December 15, 2005
as a Cover for Collectivism
WASHINGTON -- In
1986, Gale Norton was 32 and working for the secretary of the
interior on matters pertaining to the proposal to open a small
portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- area 1002 --
to drilling for oil and natural gas, a proposal that then had
already been a bone of contention for several years. Today Norton
is the secretary of the interior and is working on opening ANWR.
But this interminable
argument actually could end soon with Congress authorizing drilling.
That would be good for energy policy and excellent for the nation's
Area 1002 is 1.5
million of ANWR's 19 million acres. In 1980, a Democratic-controlled
Congress at the behest of President Carter set area 1002 aside
for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are
active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges,
stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists
who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.
Few opponents of
energy development in what they call ``pristine'' ANWR have visited
it. Those who have and think it is ``pristine'' must have visited
during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed
the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and
school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There
are no trees.
Opponents worry that
the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction
disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years
ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that brings heated
oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou
have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline's heat
makes them amorous.
Ice roads and helicopter
pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man's footprint,
which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of
Washington's Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental
cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls ``a few
drops of oil.'' Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels
of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate
actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts
for 75 years.
Flowing at 1 million
barrels a day -- equal to 20 percent of today's domestic oil production
-- ANWR oil would almost equal America's daily imports from Saudi
Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Katrina temporarily
caused, and that caused so much histrionic distress among consumers.
Lee Raymond, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, says that if the
major oil companies decided that 10 billion barrels were an amount
too small to justify exploration and development projects, many
current and future projects around the world would be abandoned.
But for many opponents
of drilling in ANWR, the debate is only secondarily about energy
and the environment. Rather, it is a disguised debate about elemental
For some people,
environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental
causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the
purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing
the society's politics is the end, and environmental policies
are mere means to that end.
The unending argument
in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society's
balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism
-- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America
-- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives.
This is done in the name of equality.
People are to be
conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not
equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status
as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the
constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for
the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.
Therefore, one of
the collectivists' tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly
of what makes modern society modern -- the energy requisite for
social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use
environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy. Focusing
on one energy source at a time, they stress the environmental
hazards of finding, developing, transporting, manufacturing or
using oil, natural gas, coal or nuclear power.
A quarter of a century
of this tactic applied to ANWR is about 24 years too many. If
geologists were to decide that there were only three thimbles
of oil beneath area 1002, there would still be something to be
said for going down to get them, just to prove that this nation
cannot be forever paralyzed by people wielding environmentalism
as a cover for collectivism.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group