Energy and Ecosystems

Beardsley, Timothy M.
June 2005
BioScience;Jun2005, Vol. 55 Issue 6, p467
Academic Journal
The article focuses on a debate regarding the opening up of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. for oil and gas development. The release in March of the synthesis report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) may come to be seen as a turning point for common wisdom about the earth's life-support mechanisms. Most of the ecosystems evaluated are being degraded by human activity and the damage makes more likely droughts, diseases, and famines that could impoverish or kill millions. Fisheries and water supplies are already faltering. People in poor countries will, as usual, suffer most. The MEA board warned that pressure on ecosystems will grow in coming decades unless policies change. Right on cue, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a month later a far-ranging energy bill that would increase pressure on one pristine ecosystem by opening up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development. A Senate fight is likely, but hope that the rigs can be kept out of Area 1002, the part of the coastal plain where caribou most often go to calve, seems to be fading. Drilling opponents point out that the refuge's fossil fuel resources will most likely provide only 1 percent of U.S. energy needs over their expected 50-year lifetime. Yet, drilling advocates argue, preservation of fauna in unsullied landscapes and the cultural preferences of a few thousand Eskimo and Native Americans cannot compromise energy security. The MEA makes clear how crucial the choices are, but it is only a beginning. Assessment of ecosystems, many now changing rapidly in a way that could threaten large fractions of the earth's population, will have to be a never-ending effort. The effort is essential if politicians are to be given reliable information they can use to argue for sound policies.


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