Oil politics alleged in polar bear decision. San Francisco Chronicle.

This story is up on many on-line places today.

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Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

22 Responses to Oil politics alleged in polar bear decision

  1. I agree that this was probably delayed because of oil interests, but I have a problem with listing a species under the ESA when it’s amin threat is global warming. Under the ESA, it is required that you protect critical habitat. Critical habitat for the Polar bear is solid arctic sea ice. How can you protect that? You can’t stop the sun from shining. If the polar bear were listed under the ESA, it would be another reason for people who hate environmental protection to say it is a foolish law that needs to be done away with. And they would have a point, in this case. A “threatened” status would be enouught to slow or stop oil development into critical habitat with motivated and real enforcement…. at least until the entire ice cap melts. 🙁

  2. avatar jimbob says:

    No Duh! It’s time for a total re-organization of politics in the U.S. “Throw the bums out” re-organize, and don’t allow ANY special interest money in politics. Adopt the attitude “be a good little business and stay out of our lives and politics”! Stick to making money, not making and influencing policy. If you need to influence policy, it’s usually to pollute more or make more profit on the backs of the citizens. Be a good little business and shut up!

  3. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Ecologically, it is impossible to mitigate global warming in any significant way.

    I agree with your comments, Cowboy. And when oil hits $500 a barrel, it doesn’t matter where the remaining oil reserves are, we will be going in there and getting it.

    Do you think there would be any public dissension about drilling ANWAR if oil was $500 a barrel?

    Hell no. Just a matter of time. I see little reason for optimism in the polar bear’s case; that guy is going to lose a huge chuck of his habitat, and there isn’t anything to be done about it.

    Unless you can cool the sun by a few hundred thousand degrees.

  4. There is also the threat to the polar bear of drilling in the Arctic Ocean. An oil spill would not be just bad for the bear and other mammals, birds, and fish, but the dark oil would make the Arctic less reflective (depending on the spills’ size), and so it would soak up even more heat from the sun.

    Granting oil leases, and drilling permits is the reason Secretary Kempthorne is holding up a decision.,

    I read yesterday some group estimated the chances of a large spill was from 25% to 50% (or some similar figure)

  5. avatar Catbestland says:

    This may sound dumb, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. I was watching a Nat. Geo special the other day that said that one of the biggest reasons that polar bears will not be able to survive global warming, that the sea ice will recede to such an extent that bears will have to swim long distances in open water with out big enough chuncks of ice to sustain them even for resting places, therefore they will drown. Why can some platforms be built and dropped, even anchored at intervals across the ocean? They don’t need to be eloborate but would give them a place to hang out for a while. Seals may even use them, giving the bears a source of food as well. We build huge oil rigs and place them in the ocean, why not bear refuges?

  6. avatar Monty says:

    President Carter was 30 years ahead of his time in understanding the looming energy crisis. As a symbol of his concern, he had solar panels installed in the Whiite House. President Reagan, after repalacing Carter, and as a symbol of his distain for clean energy–promotely had the solar panels removed. Reagan, for allegedly winning the cold war, had an aircraft carrier named after him. If the Exon Valdez is still working the oil shipping lanes, it should be renamed the “Ronald Reagan”.!

  7. avatar Monty says:

    Catbestland: Your thinking outside the box, way to go! On another related polar bear program, it was suggested that if a few polar bears, by chance, while going inland in search of food–could pick up on the timing of the salmon runs & pass this on to their off spring, that this could be a potential food source. Of course, climate change may kill off the fish.

  8. avatar Catbestland says:

    The oil companies could be made to pay for the platforms. What a business venture that could be. Could you imagine getting a government contract to build them, perhaps even internationl contracts. Oil companies can afford to foot the bill.

  9. The oil companies should be paying back all kinds of reimbursements for the damages they impose — they should be made to internalize their external diseconomies in “economicsspeak.”

    They are making record profits. I believe last quarter Exxon made more profit than any company in history.

  10. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    There is nothing inherent wrong with corporate profits, is there?

    I hate to defend the oil industry, but it’s profits are in line with Wall Street averages for those companies’ size and revenues.

    Oil companies provide a product both you and I depend on, and if they make money in that process, then that is good for them.

    Since Exxon is the second largest company in the world, is anyone surprised that it’s profits are higher than any other company in the world? Isn’t that actually expected?

    The disappearance of the ice is what will doom the polar bear, not the oil companies. There isn’t much that will be done about that.

  11. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    SmokyMtMan,

    Oil companies enjoy massive subsidies. Direct subsidies, but also indirect subsidies.

    Oil companies make “profit” because oil companies are not expected to play in a fair, free-market. Besides being directly subsidized, oil companies are not expected to pay for the consequences of their enterprise, including the lands ravaged, the waters and air polluted. That’s an “externalized” cost as Ralph mentions above. In a truly free market, the monetary value of those externalized costs would be incorporated into the cost of their product. It is not.

    Additionally, one of the few “national interests” that America uses as a justification to go to war is the interest our country has in maintaining “security” of the energy supply. The valuation of our currency is also contingent on our hold of the energy supply ~ thus, our fundamental economic well-being. The lives of our soldiers and the billions/trillions spent securing geo-political advantage to maintain markets of oil are also “externalized” costs not directly incorporated into the cost that makes its way to these people’s “profit”.

    Because the true costs of the product that both you and I depend on is so convoluted and externalized, suggesting that this “profit” is legitimate is not possible.

    There is no “profit” – there is only the alchemy of burdening the public with externalized costs by converting commonly held values (clean air, cool atmosphere, clean water, habitat, free-market, no need to interfere aggressively in international arenas, etc. etc. etc.) into privately held money – then calling it “profit”.

  12. Ralph said: “There is also the threat to the polar bear of drilling in the Arctic Ocean.”

    Yes which is why I said “main threat” (actually I said “amin threat”, don’t know where that came from).

    I just don’t think the ESA is the right tool for this job. This is an international issue. Global solutions are needed.

    Smokey: if oil reaches 500 a barrel, it will be so prohibitively expensive for the average citizen, that nobody will buy it. I, for one, can’t wait. Necessity the mother of invention and all that. 🙂

  13. avatar Monty says:

    Alan Greenspan in his newest book said: “we are in Iraq because of oil”. Another writer who is tracking “all” of the war costs in Iraq–including past, present & future projected costs–used a figure of 3 trillion. President Cater, a much censured president, but forward thinking on energy was replaced by Reagan and Gore–a forward thinking individual–lost the election to Bush. Elections do matter.

  14. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Brian, thanks for the reply.

    Brian said: “Additionally, one of the few “national interests” that America uses as a justification to go to war is the interest our country has in maintaining “security” of the energy supply.”

    Monty said: “Alan Greenspan in his newest book said: “we are in Iraq because of oil.”

    There wasn’t ever any doubt about that in my mind. But does that make the war wrong? If you ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff if the U.S. military requires a steady and plentiful supply of oil in order to fulfill its obligations of protecting American citizens and America’s borders and interests, what do you think their response would be?

    Does anyone really believe that this country can function, in any real capacity, without oil? Our military would grind to a complete standstill and become worthless without oil.

    Oil is necessary for the national security of the United States and its people. Oil is also the lifeblood of the U.S. economy (of any industrialized nation, actually). Without a steady and predictable supply of oil we would be in a permanent recession.

    When Kyoto came up for a Senate vote years ago, why was the vote 99-0? Yes, not a single Senator, NOT ONE, voted for Kyoto.

    The #1 priority and constitutional responsibility of the President is ensuring the continued protection of the United States and its citizens. It’s an indisputable fact the U.S. military and economy depends on oil, so I am not surprised at the lengths our government will go to procure supplies of it.

    And you shouldn’t be, either.

    People need to wake up and see the true extent our life styles rely upon oil, and how oil and our economic growth are so intertwined there is no separating them. And no American citizen, except a few on this board, are willing to greatly reduce their standard of living by giving up oil.

    It isn’t going to happen until we are out of oil. Someone said once that nations don’t have friends, they have interests. The simple truth is that oil is vital to our national security and our American way of life.

    And nothing will change that. Oil is vital to our economic growth, and that is the true American God. Always has been. This government slaughtered the Native Americans so the U.S. could exploit their land for resources. Almost every war or conflict we have been in for the last 400 years was waged for resources.

    And some of you are surprised the Iraq war is over a natural resource? When have we fought for anything else?

    We will fight more wars over oil in the coming decades. We will wage wars over fresh water soon, too. See the UN reports about that, they are quite sobering. As resources become more scarce, their value increases, and eventually their worth becomes high enough to justify war.

    That is how human history has unfolded to this very moment. It should be noted the American people were solidly behind the Iraq war. It is how the war was waged that has turned the public against it.

    What does that tell you?

  15. To have an efficient and just economy under a market system every economic enterprise should pay the full costs of its production, whether it is vital like oil or trivial like popsickles.

    It’s clear to me that the oil industry, with help from governments, passes on its costs to others and onto the environment in the order of many billions, probably hundreds of billions of dollars.

    If you have to fight a war to secure a natural resource, the costs of the war should be part of the price of natural resource.

  16. avatar vicki says:

    Smoky Mtn,
    I agree that there is a need for oil, At This Time.
    However, historically the greatest catalyst for change has been war.
    There were centuries of humans and wars not involving oil. Then the game was stepped up a bit and oil and machinery were used to help win wars. When every one had oil and machines , they won a war by dropping atomic bombs. Now there are so many counties having that technology, we are all at some risk of extinction. So, now, stepping up that game will include lessening our dependence on oil.
    As a matter of national security,we need to be able to depend less on those nations which yield the most oil power. Those nations typically want us destroyed.
    Do you know of any other industry, aside from opium, that countries who would seek to destroy us thrive on? I can’t think of any. Oil is the economiic main stay of our worst enemies.
    Having drilling take place in the Artic is damning to the habitat of polar bears. It is also not a solution to anything. It is merely a teatment of a symptom.
    Even if oil streams in to the US or global economy, don’t count your savings and it won’t bring world peace. The cost is too sizeable to calculate.
    I am in agreement with Ralph.
    The oil industry has not ever been, nor will they ever be, responsible for their own costs of production and it’s effect on the environment. That is why so many men who got rich by investing in oil still seek to dominate our government and our economy. They profit in a huge way because of how little their intities actually pay to exist.
    If you made oil company execs pay a reasonable fee for damaging the environment, they’d invest elsewhere…like alternative fuels perhaps. They wouldn’t keep drilling if they weren’t making so darn much money with out consequences or costs.

  17. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    yes,

    without getting into the whether the war was right or not ~ that private industry uniquely “profits” from such public investment is not right. there is just too much public investment in cleanup and loss of environment, war, and obscured ‘free market’ principles to justify these “profits”.

    that our economy is founded on one of the mainstay commodities ~ energy ~ is not inherently wrong. the question is which source of energy should enjoy such public investment. fossil fuels aren’t working.

  18. avatar JB says:

    We’ve put oil companies in a unique position to profit by failing to legislate the use of alternative fuels. GM introduced the EV1 (zero emission electric vehicle) over a decade ago! I was reading a car magazine in the Dr.’s office the other morning (it was that or Young Miss) and noted that all of the major car companies now have prototype vehicles that use alternative fuels–in Sept. 2007, Hyundai produced a concept fuel cell vehicle with a range of 370+ miles and a top speed of 100 mph. The technology is there to get us off oil; all we’re lacking is the political will.

  19. I disagree that we would have to significantly lower our standard of living (on average) to significantly reduce our dependence on oil. Our modern nation was built on the assumption that you could travel or ship anywhere cheaply because the energy return on the investment of extracting oil was someting like 300-1… Therefore, we have built a nation where almost all of the products we need are manufactured, or grown far away from where we live.

    If we start diversifying agriculture and manufacture on a smaller scale locally, products, and people would not have to travel as far to get the things we need. This would obviously require a massive change in economic thought, but I really don’t think we will ultimately have a choice.

    We can make the transition relatively easily, or we can have wars over it. My bet based on my current faith in humanity is we will have more wars.

  20. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    All of you make some good points, thanks for the feedback.

    Cowboy: I agree, I have enjoyed studying history and I see nothing in the patterns of our civilization anywhere or anytime that gives me optimism about humans walking a path that doesn’t involve wars or conflict. We simply allow our minor differences with other people and cultures to create chasms that we are unable to bridge. I cannot think this is an accident, for it seems to so often benefit those in power at the expense of the many.

    Ralph: You say “To have an efficient and just economy under a market system every economic enterprise should pay the full costs of its production, whether it is vital like oil or trivial like popsickles.”

    I think I understand what you are saying. My question is this: what industry in today’s economy directly pays all the associated costs with their product or service?

    Do electrical power plants pay for the medical costs associated with their air pollution? Do logging companies re-imburse the public for their damage to stream clarity, the death of the animals that called that forest home, or for all that CO2 released into the atmosphere?

    Do Trawlers pay for the damage they do to the sea floor? Do the farmers in the midwest pay for that huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is caused by their wasteful fertilizer application? But don’t those farmers owe those fisherman that have gone out of business?

    I could give many more examples, but I think my point is made well enough, I hope. I don’t see any company or industry in the U.S. today that pays ALL their costs directly for the “full costs of production”, as Ralph puts it. None.

    Why should oil be singled out? And how does one place a value on clean air, or a clean stream, a lost population of animals, the deaths of soldiers at war, etc?

    The Exxon Valdez trashed Prince William Sound, we all know that. Prior, a pod of killer whales made that sound their home. They disappeared after the spill, and haven’t returned since. I believe I could make the case in court Exxon removed that pod from that ecosystem.

    The solution would be what? Charge Exxon for the whales? What would they be worth? More to the Alaskan that made money off tourists that he took to see the whales, but much less so the New Yorker that didn’t even know that pod existed.

    I don’t see how one would ever apply this: “every economic enterprise should pay the full costs of its production.” Not to oil companies, not to any company.

    Our economic model makes no exception for it at all. No economy probably ever has. So aren’t we just proposing an impossibility? And if it was possible, wouldn’t it make every product un-affordable?

    And doesn’t that really demonstrate how unsustainable our civilization really is?

    If we had to pay the real price for everything, we couldn’t afford anything.

  21. Smoky MtMan

    As you say, and I agree, oil companies should not be singled out. Everyone should pay the full costs of their economic activities.

    If every economic entity did, things would cost, less not more. If some economic entity passes some of its costs of production onto others, these costs still are paid, but they paid by bystanders such as the people who have to pay for their cancer treatments, or the people or towns that have to pay more to treat their water.

    Similarly, if any economic activity provides unpaid benefits to bystanders, the producer should receive some kind of subsidy for their unintended good works or whatever.

    This is just a standard explanation how an efficient economy would deal with spillover effects (a.k.a.) negative and positive externalities.

    I know this is usually not done, and we are the poorer for it

    Unfortunately, I think we are moving farther and farther from this, such as subsidies being paid to those who harm us.

  22. avatar vicki says:

    Americans have reached far beyond their true standard of living. How do we gauge it? Do we base it on what we provide by using credit? I don’t know of may who can afford to pay cash for the things they have grown accustomed to.
    The standards that we maintain are an illusion. At some point we will have to realize that we can’t eat illusions, they don’t sustain us. So when is enough, enough?
    We have to weigh our wants, and see that they cost far more than we could ever repay.
    What we need to do is shift economic developement. Instead of oil, invest in alternative feul research, and power cell design. Build cars that last longer and pollute less.
    We need to place value on what we can not replace. The environment can not be brought back once it is gone, we can’t reintroduce what no longer exists.
    Polar bears are a living symbol of our environmental demise. If we lose them, or their habitat… we have essentially lost hope.
    Every day that goes by, every species that is lost, is one less we could have saved, and one more we will never have back.
    We have to stop sacraficing our truest wealth for our pretend wealth. We can’t keep paying for things we can live without, at the cost of things that can never replace.
    You can call it economics, call it supply and demand. No matter what name we give it, it still spells “politics fed by selfish greed.”

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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