It is both alarming and embarrassing that the leaders of our state (and the country) are so blinded by short-term financial gain that they have lost sight of the bigger picture. The only safe place for the Arctic's oil is right where it is - in the ground. Pull it out of the ground and it will get spilled - if not in the ocean then into the air.
The Bush administration, along with Gov. Knowles and the Alaska delegation, are touting new technologies designed to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in an environmentally sensitive manner. They brush off conservationists' warnings as alarmist rhetoric. Besides, as these politicians are quick to point out, the combined footprint of all proposed roads, runways and drilling pads is only 2,000 acres, a small fraction of the millions of acres of refuge land. What's the big deal?
Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the environmentalists are getting their shorts in a knot about a desolate, mosquito-infested, frozen wasteland where no one goes anyway. Perhaps oil can be removed without hurting the Porcupine caribou herd. Perhaps double-wall pipe and tougher tankers will prevent spills and transport the precious fluid safely to our gas tanks. If they are right, is it still a good idea?
Consider this: Each gallon of gas poured into our tanks weighs eight pounds. When that gas is burned five pounds of carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. That's the chemistry of it - doesn't matter what kind of car you drive or how fast you drive it. The molecular structure of that CO2 traps heat near the planet that would otherwise radiate back out to space. The result? The planet is heating up. How fast? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body comprising the world's climatologists, by century's end the world's temperature will likely have increased about five degrees Fahrenheit, with a worst-case scenario of 10 or 11 degrees. We have already burned enough fossil fuels to warm the planet by a degree and half. As pointed out in last Sunday's editorial, that's enough heat that even oil man Bush will not be able to continue denying the issue for long.
Ironically, the effects of global warming are most strongly felt in the Arctic where the ice cap has shrunk by 40 percent since 1960 and permafrost is turning to soup. Continue melting that ice and the salinity of the oceans will change which will change global currents which change global weather in an escalating and unpredictable unraveling of the environment. The same environment our governor is trying to protect with new drilling technology.
It is both alarming and embarrassing that the leaders of our state (and the country) are so blinded by short-term financial gain that they have lost sight of the bigger picture. The only safe place for the Arctic's oil is right where it is - in the ground. Pull it out of the ground and it will get spilled - if not in the ocean then into the air. We need that oil right now like an addict needs another hit of heroin. We have enough oil - too much for our own good. The sane course is to take the political energy our leaders are burning in an effort to open the refuge and focus it on developing cleaner sources of power. Our governor would be a wiser man if he quit flying back to D.C. lobbying for development and worked on ways to reduce consumption.
Is development of the refuge really best for our state and the nation or does it mostly benefit the already rich and powerful oil companies? Is Arctic oil really the answer to the high price of gas and California's energy crisis or does it just delay the inevitable switch to cleaner energy by a few months?
When we discuss the environmental consequences of oil development we must look beyond the acreage of tundra buried by gravel roads and the latest and greatest drilling technology. We must look beyond the short-term financial boost that additional oil revenues will bring to our state. We must not be so worried about our jobs that we fail to wonder about our grandchildren. We must not get so lost in debating the integrity of today's tundra that we forget about the planet's future.
Hank Lentfer is a freelance writer who lives in Gustavus.