“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Pristine Wilderness of ANWR

Oh look! Are those mountains in the distance?

Since the charade over ANWR continues in Congress, it's worth a look back at this 2001 Jonah Goldberg article in National Review online.

Since my cover story on ANWR — and related columns — came out, I've gotten a lot of e-mail from people. I will get around to the critics elsewhere and later because I don't have the time here and now. But I will respond to one request. A number of people have mentioned that they'd love to see pictures of what the real ANWR looks like. Some people are especially distressed by the pictures in the latest issue of National Geographic that apparently show beautiful mountain vistas and the like.

Well, those pictures are accurate, I'm sure, even though I haven't seen them. They're just not pictures of the sliver of ANWR where the drilling would be. Unfortunately, I didn't take a lot of pictures while I was up there, and the ones I took weren't intended for publication so much as for visual note taking.

Still, I do have a few shots that will give you a sense of what it looks like up there on the coastal plain. They are of mediocre quality — taken from the cockpit of a small, very jerky plane — so don't give me grief about how I'm no Ansel Adams or how I'm being unfair by showing crappy pictures of what Joe Lieberman calls "one of God's most awesome creations." Also, I don't have time to check against my written notes, so some of these pictures may be of the Prudhoe Bay side of the Canning River, which forms the border of ANWR's coastal plain. The important thing is that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the ANWR side and the Prudhoe side without checking my notes and a map.

So, this and this [133, 134] are pictures of one of the spots where the Canning River lets out into the Arctic Ocean. Just beyond it is ANWR. And this and this [144, 145] are pictures of what I believe is a typical oil-loading facility on what amounts to the coastal plain on the Prudhoe side of the Canning River. This [142] is a typical pipeline running over the tundra and so is this [143]. This [140] is what the coastal plain and most of the tundra in Prudhoe look like, complete with the puddles I described. And so is this [141]. And so is this [137]. There some places without the puddles, however [196].

Now, as for the mountains in ANWR: There are many beautiful mountain ranges in this South Carolina-sized wilderness. But the ones closest to the coastal plain are not covered in lush trees, as you might think from looking at the media coverage. This far north it's too cold, dark, and bleak during the winter for trees to survive. So these mountains are impressive geologically, but — at least from what I saw — they look like barren, massive piles of gravel. For example: [169] [179] [171]. And some have really cool glacier-ice formations on them, like this [178]. But remember, these [180] are still very far from this [150].

I did see some caribou closer than this [150] but I didn't snap any good pictures. As you can see [151], they are hanging out on the shore of the Arctic Ocean trying to escape the bugs. I like to call the one on the very far left-hand corner Arthur. Speaking of the Arctic Ocean, the ice never really goes away [152]. Here you can see the dividing line between what were two giant sheets of ice [154]. That line is not man-made in any way.

And finally, this is me [131] looking like a doofus in hardhat and goggles at the Alpine Oil installation. The reason I don't look fatter is that standing against a large petroleum facility has a beneficial slimming effect, which is the real reason why I am favor of opening up ANWR. I do not pretend that you couldn't take prettier pictures up close on the tundra where the drilling might be, but that's not why I was there. And, besides, you couldn't take pictures of beautiful mountains where the drilling would be because, well, there are no mountains of any kind where the drilling would be.


I have a question. If, due to environmental concerns, we can't drill in this little sliver of ANWR, when are we going to shut down operations in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of California? After all, aren't these areas as sensitive as the tundra in ANWR?


  1. Whit, i wasn't paying attention when I posted. Leave it up, and I'll bump it up later. Thanks partner!

  2. If a Caribou takes a crap in the wilderness, and noboby sees it, has it really taken a crap in the wilderness?

  3. It amazes me, the environmentals. Have you personally ever know anyone, or of anyone, who has ever actually been there?