In defense of the Arctic Refuge

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange finds that he usually votes in the minority, and finds it pretty discouraging. But there’s one issue he refuses to give up on.

(Lange) I’ve pretty much given up on public debate. Things I consider obvious usually turn out to be not only a minority opinion, but apparently laughable to the majority. I look at a rolling hillside and see the ancient work of a glacier; others see it full of expensive homes. Wetlands are cradles of life, vital to the health of ecosystems. You don’t fill them in for the enrichment of an individual or corporation. But we do it all the time. To me, that’s generic suicide; to the majority, healthy growth. See what I mean?

Besides which, you can’t fight ’em all. The number of issues facing us reminds me of the classic film Night of the Living Dead. Global warming. Separation of church and state. Corruption of legislative bodies by unregulated donations. Massive habitat destruction. Population growth. Acid rain. They’re coming in the windows, the doors, and up the cellar stairs. You’ve got to pick one or two and try to ignore the rest. You haven’t got the time, energy, or credibility to fight ’em all. And you sure can’t win ’em all.

I’ve had the good fortune to make several canoe camping trips to the North American Arctic. I’ve found it absolutely enchanting. Herds of caribou cross the rivers on their way south each summer, and leave the river banks lined with white hair for miles downstream. Great cinnamon-brown grizzlies graze the hills, showing their cubs how to dig for ground squirrels. Eagles scour the slopes for prey. Wolverines; huge arctic hares; wolves that wag their tails and watch you pass; fish literally as long as your arm. It’s priceless, and if once lost, irreplaceable.

Nonetheless, it’s disappearing. Helicopters fly grids above the tundra, dangling anomaly detectors. Claim stakes pop up everywhere. On the bank of a huge wild river, a gauging station measures the river’s potential for hydroelectric development. On the Alaskan coastal plain, long scars mark the paths of seismic exploration trucks that trolled here during the Reagan Administration. Alaska proudly calls itself “The Last Frontier.” That’s not true anymore; you don’t travel around a real frontier on the seat of your pants, propelled by internal combustion engines.

I’m about as sanguine of halting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as of checking global warming or runaway population growth. But I’m gonna try. Thousands of other people already are working to preserve its status. The president has asked that it be changed; but only a Congressional vote can do it.

Now, my Webster’s defines refuge as, “a place of safety; shelter; safe retreat.” And that, for the caribou and polar bears and birds and wolves of the north coast, is what the Arctic Refuge has been for almost half a century. But now “refuge” means whatever Congress decides it means. Let’s hope that Webster’s definition prevails!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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