This morning on the news show Democracy Now! Amy Goodman asked energy guru Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute why the Bush Administration continues to push drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The question was in response to Lovins’ assertion that oil corporations don't want to drill in ANWR because of the difficulties, expense and lack of effective security along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Goodman then asked Lovins why – if that is the case – the Bush Administration continues to push drilling ANWR. Lovins said that he didn’t know the reason.
Since Bush first proposed it, I’ve believed drilling ANWR is promoted as a straw dog.
Bush et al understand the core dysfunction of the environmental establishment: all the large “nationals” think they must be seen as THE group – or at least one of the main groups - defending the highest profile environmental issues. The Bush Administration uses this knowledge to "force" the environmental establishment to spend most of their staff resources "defending" ANWR and other high profile places. The establishment merrily goes along with the charade because it is good for fundraising.
As a result, high profile environmental issues are worked on by a gaggle of staffers from a dozen or so organizations. Coordination is difficult; the staffers compete as well as cooperate. Meanwhile grassroots and community groups throughout the West struggle against extended leasing and drilling on our public lands without the support they should have from the environmental establishment. It has been much easier for the Administration to extend leasing and drilling on the rest of the public domain because they have promoted drilling ANWR.
Leasing the public domain for energy development is only one of the opportunity costs of the environmental establishment diverting too many resources to too few high profile issues. Staff members at the largest environmental organizations are also diverted from work on non-energy issues. An example is the Klamath River Basin. The national organization staffer who was working with the Klamath Basin Coalition to reform management of the complex of Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges at the time Bush assumed the presidency was abruptly pulled away from this work to focus on ANWR. He has never returned and the campaign to reform Klamath Refuge management has stalled.
For much of its history the environmental establishment advanced staffers who cut their teeth as grassroots activists. One result was campaigns like the Ancient Forest Alliance which succeeded because it harnessed grassroots and national strengths, creating a powerful synergy. Now most staffers working in the establishment are drawn from professional schools; they have no grassroots experience and consequently little appreciation for the importance of the thousands of low profile struggles carried forward by grassroots environmentalists. One of the most important consequences is the environmental establishment's unconscious collusion with those forces which seek to keep it focused on a few high profile issues while these forces despoil the Earth through thousands of smaller assaults which, for the most part, proceed under the national radar.