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Real Alaska has always been in danger, from generation to generation

  • Author: Michael Carey
    | Opinion
  • Updated: February 13
  • Published February 13

I don't want to take sides in the smackdown over Seth Kanter's essay featuring Alaska versus New York City.

I do want to attempt to add a bit of light amidst the heat — while conceding that writers love this controversy because it allows them to crank up their erudition and preen their knowledge of the real Alaska.

For Kantner, who casts New York in the oft-performed role of the heartless million-footed man swarm, the real Alaska, home of uncorrupted wilderness, is endangered.

He's right. Danger lurks everywhere, particularly in man-made climate change.

But the real Alaska has been in danger a long time. It would not surprise me if a long-haired shaman, perhaps one of activist Charlie Edwardsen's ancestors, warned the Inupiat they were doomed after he spotted Sir John Franklin along the Arctic coast in 1826.

Maybe the Inupiat were doomed — if doomed means no longer living isolated from the Western world.

In an undated photo, a portion of the the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via The New York Times)

In the 1920s, Robert Marshall, later a founder of The Wilderness Society, visited the tiny mining village of Wiseman south of the Brooks Range. Marshall fell in love with the community and the natural wonders of the region. His book, "Arctic Village," is a tribute to the people of Wiseman, white and Native, and wilderness. In time "Arctic Village" became celebrated as one of the finest books ever written about the Last Frontier.

Marshall believed a large portion of Alaska above the Arctic Circle should be preserved from development, maintained as something like a park, although those who already resided there could remain. Only Nome and its coastal surroundings should be excluded — in Marshall's view, this mined-over area was unworthy of protection.

Marshall, born in 1901, was from Manhattan. The gold-coast elite. His father, Louis, a prominent lawyer, was involved with Theodore Roosevelt in the early conservation movement. Many of the leaders of the early movement were from New York. Fairfield Osborn of the New York Zoological Society, for example, backed creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Range (1960), predecessor to the much larger refuge (1980).

This sounds perverse, but I would bet a few shekels a yes-or-no ballot proposition on the question "Should ANWR be open to oil drilling?" would get a greater percentage of no votes in Manhattan than in Anchorage.

Oh, and here's something that Inupiat shaman I invoked probably did not foresee: Charlie Brower, the whaler who stamped his name on the Arctic and made Brower synonymous with the Inupiat, would be born in Manhattan in 1863.

Kantner, an eco-moralist, is part of a tradition. From John Muir on, every major environmental leader has said Alaska is about finished because of human invasion. Olaus and Mardy Murie said it. Aldo Leopold said it. David Brower – unrelated to Charlie — said it.

For that matter, my dad, Fabian, said it — and as a trapper, hunter and Fairbanks construction worker, he was an iffy environmentalist. But Fabian believed that once the oil companies got their hooks into Alaska, the wilderness he loved was doomed. Alaska would become Texas or Oklahoma, ruled by money and right-wing privilege. He was a pretty shrewd soothsayer, although he didn't mention Sen. Dan Sullivan by name.

Alaska is not endangered by New York City. But it is endangered by one New Yorker. Donald Trump, the most destructive elected official in modern American history. I don't have the strength to list his sins beyond habitual liar. OK, he wants to open ANWR, and the Chamber of Commerce is elated. Open to what? Perhaps a North Korean nuclear attack after President Kim Jong-Un has had enough Trump mockery and insult? I suppose the upside of Kim's order to launch would be deep-fried caribou in Venetie 30 minutes later.

Writers, including this one, have a lot to say about Alaska, past, present and future. But they are rarely a match for the money and power that shape Alaska. Clad in their Cassandra robes, they typically are relegated to the sidelines where they shout "Wake up" at elected officials and warn business leaders to repent or face the blue and bubbly flames of hell.

The Cassandra story has been told many times. Never in the telling does anyone say to the old girl, "Thanks. I'm glad I listened to you."

Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist. His essay on the origins of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will soon appear in Dissent, a venerable left-wing magazine published on Wall Street in New York City.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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