GUEST COMMENTARY: Blaming the Arctic won’t address climate change

It’s become very fashionable lately for politicians and ‘environmental’ groups to advocate against resource development in the Arctic, supposedly in the name of climate change.

This includes canceling oil and gas leases, discrimination by banks against Arctic oil and gas projects, calls for huge Wilderness designations and boycotts against shipping on the Northern Sea Route.

Do these measures make sense and do they do anything to respond to climate change? The answer is no. A well intentioned effort can still be completely misguided.

Think about it. Shutting down Arctic oil and gas production in the Arctic will not result in even one drop less oil being burned. None. It will just be produced somewhere else, like the Alberta tar sands or Venezuelan heavy oil. Is that what we want?

The current estimate of available oil from world proven reserves is 53 years. This does not include unproven reserves or new production technologies. The U.S. International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, the world will still be 70 percent dependent on fossil fuels. Arctic oil and gas development can help meet this obvious need.

Although the anti-Arctic development campaigns claim they are “saving the people of the Arctic”, stopping oil and gas development will only add to the impacts we are already experiencing from climate change by destroying our economies.

Arctic economies, and certainly Alaska’s economy, are highly dependent on resource development. This fact is lost upon the vast urban populations of the U.S. that don’t have any idea where their resources come from. Gasoline just comes out of the pump. Electricity just comes out of the plug in the wall as you turn on your air conditioning. Products based on mining and timber just magically appear on the shelves of the vast big box stores.

This disconnect is exploited by politicians and by groups pleading for funding from these resource-alienated urban masses. The same goes with the major banks discriminating against the Arctic in their public relations efforts to greenwash themselves. And this while they continue to finance coal and heavy oil production elsewhere.

Likewise, we have the politicians with their virtue signaling decisions like cancelling Arctic oil and gas leases and pipelines across the U.S. The Keystone Pipeline is an excellent case in misguided, but politically expedient, policy. Besides eliminating thousands of working class jobs, canceling the pipeline will just mean that the oil will be transported by truck or rail, much riskier than a pipeline. Saving the planet? Or trading substance for symbols?

In the meantime, the politicians are supporting Biomass Energy as “green energy”. This involves cutting down the forests and burning wood pellets which produces more CO2 than coal.

I wonder if our new President Biden and his eager staff have thought about this? If the President really wanted to do something to reduce consumption of oil and gas, he would shut down all the electrical generating plants in his own state of Delaware, which are 70 percent fossil fuel. (the rest being nuclear). That would actually do something to reduce CO2 emissions. It’s also not going to happen for purely political reasons. No, it’s much easier to attack the Arctic with our small population.

Climate change is a global consumption problem, not an Arctic production problem. It’s not the 4 million people producing oil in the Arctic, it’s the 7 billion people in the rest of the world and growing demand, especially in developing nations who strive for the American standard of living. It’s not right to blame them either. These people have rights as well and we identify with them.

We are not blind to climate issues and deal with them daily as the Arctic warms up. We support renewable energy when it is practical and that’s not just talk. We have used our oil money in Alaska to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, wind and solar. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without producing our oil and gas. We are not sitting on our hands with regard to reducing our own consumption. Among the states, Alaska is one of the lowest emitters of CO2.

It’s wrong to blame the Arctic and discriminate against us for a problem that is your own. We have the right to continue providing critical resources to our country and the world, while supporting our working class people and our economy. If you want to look for a solution to climate change, you might want to look into your own back yard. Or a mirror.

Paul Fuhs is a former mayor of Dutch Harbor and a former Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development for Alaska. He can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
03/31/2021 - 9:12am