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The NIMBY disconnect of Tea Party's favorite Republican

Craig Medred

Sometimes it's hard to avoid wondering if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been doping a whole lot more than disgraced, former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. There she was on Fox News on election night in America with Shepherd Smith, Greta Van Susteren holding her hand as she waxed ignorant on how the nation could have gone for Barack Obama, again, when out came this:

"And I can't believe that the majority of Americans would say it's OK to rely on foreign sources of energy instead of drilling and mining our own natural resources. So you know, it's a perplexing time for many of us right now, if things continue in this trend that we have seen earlier tonight."

Not in my back yard

The Palins have a commercial fishing site in Bristol Bay. The biggest issue in Bristol Bay now and for the past several years has been the proposed Pebble Project, a huge copper and gold mine proposal. Environmentalists and a goodly number of Bristol Bay residents and commercial fishermen from the Pacific Northwest have been fighting a fierce battle to kill the mine, even though it doesn't exist yet as much more than an idea. They wanted even the idea killed.

And what is that all about? In five words, "Not In My Back Yard."

The United States -- and Alaska is by and large no exception on this one -- has become the greatest NIMBY nation in the world. The majority of Americans think it fine to rely on sources of energy or minerals that come from anywhere except their backyard. Anywhere!

Palin finds this "perplexing?"

Yoo-hoo?

Sarah: When you fly on out to that Bristol Bay fishing site from your home in Wasilla, do you ever look down and consider what's going on down on the ground? Or is the Pebble Project there near the shores of Lake Iliamna between the family setnet site and your Lake Lucille home just your version of "flyover country?"

Palin appears to have been so tuned out on this one she even missed the obvious opportunity to whack American environmentalists upside the head for their hypocrisy. Greens want to save the world; yet weirdly enough, these people seem to focus their opposition to mining and drilling on the U.S. and Canada, where there are pretty good environmental regulations aimed at minimizing if not eliminating pollution. Yet they largely ignore the way the rest of the world gets trashed.

As the world burns

There is a lot of concern from environmentalists about drilling in U.S. Arctic waters -- even with stringent oversight from the Department of the Interior -- but seemingly little concern about development in the Barents Sea of Russia's Arctic coast or the Sea of Okhotsk just west of the tip of Alaska'a Aleutian Peninsula.

Despite all of the concern about what could happen at Pebble, if there were a disaster, there seems relatively little concern from the NIMBY crowd about what is happening upwind from Pebble in China, which is a disaster. China's coal burning is now the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Forget the global warming debate -- in which you might be a proselyte or a skeptic -- and simply consider the fallout from China.

The North Pacific Ocean is being slowly but steadily acidified through the uptake of carbon dioxide like that coming from China. Scientists aren't sure where this ends, but they agree it's not good. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning that "studies have shown that a more acidic environment has a dramatic effect on some calcifying species, including oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton. When shelled organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk."

Among the marine species higher in the food web dependent on those "calcifying species'' are salmon, including Bristol Bay salmon. Saving Bristol Bay from Pebble won't mean much if salmon are no longer able to survive in the marine waters off Bristol Bay. A scientist or two has joked that if Palin had really wanted to do something useful while governor, she'd have cut a deal with China to sell them cheap liquefied natural gas and then built a pipeline to haul it from where it is stranded on Alaska's North Slope to tidewater.

Alaska might not have made a lot of money on the deal, but helping the Chinese convert to clean-burning natural gas instead of dirty burning coal might have done a lot for the North Pacific, and it would certainly have helped balance trade with a country many in the U.S. now see as some new Yellow Peril trying to cripple us financially.

But, then again, maybe these kinds of ideas are just a little too complex for someone perplexed by why Americans accept reliance on foreign oil and minerals instead of, as Palin put it, "drilling and mining our own natural resources."

Could it be that four years on from when Palin hit a gusher with the Republican faithful with her chant "Drill, baby drill," she still hasn't figured out why that pitch failed to translate into an election win for her running mate, 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain? 

Now, that would be, as she puts, "perplexing."

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com