With President Bush reinstated for another four years and a wider Republican majority in both houses of Congress, what’s in store for the environment?
This is the topic of the latest Living on Earth, one of the most interesting programs I have heard in a long time. Not because it is giving us any groundbreaking new ideas, but rather because it gives me a glimpse of how some other people view the environment and environmental policy.
Not only that, but it also gives me hope. Assuming that many of the advocates of Bush's environmental policy are supporting it because they truly believe that it is in the best interest of the environment, it seems that the only thing needed is to some how show them a broader systems view of the earth.
Although I see no end to overall political divide, there is no reason that people can't stay Republican, and at the same time take care of the earth, after all, taking care of the earth is not a tree-hugging, new-age, hippy, liberal Democrat idea, it is practical and good for everyone. Without the earth we will die, and more importantly maybe, we will loose all our stuff, and we will not be able to fight for democracy and freedom 'or all the world.
There were quite a few interesting topics covered. Here I will look at them one at a time in a series of posts. For those of you too lazy to listen to the show, I have transcribed the portions I am writing about.
Kim Strasel: Senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal
Bill McKibben: a visiting scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College and author of “The End of Nature.”
On Drilling for Oil in The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR)
Announcer: The president has been a proponent of drilling in ANWAR, but has met with opposition in the senate. What do you see happening now? Kim, let's start with you.
Kim: I think what's important to note, I mean, what goes hand in hand with Bush being re-elected is the victory that Rebublicans won in the senate too, because, most of the things that have been stymied in Bush's environmental agenda were... were stopped because they couldn't overcome a filibuster in the senate. There's now fifty-five Republicans. That's certainly not enough to overcome a filibuster easily, but it's gonna make it easier. Especially on things such as ANWAR, where they got very close on previous votes. They may actually be able to do it, and I would imagine that since a first term priority of the President was passing an energy bill that included it, it will be one of the things that comes up right away in the new congress.
Bill: Yeah, I think all along that one of President Bush's symbolic goals has been to put some oil wells into the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I mean it clearly doesn't really go to the point of any of our energy issues, but it's a symbolic victory for them to so that, and I would be very pleasantly surprised if they hadn't done it by thins time next year.
Announcer: What do you mean symbolically important?
Bill: I think they want to stake the claim that there's not really much importance to wilderness at all. That if there's resources in a place, then the most important thing to do is for people to go and get them. I don't think they've ever been comfortable with the wilderness idea that grew out of a very different political age, and I think we've seen a lot of that in the first term. Kim's absolutely right. With the change in the senate, it will make it all the more easier for them to do that in ANWAR and elsewhere.
Announcer: Kim, how fair is that analyses? It seems to me that President Bush has backed away from some drilling in sensitive areas, for example, uh... the uh.. he backed away from his proposal to lease lands for natural gas exploration in the Rocky Mountain front there in Montana after receiving pressure from conservationists there. So, what about Bill McKibben's statement that the administration doesn't really care that much about wilderness?
Kim: Oh I think (laughter) that's just not the case. I mean, a lot of people like to suggest that any Republican doesn't have any sort of care for nature, but you know, I've never met a Republican who's not a strong environmentalist. Um, you know, what always is overstated about ANWAR is that we're actually talking about a piece of land here that's about the size of Dullus Airport, and there's a very strange notion out there, I mean bill was saying that, you know, he doesn't think that Republicans are comfortable with the whole era where, uh, wilderness protection was out there. I on the other hand think that there is a generation of people who aren't comfortable with the concept that we *can* progress, we *can* actually do things like resource, uh, management and getting resources out of [illegible] without ruining our wilderness. This is one of the great things that America is good at. I mean, we put people on the moon, we can certainly figure out a way to extract a little oil from a very small piece of ground in Alaska without ruining American wilderness.
My reactions. First, I am so so disappointed in Bill for making such a stupid remark about how the Bush administration want's to stake a claim that there is not much value to wilderness at all. Regardless of how it may look, I am sure that they do value wilderness, though perhaps not as much as they value the support of oil companies. I think that for him to say something like this is totally irresponsible and counter-productive to achieving the goal of preserving what little intact portions of nature remain. Such statements will do little to further their cause, although, I also recognize that such extreme statements are a sign of true Diaspora and a feeling of helplessness, which I understand well.
The idea of being symbolically important is interesting however. Until now, I have been banging my head against a wall trying to figure out just why Bush would want to go against the wishes of so many Americans, destroy one of the last remaining wilderness areas on earth, and invest so heavily into a fossil-fuel dead-end, all for a few months worth of oil. It makes sense that he is trying to prove something. Perhaps a few months worth of oil, and the profits his supporters can gain from it are not as valuable to him as the wilderness is, but combine that with the message he would be sending to opponents, who are for sustainable development, and the political value might trump the value of wilderness in his mind.
It would be interesting however to hear a direct statement of what value wilderness and nature hold for him. Is it simply for recreation? i.e. if it is not accessible to snowmobiles and hunters, it has no value? Or, does he realize the value that intact ecosystems have to our very existence, and in the survival of our economy, and our ability to bring freedom to the rest of the world? Or is he somewhere in-between?
What is more interesting for me, however, are Kim's comments.
"I've never met a Republican who's not a strong environmentalist"
I do not doubt that there are many strong environmentalist Republicans. I know they are talking about the effects a Republican senate and presidency will have, but I would like to decouple her response from Republican vs. Democrat thinking. I wonder what "environmentalist" means. Obviously it means different things to different people, so I wonder what meaning she has in mind. Is it a view that nature is good for hunting and snowmobiling? Maybe she is talking about having a good environment to play golf in? Or, does she mean, as I imagine when I hear "environmentalist" that she has never met a Republican that has not taken into account how valuable the environment is, intact , to all living creatures, including people, that rely on it for their life? Whichever the case, I would venture to guess that she has met many republicans and democrats alike who do not fall into any of these categories. Then again, perhaps by "environmentalist" she is speaking of people who believe that there is great monetary gain to be made from exploiting the natural environment, and therefore, "like" nature.
"we're actually talking about a piece of land here that's about the size of Dullus Airport"
This disturbs me. What she sees, with her linear thinking, is a small piece of land that benefits only the trees that stand on it. What I see, with my systems thinking view, is a small piece of land which may play an intricate role in the complex ecosystem we depend on to live. There is no way to know just how valuable the last remaining patches of intact wilderness are to our survival, therefore, it is impossible to put a price on it.
What's more, we know that we can not rely on fossil fuels in the near future. What good is it then to invest money and effort into extracting a few months worth of oil from a priceless area of wilderness, when it does nothing to move us forward? Will it lessen our dependance on oil from the middle east? No. Will help to reduce the impact of global warming? Just the opposite. So what is the point? And why does she think that it is a good thing that it is only a small piece of land?
I on the other hand think that there is a generation of people who aren't comfortable with the concept that we *can* progress, we *can* actually do things like resource, uh, management and getting resources out of [illegible] without ruining our wilderness. This is one of the great things that America is good at.
Ahh. the famous last words, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing". This is the comment that scares me the most. What does she mean by "ruin"? Is she talking about how it is possible to extract oil and still use the are for snowmobiling, or maybe a parking lot for snowmobilers to park their SUVs when they ? No matter how "low" impact current technology allows us to be, by building a oil well, you are destroying wilderness and opening it up to further, future destruction. Not to mention that there is no way they can know the full extent of the damage that may be caused. I see no way around it.
Where did she get the idea that America has ever been good at that? Just take a look at how much wilderness there was and how much there is now. To make it worse, wilderness can not be replaced.
I mean, we put people on the moon
To me, this is the exact argument for not opening the area for oil drilling. If we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to find alternatives to fossil-fuels, which we know we can not depend on in the near future. If we are so smart, why not make the change?
we can certainly figure out a way to extract a little oil from a very small piece of ground in Alaska without ruining American wilderness.
Again, there's that thinking that fails to understand that little changes have big impacts. We have seen it time and again, and the only thing we know with certainty about "not ruining" the ecosystem, is that we have to abide by it's rules.
1. Don't increase the amount of substances in the biosphere that are not naturally there (either from inside the earth, such as carbon dioxide, or man-made chemical compounds)
2. Don't degrade the existing systems.
This plan to drill for oil in ANWAR breaks both of these rules. Number one, it is pandering for our desire for fossil-fuels, leading to increases in CO2, and number two, it is destroying one of the few remaining intact ecosystems on earth.
Why not invest that money in renewable energy? No matter now hard I think about it, I can't understand. But maybe it's just because I am thinking too hard... Maybe understanding the case for more oil at the expense of the earth and everyone living on it requires us to stop thinking.