Thoreau had it going on: Natural areas need protection

By Jonathan Koepke

Henry David Thoreau wrote the following lines from the shores of Walden Pond: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.”

His words echo in my consciousness with every atrocity humanity enacts upon the natural environment.

The most recent proposal to open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration and drilling is one such action that could lead to environmental disaster or damage.

Thoreau’s writing emphasizes an aspect of our lives that is often overlooked.

Humans are living creatures that are tied to our environment. Despite our hubris, we are not the masters of all things around us. We still must have a healthy and safe place to live.

The fate of the ecosystems around us hold our fates as well. In order to have a healthy society, it is necessary to maintain a healthy environment for people to understand who they are and where they came from.

Areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provide open places untouched by the hands of our technocratic society so that we can gain proper perspective on our role in protecting the earth.

After dedicated and extended petitions, letter-writing campaigns and grass-roots campaigns by various environmental groups, President Bill Clinton recently declared over 60 million acres of roadless areas of our national forests all across the nation as designated wildlife refuges. This designation was made so these areas never could be exploited for their natural resources.

Acts such as these are designed to give people a place where they can come to reflect and appreciate their ties to the natural world. Without these places, we as a species would be losing a piece of ourselves and our history.

As much as the environment has become an important issue to Americans today, we have come to a place in our development where we are running short on natural resources, especially petroleum.

The rising costs of gasoline, natural gas and heating oil, combined with recent news of OPEC cutting its oil exportation by 1.3 billion barrels a day, has sent American consumers into a panic.

While it is true that no one wants to pay $2 or more for a gallon of gas, it must be understood that number is far below what the vast majority of other industrialized nations pay for their “liters of petro.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has become the battleground of a misguided American public and short-sighted economic and governmental planning.

While pro-exploration Web sites, such as, continue to cite the increased tax revenues and the jobs that would be created for limited oil production in the area, they overlook some environmental concerns voiced by activist groups.

The Natural Resources Defense Council believes that expanding oil production into the refuge will lead to environmental destruction such as toxic oil and contaminant leaks, water pollution, staggeringly large air contamination from refinery and vehicle emissions and habitat loss for species like muskoxen, caribou and snowy owls. One of the key players in this issue is President-elect George W. Bush’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton. According to a New York Times article, Norton already has fought to open the area to oil exploration once before and will make it a top priority on her list once Bush takes office.

She has a history of supporting deregulation and allowing the will of corporate power to determine the social good.

This area needs to be protected for the good of all of us. Thoreau said, “In wildness lies the preservation of the world.” There is something wild within each of us, and we must protect our wild areas.