil fields, which sprawl across 1,000 square miles of Arctic habitats, have been transformed into one of the world's largest industrial complexes. Spills of toxic substances, contaminated waste, and other sources of pollution have chronically occurred, in spite of strict environmental regulations." (According to a letter from more than 1000 eminent American and Canadian scientists, including world-famous biologist E. O. Wilson, at

In addition, the USGS has estimated that the amount of oil in ANWR is negligible, the mean estimate being 10.4 billion barrels, a 6-month supply. Given that, is it really worth it to despoil the last bit of protected Arctic wilderness in America for a mere 6 months worth of oil? Oil that won't even be on the market for at least 10 years?

Ironically, most oil companies are no longer interested in ANWR's oil. "BP, ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco have withdrawn from Arctic Power, the business coalition formed to lobby for drilling in ANWR. Among big oil companies, only ExxonMobil Corp. remains."

I guess they realize 10.4 billion barrels isn't really worth the effort.

If, as the drilling enthusiasts claim, America desperately needs more oil from at home, may I point you to the even larger National Petroleum Reserve? ( Its 23.5 million acres (the area of ANWR that proponents want to drill on is only 1.5 million acres) was specially set aside for drilling for oil in the event of a petroleum shortage (which is, mind you, not what we are currently experiencing). So, here's a radical idea: before we start drilling in a federally-protected wildlife refuge, why not first at least attempt drilling in an area set aside for the express purpose of future drilling?

The pro-drillers would have more credibility in calling for energy independence, if their efforts to acheive didn't stop and end with ANWR. Simple conservation measures could save America far more oil than we'd ever get from ANWR. Rather than supporting experimentation to find new sources of energy, which is really the only way to acheive energy independence, the drillers are addicted to crude.

Make-or-break Moment for the Environmental Movement

Of course, the environmental movement doesn't have too much credibility on the issue, either. Exhibit A: nuclear power. I know why many environmentalists oppose it, because, when the occasional complete nuclear meltdown occurs it kills a lot of spotted owls or something, right? Seriously, a lot of people die or get cancer in the vacinity of a nuclear power plant experiencing a meltdown. But these are rare due to the safety features in place. Plus, the number that would be killed by a single nuclear meltdown, say as many as 100,000, is far less than the number of people killed each and every year as a result of air pollution from old coal-firing plants and car exhaust.

This kind of knee-jerk environmentalism is counterproductive. It is one of the major reasons why the movement lacks the power now to protect places like ANWR. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times concurs: "The U.S. environmental movement is unable to win on even its very top priorities, even though it has the advantage of mostly being right." He points out that while banning the spraying of DDT saved wildlife it also allowed thousands of Africans to die of malaria. What kind of tradeoff is that? And what does it say about the environmental movement that at least some within it are willing to make that tradeoff?

The heads of all the environmental organizations need to come together to come up with a list of priorities (number one being global warming) instead of fighting disparate crusades, and pool their resources. They need to find smart symbolic fights they can win (things that directly impact people's lives, such as air and water pollution). Most people are environmentalists, but many have become alienated by the "Greenpeace" fringe of the movement, with its constant irresponsible alarmism, all too often adopted by mainstream environmentalists to scare people into action. When, as Kristof reports, "41 percent of Americans considered environmental activists to be 'extremists'", the environmental movement has a serious problem.

They need to look at common-sense solutions, such as nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells, and cleaner-burning coal. There is no panacea for energy independence, for weaning a nation off dirty non-renewable energy sources. All reasonable options should be on the table, if the environmental movement does not want to become completely irrelevant, helplessly unable to corral the majority of the American public that supports its goals to protect the incredible biological diversity of this country and ensure a decent quality of life for future generations.