March 16, 2005

What's really at stake in ANWR

The Senate is once again about to vote on whether to allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We should remind ourselves of what's at stake.

It isn't oil. The Bush energy department forecasts that ANWR might reduce foreign oil imports from 68 percent of our national requirements to 65 percent during the years of maximum production. The smallest efforts to improve fuel efficiency would have a much greater effect.

It isn't caribou. Although the political taint over the issue makes most information on the effects of drilling on the caribou population hard to evaluate, it's not clear that small-footprint drilling will substantially harm the herds.

What's really at stake in the ANWR controversy is the future of wilderness. If our nation will not exercise the moderate restraint required to preserve ANWR as a place where people can experience the natural world as it existed before people were able to modify it as they wish, then there will soon be no such place left on Earth. Everywhere we look, we will see ourselves.

More importantly, drilling in ANWR would amount to a declaration that our civilization does not value wilderness above any other competing value. Even the flimsiest of suggestions that the land might be put to some moderately profitable alternative use will be enough to override wilderness protection.

This, in my opinion, is an appropriate attitude for barbarians. The hallmark of a mature and well-functioning civilization is its ability to show restraint, as opposed to more primitive and less-successful societies that must take advantage of every opportunity to expand or be threatened with extinction. Senator Pete Domenici and other supporters of drilling in ANWR act as if we were still a barbarian society.

Sadly, they might turn out to be correct.


By a vote of 51 to 49, Republicans defeated an effort by Democrats to eliminate the drilling language from the budget. The vote does not ensure that drilling will be approved. But if the budget is adopted, Senate rules would allow the passage of a measure opening the refuge with a simple majority of 51 votes, escaping the threat of a filibuster, which has killed it in the past.

* * *

Three Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, both of Hawaii, joined 48 Republicans in endorsing drilling today. Seven Republicans joined 41 Democrats and Senator James Jeffords, independent of Vermont, in opposing it. Those seven were John S. McCain of Arizona, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, both of Maine.

(See Julie Saltman.)

Posted by Carey at March 16, 2005 09:43 AM

Well said Carey. Today was another day during which I lost more of my dwindling belief in progress and the good of humanity.

Posted by: Jon at March 16, 2005 09:30 PM

Ick. 51 to 49. Yeah...

Posted by: Carey at March 16, 2005 09:40 PM