I’ll freely admit it: I like to vacation in North Carolina. I once lived in Asheville, in the lovely mountains at the far western edge of the state, and I found the town beautiful, the people friendly, and I miss it. It reminded me of visiting my family in the mountains and hollers of Southwestern Virginia and Southern West Virginia. I still believe that it’s one of the most beautiful regions on earth. But my vacations generally take me to the Outer Banks. And I have to say, I’m a little concerned about some of the things that they’ve been doing.
A member of their General Assembly (David Rouzer, R. 12th District) has proposed to eliminate the Department of Energy. Why?
“When I went over to the Department of Energy one day, you walk down the hall and most of them who are drawing 6-figure salaries are sitting there reading books and reading magazines.”
To be totally fair, Rouzer has been an Administrator for the US Department of Agriculture, and graduated college with, not one, but three majors: Agricultural Business Management, Agricultural Economics, and Chemistry. So he’s probably pretty smart. And to get that smart he probably read a few books and magazines. But that statement sounded pretty silly.
Rouzer would seem to be in good company, though. A bill passed around the floor of the North Carolina legislature back in May made sea level rise illegal. Well, it actually made the scientific study of it illegal. The initial bill said that “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900.” So basically, if it rose by this much in 1900, 1901, 1902, etc., that can be your only data. You couldn’t argue about changing ocean temperatures, currents, or atmospheric predictions, because that didn’t match the historical data. Well, Mt. St. Helens had never “historically” blown up, but that certainly went sky high in 1980. The bill sent to the Governor of North Carolina removed that piece, but it does forbid the State from defining anything for regulatory purposes until 2016. No time like tomorrow to start practicing science.
And what brought out this animosity towards my vacation spot? A commotion half a world away.
Our Secretary of the Interior has announced that we are going to open parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil exploration. Before you get all riled up, let me say that I own a vehicle, and it uses gas, so I understand the need for oil. I try to do things to lessen my reliance on fossil fuels, and only drive when I absolutely have to, but I totally understand that we are not going to eliminate oil from our diet overnight. Oil may, in fact, be here for quite some time. We’ve grown used to it, and we’re somewhat resigned to that fact.
What leaves me befuddled is the argument by many that industry and nature can live side by side. There’s no reason, they claim, that we can’t have our country’s largest tract of public land (23 million acres), the wildlife that it supports (bears, wolves, millions of migratory birds, and our nation’s largest caribou herd), and the oil buried beneath it, all at the same time. We can drill for oil and still provide a place for whales to feed. We can build roads and infrastructure and still leave a home for polar bears to create dens.
The next time that you head out west and take a trip down Skyline Drive, I want you to think about the fact that much of what you see was once farmland and homesteads in the woods and has been allowed to return to forest. ANWR has always been wild. Sure, it has provided a home for the Inupiat and Gwich’in people who have hunted and fished there for thousands of years, but it has also sustained geese and grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines. The most remote place in America is in ANWR. It has six ecological zones, ranging from seashore and barrier island (much like my favorite parts of North Carolina and some of the most beautiful land in Virginia), to tundra and eventually mountain peaks.
Again, we’re not getting rid of oil anytime soon. Sure, North Carolina, Virginia and a bunch of other states are starting to invest heavily in things like wind and solar. But it seems that opening up a wild and pristine place to oil exploration is heading down a worrisome road, especially in an area that currently has so few of them. Once you start and pave the first road, you can’t really take it back. Once you dig a hole in the ground, it’s done. And if you think that’s not troubling, ask a Gulf Coast resident.