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[GreenYes] Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - NYTimes Editorial
March 2, 2001
New York Times
Drilling in the Cathedral
Listening to President Bush's speech about his budget the other 
night, you could hear the theme song for his administration: "Don't 
Start Thinkin' About Tomorrow."

The short translation of the Bush speech is: Hey, it's not the 
government's money, it's your money. It's not your children's Arctic 
National Wildlife Refuge, it's your refuge, and you can drill for oil 
there if you want. It's not your national debt, it's your 
grandchildren's national debt.

Geez, and they said the Clintonites were self-absorbed - me-me, I-I, 
now-now, yuppies. What about this crowd?

I'll let the experts point out the irresponsibility built into the 
Bush budget. As my colleague Paul Krugman, a real economist, has 
deftly explained, there is no way Mr. Bush's budget numbers can work 
without making wildly optimistic surplus projections, or stealing 
from future generations, or taking risks no serious person would take 
with his family's budget.

Having just visited Alaska, though, I'm troubled by what such 
thinking can do to the environment. What happened to the 
word "conservation"? Has it gone the way of "liberal"? Are we no 
longer allowed to call for conservation without engendering catcalls? 
America has 5 percent of the world's population, but consumes nearly 
25 percent of world oil supplies. Yes, some speechwriter did slip one 
reference to conservation into Mr. Bush's speech, but only after he 
first emphasized his favored approach to our energy deficit - 
more "production." 

I could understand, if we were down to our last barrels of oil and 
our very lifestyle were threatened, that we might risk believing the 
oil companies that they can drill in the Arctic National Wildlife 
Refuge, in northern Alaska, without damage. But we are so far away 
from that. We have not even begun to explore how just a little 
conservation, or a small, painless increase in energy efficiency, 
could relieve us from even thinking about risking one of the earth's 
most pristine environments.

Check out the Web site of the Natural Resources Defense Council 
( It notes that the most credible estimates indicate 
that the Arctic Refuge contains about 3.2 billion barrels of 
economically recoverable crude oil - less than America consumes in 
six months. Risking the Arctic Refuge to extract that pittance of oil 
is nuts, when it could be painlessly extracted through better 
conservation and efficiency. As the Defense Council points out, by 
simply increasing average fuel efficiency on new cars, S.U.V.'s and 
light trucks from 24 to 39 miles per gallon over the next decade, we 
would save 51 billion barrels of oil - more than 15 times the likely 
yield from the Arctic. At the same time, if we just required 
replacement tires for cars and light trucks to be as fuel- efficient 
as the original tires on new vehicles (which have lower rolling 
resistance), we would save 5.4 billion barrels of oil over the next 
50 years, far more than in the Arctic Refuge.

The Arctic Refuge is a unique environmental cathedral - a 19-million- 
acre expanse where mountains meet ocean, where grizzly bears meet 
polar bears, where 130,000 caribou migrate each spring to give birth 
on the coastal plain, where an entire ecosystem is preserved and 
where Mother Nature is totally in charge. This is not Yellowstone 
Park, with campsites and R.V.'s. The original idea behind the 
refuge's creation was to save an area of pure wilderness, in which 
there would be no maps, virtually no roads and no development. When 
the Bush team says it can drill in such wilderness without harming 
it, it's like saying you can do online trading in church on your Palm 
Pilot without disturbing anyone. It violates the very ethic of the 

"Wilderness as a concept is immutable," explains Richard Fineberg, an 
Anchorage-based environmental consultant. "It is like perfection - 
there are no degrees to it. Oil development in a wilderness, no 
matter how sensitive, changes the very nature of it. It means it's no 
longer wilderness. If the drill worshipers prevail in the Arctic 
Refuge, then there will be no place on this continent where a unique 
environment will be safe from greed and short-term interests." 

What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask: How could you 
destroy a unique wilderness area to buy six months' supply of 
gasoline? Why didn't you just improve gas mileage a little each year? 
Why didn't you lift just a tiny finger for conservation? Weren't you 
thinking about tomorrow at all? 
Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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