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The Day the Tundra Died

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 17, 2005


"The more we get out of the world the less we leave, and in the long run we shall have to pay our debts at a time that may be very inconvenient to our own survival." — Norbert Wiener

Being an environmentalist during the reign of George W. Bush is a lesson in slow, systematic defeat. Attuned to ecological considerations it's hard not to notice how proficient the Bush Administration has been in dismantling a century of conservation policy. Other than waging wars for control of the oil resources of Iraq, and the Caspian basin, the agenda of the W's first term, was road building and logging in national forests, snowmobile pollution in national parks, mercury and arsenic poisoning in the water, and allowing polluters to regulate themselves.

Dark days indeed.

His second term will prove no different, and twice as damaging. Armed with a mythical mandate Team Bush can be expected to continue to exploit every opportunity to exploit every mineral resource available on earth. Pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol is mere child's play compared to the corporate take over of public hands under the leadership of the Bush Administration.

March 16, 2005 will be forever remembered in the annuals of environmental history as the beginning of the end. 3-16 will join 9-11 in the pantheon of American tragedies. By a vote of 51 to 49, Republicans, with three democrats, cleared a major hurdle on Capitol Hill, when the Senate voted to include in its budget, a policy maneuver allowing Congress to approve oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Yes ladies and gentleman, nothing is sacred in pursuit of profit.

At issue are the sensitive coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR). Far from a propaganda tool, the coastal plains are the calving range of the soon to be endangered porcupine caribou. For countless centuries this distinct species of caribou has used this coastal range to give birth, and nurture newborns. Drilling in these calving grounds is paramount to ecocide, as it will alter breeding behavior centuries in the making. Closer to home, it would be like drilling for oil in a maternity ward.

In 1957, the Eisenhower Administration set aside 8.9 million acres of coastal plain and mountains of northeastern Alaska as the Arctic National Wildlife Range to protect its "unique wildlife, wilderness and recreation values." The oil debate focuses on 1.5 million acres, where the U.S. Geological Survey estimates there could be 5.6 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil. Best case scenarios predict the exploitation of the this pristine wilderness habitat will only produce 6 months of oil, ten years from now.

The battle to drill ANWAR has been raging in Congress since 1980, when President Carter, in a compromise, signed legislation changing the name from arctic range to arctic refuge, and expanding the Arctic refuge with allowances for congressionally approved oil exploration on the coastal plain. In 1995, a similar attempt to develop the pristine coastal plains for oil exploration and limited extraction possibilities was thwarted by a Clinton presidential veto. The last attempt to open the refuge failed on March 19, 2003, with the passage of the Boxer Amendment, which prevented an end run around procedure like the one attached to the federal budget last week.

With the news of the senate shenanigans, and budgetary bypass of due process, the voice inside my head screaming, "Democracy is dead!" is now significantly louder. From here on I will assume the coup is complete. Environmental stewardship is no longer to be expected, and liberty and justice now nothing more than quaint sound bites used to provoke a pavlovian response from those still in denial.

With all three branches of government fully controlled by Neocon corporate capitalists, and no chance for a filibuster, the budget will pass, and so too will any opportunity to prevent the collapse of porcupine caribou populations, as well as the corresponding biotic community of which they are a signature species. Biologists project that the birthrate of the Porcupine caribou may fall by 40 percent if drilling is allowed. A continuous 40% decline over an extended period of time equates with a slow slip into extinction.

No caribou, no fox, no grizzly, no wolf, no Gwich'in. All sacrificed to the gods of greed and growth. The Gwich'in, by the way, are the indigenous people of the region. The Gwitch'in have long opposed drilling in the coastal plains. And now their days are numbered.

Ethically speaking, America is running on empty.

Dark days indeed.

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