Say What? Alaska Governor Wants to Drill, Drill, Drill To Pay For Climate Change Damage

You’ve gotta love it, and everyone does, when an opponent says something phenomenally foolish. Sometimes the enjoyment overlaps into fiction. Dan Quayle never said that those who live in Latin America speak Latin. Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet. Barack Obama never said that business owners did not start their own businesses.

Bill Walker (I) Alaska's governor

Bill Walker (I) Alaska’s governor

But Alaska Governor Bill Walker did suggest a mind twisting proposition about climate change. He began by acknowledging the science is indeed valid. This in itself was a dramatic departure from current Republican theology. And he pointed out that the damage is real, the cost in human misery is already very high.

We are in a significant fiscal challenge. We have villages that are washing away because of the change in the climate.

Governor Bill Walker (R-AK), October 12, 2015

A dozen villages are about to be washed away by rising waters from melting polar icecaps. And government has to intercede to help the victims. Entire communities have to be relocated to safety.

That is our obligation, we stand by that – we need to figure out how to do that. But those are very expensive – we have about 12 villages in that same situation.

Governor Bill Walker

He is recognizing, at least in this case, the sort of results that have always been the dark underside of history’s most successful economic system.

The theory developed by Adam Smith in the 18th century has been accepted as the foundation of economic theory. It rests on a basic human condition. We tend to act economically out of self interest. We work and invest for money. We use the wealth that results to purchase goods and services, and to invest in order to accumulate more wealth.

In its raw form, the theory holds that those who contribute the most economic benefit are rewarded the most. Private selfishness produces public good. Public good happens most when private action is predictably rewarded.

The contradiction comes when the private action that results in public good also results in public harm. If that harm is directly traceable to a definable entity, the law can step in. If you punch me in the nose, I can sue. If a corporation punches me in my bank account I can sue.

But when that harm is diffused, scattered over many years and many lives, legal recourse becomes several steps more difficult. Class action is a theoretical possibility, although it is a practical rarity.

When the sources of harm are also diffused, coming from many directions, a harsh new reality comes alive. Good is rewarded, harm is ignored.

The only way to restore a balance of incentives is through government action. The harm has to be measured in some way, and a proportional cost has to be levied. Regulation and penalty become the only way we can balance the books and create a sort of economic ecology.

In Alaska, we finally have a Republican official vigorously insisting that climate damage is immediate and urgent. Action must be taken and taken now.

The solution demanded by Governor Bill Walker?

Question: So you’re saying that given the climate change impacts in Alaska, you need to be allowed to continue to drill and explore and produce oil to pay for some of those impacts in Alaska?”

Bill Walker: Absolutely

Governor Bill Walker
interviewed by Matt McGrath, BBC, October 12, 2015

We must raise revenue to rescue a dozen Alaskan villages by drilling for more oil. Drilling. For. More. Oil.

It is a mind warping bit of Ninja policy. We will meet the challenge of climate damage by imposing more damage on the climate.

We can, and should, ridicule the good governor. His contradiction is public and humorous, in a tragic sort of way.

Exxon is another story. Internal documents from the 1980’s have been uncovered. They demonstrate that scientists working for the company proved to the satisfaction of corporate executives that climate damage was caused by the use of fossil fuels, Exxon’s fossil fuels. That’s pretty bad.

It gets worse.

Exxon funded a diverse collection of research groups dedicated to denying that there was any problem with human generated climate change.

The Heartland Institute is just one of many recipients of Exxon’s generosity. Craig Idso recently announced the conclusions of the Exxon sponsored group, that mainstream scientific research is nothing more than this:

… a one-sided recitation of studies promoting climate catastrophism as a means to achieve a political end.

Craig Idso of Heartland Institute, June 30, 2011

Exxon’s sponsorship of this and a host of similar groups has been reported by mainstream media as one more example of corporate sponsored denialism, something akin to the sponsorship of the Council for Tobacco Research by cigarette companies in the last third of the twentieth century.

It is true that Exxon did sponsor groups and political candidates who campaigned for them based on climate denial.

But it is worse than simple denial.

Exxon had in hand, for more than 40 years, compelling proof from their own scientists that fossil fuels were causing climate damage that would have terrible costs to real people. They had that proof of climate damage while they were sponsoring climate change denial.

And it gets worse than that.

Corporate executives were secretly using those studies, the studies on climate damage, to find ways to profit from the damage itself: to anticipate the best places that climate damage would open to drilling, and the best methods to use in that drilling. What parts of the earth should be avoided because waters will be rising? What parts of the Arctic will experience a weakening of the frozen tundra as things heat up. As polar regions are damaged, where will thinning ice make more oil deposits more easily reachable?

Exxon executives were making corporate decisions on how best to profit because of the world heating up as a result of their actions. Their decisions were based on secret scientific studies about climate damage at the same time their sponsored groups were denying climate damage.

Now that documents are discovered and memos are disclosed, it is tempting to imagine panic in the executive suites of the primary offices of the corporation. Let’s not strain our imaginations.

Here is how the company is actually reacting in public to the disclosures. They are boasting about their secret research.

…our scientists and researchers were among the first to grapple with the fact there might be a connection between the carbon dioxide emissions from humanity’s use of fossil fuels and climate fluctuations.

It should surprise no one that we have remained committed to pursuing climate change research since that initial discovery.

Ken Cohen,   Vice President of Exxon Mobil Corporation,   October 15, 2015

Well, I suppose you can put it that way. Among the first to recognize human generated climate change, committed to pursuing their own research. Kind of noble, if you think about it.

It’s not as humorous as the Alaskan governor. At least I’m not laughing.

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Posted by on November 13, 2015. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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One Response to Say What? Alaska Governor Wants to Drill, Drill, Drill To Pay For Climate Change Damage

  1. Dave Wren Reply

    November 13, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    So, on one hand he’s an independent by admitting climate change even exists, and on the other hand he’s a good republican by wanting to drill, drill, and drill. Good heavens.

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