Fiona Worcester Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / December 17, 2005
Everyone I meet Outside hopes to visit Alaska someday, to see the picturesque, untouched beauty characteristic of the Last Frontier. They love to revel in the fierce, independent lifestyles of the Native Alaskans who have survived in this challenging climate. However, what many mainstream Americans refuse to recognize is that allowing Alaskans to utilize our resources is necessary for Alaska's future economic development.
Alaska is a young, large state with a diffuse population and difficult geography. We lack much of the transportation infrastructure present in older, more developed and less remote states; one can't even drive from Anchorage to the capital. We receive a large amount of federal funding, but the revenues never seem to be enough. Alaska possesses a wealth of oil but lacks the gas pipeline infrastructure to market its gas and authorization from Congress to explore and develop within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, both of which would create more jobs and more money for the state. National-level special interest groups, unfortunately, such as those working to keep ANWR closed, work against Alaska's many needs.
This reflects the imperialistic attitude that mainstream America projects toward Alaska. We are treated almost like a backwards yet intriguing developing country.
These attitudes resemble the hypocrisy of developed countries, which tend to condescendingly impose infeasible environmental restrictions on developing nations. The United States developed without these environmental restrictions. When Americans were poor, they cut down forests and polluted in order to feed themselves. Americans are now rich and thus can afford to romanticize the environment.
Similarly, Alaska is the last untouched spot in America, and mainstream America wants to keep things that way, regardless of how Alaskans feel on the issue. The objections of environmental activists to Alaska development are even less justified because Alaska drilling is actually, in relative and absolute terms, quite environmentally friendly when compared to practices in other parts of the world.
Most likely, those who oppose drilling in Alaska feel guilty. Rich Americans can afford to enjoy both the environment and status symbols such as personal vehicles. A paradox arises: Americans feel guilty about using their enjoyable cars because they pollute the enjoyable environment. However, they don't want to let this guilt interfere with their lifestyle.
The solution to the paradox: Project the problem onto Alaska. By preventing additional drilling within America, Americans can feel less guilty about driving their Hummers (or Subarus, as the case may be). Also, the economic losses would be isolated outside of mainstream America, concentrated in a remote state with a small population and limited influence in national politics.
There are two main problems with this guilt-reducing strategy.
First of all, it violates economics. The market doesn't care where oil comes from. Therefore, preventing oil from being produced in the United States (or even decreasing that amount) will not change U.S. consumption patterns. The oil will merely come from somewhere else.
Second, oil produced elsewhere like Nigeria or Russia would almost certainly be produced in a less earth-friendly fashion. Oil companies in other parts of the world are subject to less regulation and have fewer environmental watchdogs keeping them in line. Oil production practices may not be controlled by rich Americans, a culture which cares, in part, about the environment. The fact that drilling would occur elsewhere (and most likely with more environmental destruction) defeats the whole purpose behind not drilling in Alaska.
Alaska is not a developing country; it is a developing state. We should be treated with respect and allowed to utilize our resources in an environmentally friendly manner. With further development, we will need less federal assistance in running our vast, sparsely-populated, young state. Drilling in ANWR is a step in the right direction towards greater economic self-sufficiency in Alaska.
Fiona Worcester grew up in Anchorage and is a freshman at Williams College in Massachusetts.
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