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March 21, 2005, 10:00 P.M.

Willow in the Wind: The United States Senate recently voted by a margin of 51-49 to allow for oil exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Once again our government has chosen to mortgage our future for the short term profit of the Oil Industry, and to trample the last American wilderness in the process. I don't know how much oil the ANWR will produce (the USGS predicts that it is about 10.4 billion barrels) for the private oil companies that will now be permitted to drill for oil in the Alaska wildlife reserve, and I don't suppose it much matters because drill they will.

Until this vote, this particular remote area of northern Alaska had been protected and isolated from commercial exploitation. The ANWR had been one of the last sanctuaries for many species of animals and was inhabited by native populations who hunted, fished and used the land as their ancestors had for thousands of years. That is all about to change. The process of exploitation of the regions oil deposits will alter the environment, the landscape and the ecology of the area forever.

The vote to allow the invasion of this pristine environment by humans and their machines is a tragedy on many fronts. Of course, it is tragic that, as a species, human beings cannot exercise sufficient self-control to limit our dependence on non-renewable natural resources. It seems that the money raised and spent fighting for and against drilling for oil in one of the last untouched natural environments on earth would have been better spent researching and developing technologies that would limit the need to invade remote corners of this planet to search for oil.

It has been said that the process of exploring for oil in remote areas of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge will have little impact on the environment. I don=t buy it. The logistics of moving people, equipment and supplies into the area alone will alter the environment and have immeasurable consequences. If nothing else, it denies future generations the opportunity to observe the study and enjoy the ANWR, one of the last remaining habitats of its type on the planet, in its natural state.

What bothers me most about this decision is that it prolongs the inevitable and it defers difficult decisions about how society and humankind will progress beyond dependence on oil. It also ignores the very real, undeniable and demonstrable consequences of global warming. Instead of addressing the shortages that reason tells us are inevitable, we choose to concentrate our efforts on finding just a little bit more oil to satisfy our thirst for just a little bit longer. In so doing we continue to feed the greed of the oil companies, while at the same time we continue to avoid the responsibility of addressing the problems caused by the depletion of our natural resources today. As is typical of our current administration, we are prolonging difficult decisions and in so doing are shoveling these problems, which will only get worse, onto the backs of future generations.

I believe that one of the great challenges of our generation is, and should be, the reduction of our dependence on natural resources. As these resources become more scarce, the likelihood of global conflict is heightened. The failure to find viable energy solutions to the world=s needs will have global economic, social, political and environmental consequences that will threaten any hope of global stability in the future. The wars that we fight over oil will only increase in frequency and intensity as there becomes less and less oil, and everyone wants to hold onto their piece of the pie. Common sense suggests that the most secure societies in the future will be those which can survive and function with a smaller piece of the pie. As it often has, our government has failed to show leadership in this area and has once again opted to push inevitable discussions and controversies onto future generations. Rather than directing our efforts at developing alternatives to fossil fuel dependency, our government continues to bend, like a willow in the wind, to the will of big oil.


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