Costs far outweigh ANWR drilling benefits

February 19, 2010

Let me see if I got this right. Robert Nelson is arguing for opening up ANWR because the oil companies will make lots of money, with the citizens of Alaska and the federal government getting a slice of this poisoned pie as well. Of course, the financial hit that we will all suffer due to the economic, environmental and human consequences of adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and compounding our greenhouse gas crisis is not computed in Mr. Nelson's neat arithmetic of profits.

Even more, the inevitable environmental damage that he concedes will occur is both justified by these short-term financial gains and defensible given that the caribou population has not declined too much or too severely (by whose standard is unclear) and is even apparently increasing in some places as they eat the trash left by the oilfield workers.

Mr. Nelson does not mention that even if fully exploited, ANWR only has enough oil to serve U.S. needs for a year and a half. Then we will be right back where we are now, no further along in our quest for renewable energy sources. Where will we scrounge for other degrading and increasingly inaccessible and expensive fossil fuels then?

He ignores the fact that the old system of energy production is broken and that no amount of desperate rummaging for its last dregs will set us on the new course that is both necessary and inevitable. Why, as an environmental policy expert, would he encourage us to waste our time on such a dead-end project?

Imagine what other ways we could spend the $300 billion he says will need to be invested in ANWR oil development. Material and energy scientists are discovering new and better ways to harvest and store sunlight, whose abundant power is, for all intents and purposes, inexhaustible. Imagine what an infusion of research and development funding would do to move us closer to running much of our households, industry, transportation and marketplace on all sorts of renewables now being researched and yet unimagined.

And Mr. Nelson seems as bent on dismissing, devaluing and discarding the spiritual impulse as he is about defending profits above all else. Nature, creation, does inspire many of us. Many of us find comfort, renewal, peace, purpose, humility and beauty in the natural world. These are not bad things. Imagine what it would be like to live among friends and neighbors, scientists, politicians and policy-makers who were not replenished by these gifts.

Even more, nature is increasingly becoming our teacher in technology, for we are increasingly recognizing how to live more sustainably by observing and mimicking the hard-earned lessons of this 4 billion year old experiment of life. We dare not segregate civilization and progress over here from the natural world over there. Such a division is inherently both false and unattainable. We live in, are part of, and affect nature. The question is: How shall we choose to do that? And that is where the spiritual imagination that Mr. Nelson seems to denigrate can serve well as humanity's salvation.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Baltimore

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