Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Boom and Bust

There was an article today in the Huffington Post about one of Shell's arctic drilling ships running aground in Dutch Harbor. Of course, Shell has issued a rather huffy response saying that no such thing happened, but the pictures tell their own story.
Lots of focus will be--and should be--spent on what this means for Arctic drilling. The fact that they can't keep control of one of their ships in waters far south of the Arctic Sea is a troubling sign of what will probably be a more exaggerated problem when (if! please, if!) drilling gets started. This is a serious problem and not something to be taken lightly. I'm glad the article even called out Senator Murkowski for trying to help block Greenpeace.
But the one thing they never talked about was the economics. Yes, they mention the billions of dollars that can be made from such a venture. I'm sure that, if this gets going, plenty of workers will come from other places and make a lot of money. Will it actually help the average Alaskan? Only because those outside workers will be forced to spend some of their money here. And yes, there will be some Alaskans who get hired on, mostly for things like grunt work. But the bulk of the jobs will most likely go to people from outside the state.
Alaska has already been through several boom and bust cycles. The gold rush, the pipeline days. My parents still talk about the pipeline days and just how easy things were around here. You know what happened after the pipeline finished? It caused a state recession which forced my family to move because there simply were not enough jobs, let alone jobs that paid well enough to keep a family of six afloat. The boom years are great, and I'm sure people around here would love them. But the article didn't focus on what happens after the boom, when bust comes around again and people who can afford it flee the state. Those who don't have the money or resources to flee are stuck in a place where money has suddenly dried up like a creek in a drought. I don't think I need to describe the devastation that happens to a place when funding dries up, since that's what we're seeing nationally right now. It can be rather catastrophic, no? Would that make you happy, to see what's coming and not be able to stop it? That's the position I feel like I'm in right now.
Nationally, we're going through a bust cycle coming off the boom years. It's been a long time coming, and what usually happens is happening. Poor people are figuratively being thrown under the bus with services, public transportation, and welfare being cut. When the average person can't make it, can you imagine what it's like for the poor? Now imagine that in Alaska, where it's easy to freeze to death if you can't pay your heating bill. Where the electric company shuts off your electricity even in the depths of winter for not paying. Where poverty is already quite high, and people live on the brink of destitution even in the best of times. Think of the starvation as people make the decision, heat or eat? (This is already quite a common problem for many Alaskans.)
I don't want any of this for my state. I think we need to find a more sustainable economy. If people don't make as much money in the short-term, I'm fine with that. A more sustainable economy would mean that everyone gets their fair share, not just those willing to rape the environment. We need to work our way away from an economy based around oil. We have so many other natural resources which are threatened or damaged by the extraction industries, and the politicians just don't get it. What they see is the money, not the land or the people who will be truly affected.
Can you tell I'm getting a bit jaded about our supposed "leadership"? I'm just not sure what I can do to create change, other than by speaking out in my silly little blog. I know there's a way to create a more sustainable Alaska, to capitalize on all that we have in a way which doesn't wreck the environment. I just don't feel that it's getting enough attention, from the media or the politicians.

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