GUEST COMMENTARY: Narrative of fear doesn’t need facts to win

Alaskans know that the future of our state depends on our ability to responsibly extract natural resources.

Perhaps more certainly than citizens of any other state, we understand how our economy and livelihood depends on whether we are allowed to utilize our own land as we please, without interference from the Lower 48.

That’s why recent attempts from some politicians in Washington to limit the rights of Alaskans are so counterproductive. Just last week, Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out an energy plan that included a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Senators and representatives from states like Rhode Island and Maine – Republicans included – have rolled out legislation to do the same.

Recent history suggests that every major development in Alaska will be “controversial” going forward. The proposal to expand Alaska’s economy by permitting responsible development in ANWR is just one example. Yet there is nothing wrong with that word; it simply means there are strong opinions on both sides. But “controversy” isn’t a reason to stop progress.

Here’s why: Every major development will be met by a narrative of fear perpetrated by its opponents, often environmental activist groups. Stoking fear is the easy way to try and halt development.

It doesn’t rely on winning the facts or making the best case – it’s all about denigrating opponents and being the loudest voice in the room. The funny thing that typically accompanies these fear-inducing declarations? They’re nearly always ended with a plea for campaign donations.

Environmental activists do this because it works. Fear-mongering produces a fortune for the groups who use them.

In Alaska, we’ve seen these narratives since before I was born. In 1968, with the plan to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System underway, eco-groups wrongly predicted the end of caribou herds and the destruction of the pipeline due to earthquake activity, and the demise of Alaska Native cultures. Check your watch – it has been 51 years, and none of those have happened.

You may look at those predictions now and see them as absurd, but many believed them in the moment. After all, those statements preyed on many peoples’ fears.

Eco-groups are using the same tactics today, but with even larger platforms on social media, e-mail blasts and online-organized activist rallies. They use these tactics to stifle development, often by trying to halt the already-long permitting process that accompanies major projects.

There are rules for approving resource projects. Lots of requirements. Lots of time for the public to weigh in. The rules tell you the terms and how to prepare. For mines, there is a book printed by the Environmental Protection Agency, titled EPA and Hardrock Mining: A Source Book for Industry in the Northwest and Alaska.

This book outlines the requirements for pursuing approval for mining projects, and knowing the information in the book is critical to the prospect of having any mining opportunities in our state. It simply costs too much money and time to enter a project without a clear understanding of the requirements.

For those willing to undertake the process, years and several million dollars (at a minimum) of scientific and technical work will be required. Impact studies must be done, branches of the federal government must approve, and the public has plentiful opportunities to comment. All this must be done while fending off the alarmists hard at work on their narrative of fear.

As Alaska’s future resource opportunities develop, here’s hoping that the activist groups who speak factually-inaccurate, emotionally-charged fear in hopes of dimming Alaska’s bright future are seen for what they are. If fear is given credence over fact, Alaska will lose out on significant opportunities.

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on energy and resource development.

Updated: 
06/19/2019 - 9:34am

Comments