Thursday, November 10, 2005

ANWR drilling bill dropped by the House

The House dropped a clause in the budget bill slated for passage today that would have authorized oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, something passed a few days ago by the Senate. While I haven't had much to say about the issue, I have felt that it was an important item in our nation's agenda. The questions, to me, have always resolved around a matter of flexibility and our perception of our place in the grand scheme of things.

It appears to many of the environmentalists I speak to - and there's more than a few out here, too - that humans aren't really Terran. That they are outside invaders of this planet having descended from wherever to plunder the natural resources and leave nothing but destruction in their wake. Anything we do in the zero-sum game they describe is detrimental to the rest of the planet and shouldn't be done. Of all the planet's inhabitants, their stances imply, only Man is the destroyer with all else living in beautiful harmony that would never see extinction or habitat destruction in any way.

That's just not so.

Animals consume things from their environment. (Plants do, too, but I'm limiting my post to the animal world we humans are a part of.) Every animal out there, herbivore or predator, tends to go after the easily-procured stuff first until there isn't any more of it. We have a pretty sizable deer population out here and there are some types of bushes you might as well never plant in your yard. A neighbor of mine picked out some new shrubs to plant around her home and was quite pleased with them. At least, she was for the 4 days they were there. The bushes were completely stripped by the deer. She even replaced them again, thinking that perhaps the deer would move along now that there were no more of those shrubs around. The replacements only lasted 3 days. Predators, too, tend to hunt animals they know they can catch and, if there are sufficient numbers of predators, they hunt the prey animals until there are no more. Extinctions happened a long time before Man started drilling for oil and happened without his assistance.

But the perception of Man as Destroyer is firmly locked in the environmentalist mindset. Therefore, he must be stopped from interacting with the environment as much as can be done. Don't put that damn there; it'll change the environment for the fish. Never mind that it also provides an important flood-control measure. Too bad - can't hurt the fish. Don't build that road there; the traffic will cause problems for the deer, the bear, or whatever travels on that ground. Never mind that the road will allow better access for emergency services and a better quality of life for the people living there. Take a good look at just about any kind of development that some people somewhere want to do and you'll find environmentalists calling for the devlopment to be banned.

So far, none of these environmentalists have come up with reasonable alternatives to the plans they oppose. The drilling in the ANWR is just the most public example. Every alternative they have offered up depends on 1) people using less (energy, space, water, food) or 2) clean fuels and energy sources such as hydrogen, solar, wind, etc. The problem are 1) our population increases are outstripping mere conservation as a method of cutting back on our energy/food/water requirements and 2) none of the clean fuel technologies they describe are capable of replacing the energy output of our current systems as yet. As to the latter, their answer is always to throw more money at the issue. They seem to ignore the concept that more research into a topic is just as likely to yield a dead end as a breakthrough. The research needs to be done, to be sure, but to halt any expansions for current, real-world needs and rely for the fulfillment of those needs on technologies that might not come available isn't smart.

As to the former problem... Well, let's just say that some of the more vocal environmentalists have an answer for the population problem, too.

The drilling in the ANWR was to take up less than 2% of an area that the vast, huge majority of Americans will never approach within 500 miles of, let alone visit. The technology to do so safely has been in use in Alaska for decades without incident. It can be done. The oil there wouldn't be available in time for the Thanksgiving travel season, no. But it would become available in a few years and it would lessen our dependence on foreign sources while at the same time providing energy to do the research necessary to remove the need for oil as an energy source permanently. Here's hoping we get the chance someday.