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Economic Implications of Arctic Oil Drilling

For more than a decade, the debate over drilling for oil on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR] has continued unabated.” This is the opening line of the introduction to the commonly encountered ethical paradox of economic interests versus moral interests. This paradox is steadfastly centered through the debate of oil drilling on the Coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The debate is considered and argued by diverse and infinitely intertwined societal organizations. The foremost of these organizations include the United States Federal Government, the government of the state of Alaska, various environmental groups, and the native populations of the region. Each of these groups has deep-seated motivations and internalized philosophies underlying specific positional tendencies, influences, and arguments.

In considering this especially pervasive debate, it is these individual and group nuances that are most beneficial and revealing in philosophical exploration necessary for obtaining an informed, profound argument for a conclusive and convincing position within this continuous discussion. In considering the motivational philosophies of what can be considered the foremost groups or individuals involved in the discussion, it is useful to separate the arguments into two somewhat obvious partitions: those in support of oil drilling, and those against it. The chief argument in support of the drilling for oil seems to be the promise of economic prosperity in the form of reduced foreign dependency, a significantly boosted United States Gross National Product, greatly improved nationwide employment, and widespread individual economic betterment in exchange for little negative environmental implication. The chief counterargument also seems to be in favor of similar economic prosperity.

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However, this counterargument recommends much more environmentally concerned means to obtain the same economic goals in the form of suggestions towards improving fuel efficiency and pursuing other economically profitable means of reducing the overall need for such environmentally harmful activities in the first place. The statistics in support and against both sides of this debate can be quite overwhelming if one chooses to consolidate, compare, and contrast the numbers in order to determine some sort of conclusion. Those in support of oil drilling can tell you all about the possible number of oil barrels with potential for recovery. Furthermore, these supporters can relate those numbers to personal financial numbers, regional financial numbers, national financial numbers, and exponential economic and individual statistical implications.

They can also give you figures on environmental impacts such as the estimation that only one percent of this arctic refuge will be involved leaving the other 99 percent to be as it may. In a similar fashion, those against oil drilling can provide still more figures in support of the other alternatives until such a full immersion in seemingly relevant statistics and numbers take place such that the issue at stake can be lost! Such statistical approach, or any such surface-oriented individual argument consideration, is not the best way to properly consider or think about any specifically laid out ethical paradox such as the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What must be considered in any ethical paradox are the underlying philosophies, methods of thinking, and modes of identification that are ultimately at the heart of the sentiments fueling such debate. Only then can a particular decision-making process begin to take shape, form, and facilitate practical applications and implications in view of some sort of fundamentally sound and uplifting purposeful goal.

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In line with this much more profound spirit of exploration, is a very similar approach advocated by a widely recognizable environmental scholar, Warwick Fox. It is also the belief of Fox that ethical platforms, general rules and adherences, and finally specific applications, are derived from the ultimate premises and philosophies that are deeply internalized in individual or group modes of thought. In the ethical debate at hand, this approach is particularly revealing. When considering the arguments in favor of drilling for oil, the ultimate premise is obviously economic. Those who support detriment to the environment to drill for oil clairvoyantly envision the potential for economic benefits and growth. This potential for economic growth as a result of the oil drilling is something that the supporters personally identify their sense of livelihood, well-being, and happiness with. In an abstract sense, these people inherently equate their personal well-being with economic well-being.

The environment is simply viewed as a means to an end. To take this concept a step further, the purpose of the non-human world is for the benefit of the human world. Alienated from the very unpredictable environmental implications, the oil drilling supporters only see and consider the possible economic implications. This line of thinking generally excludes the goals of the natural environment. Deducted from the above reasoning, the ultimate premise of supporters of drilling for oil is revealed: the deterministic value of the natural environment and ecological community is the potential for and realization of anthropocentric oriented benefit. In direct contrast to this deterministic value is an ultimate premise much different. This premise is one directly advocated by Warwick Fox. Fox ultimately believes that the natural environment in which humans live has value independent of its usefulness for human purposes. In the outlook of Fox, humans are just another intricate entity in a “single unfolding reality” as described in his dialogue of “cosmological identification.”

In essence, Fox believes that humans should live in harmony with the environment. From this premise, Fox argues that it is the ethical duty of the human world to instantiate policies and practice certain ethical methodologies and decisions that support the overall benefit of this reality in which exists everything from the stars to the soil and more! Fox does not even mention economic factors in his ideologies. It seems as if the economics is of little to no concern for fox is purely ethical decision making. As a result, little doubt is left that Fox would fanatically oppose the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the reasons stated above. Fox would most likely support a decision that best supports the well-being of the natural environment such as placing the focus much more on conservation and methods to facilitate harmonious human existence together with non-human existence. Furthermore, in the most basic sense, it is this general idea of Fox that can be thought of as the ultimate premise and dominant sentiment behind many of the arguments in favor of much more environmentally friendly alternatives to the possibility of oil drilling.

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Within the framework of this particular debate, the application of the economically anthropocentric ideology directly contrasts with the more eco-centric outlook. It should be mentioned that there is some anthropocentric sentiment, such as the Inupiat Eskimos’, against the drilling for oil as well, but the predominant sentiment against the drilling seems to be eco-centric. In support of the drilling, however, one is hard-pressed to conjure up any other motivation or ultimate premise other than anthropocentrism! After the realization of the two predominant premises fueling the pro and con partitions of the arguments, and after consideration of the application and practical implications of each in this debate, one is left with two very separate and distant consequential positions with seemingly little room for compromise! One ethical line of thinking that does seem to provide some room for compromise in its basis for ethical decisions involving economics and the environment is described by another widely recognized environmental literary, Aldo Leopold.

Leopold, like Fox, advocates what can be thought of as an eco-centric outlook in that Leopold also views humans as simply entities of a larger system, not conqueror or subservient, but equal contributing members to a single unfolding reality. Where Leopold seems to stray from Fox, however, is in economic consideration. Leopold incorporates economic factors into what he calls “The Land Ethic.” In this “Land Ethic,” although Leopold adamantly urges against economic use as the sole measurement of an environmentally affecting decision, he does recognize that such issues should be examined “in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.” In Leopoldina sentiment, it seems as though greater weight should be given to environmental considerations, but some sort of acknowledgment of the economic factors also play a role. Although Leopold does seem to stray a little bit from Fox in this manner, Leopold does hold a virtually identical ultimate premise and would most likely support the same applications of that premise.

In other words, Leopold, like Fox, would oppose oil drilling and support the most viable environmentally friendly alternative. In addition, Fox and Leopold would hold the motivations for oil drilling as incomplete, uninformed, and unethical. The supporters for oil drilling only consider the environment in so far as it is of benefit to humans, economically. These supporters make environmental considerations only in an effort to minimize the damage done by the pursuit of their economic goals. They fail to consider the goals of the environment in its own right. When these people examine their relationship with the non-human world in order to come to an ethical conclusion, they seem to attempt to maximize human benefit while minimizing non-human suffering. This ethical conclusion is in direct contrast to the ideologies and principles of Leopold and Fox in that these two, as a result of their eco-centric orientation, attempt mutually satisfactory applications that would perform to the benefit of the natural ecology or environment as a whole.

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If one is off or holds an ultimate premise completely identifying their livelihood with economic well-being, then the persuasion might lead towards drilling for oil in the refuge. If one is of the often contrasting ethically applicable environmentally centered premise of identification, many alternatives are much more attractive than drilling for oil in the refuge. The interesting aspect of this debate is that one of the completely informed anthropocentric motivations could very well also advocate a more environmentally friendly alternative to oil drilling! After all, oil is a non-renewable resource that seems to be almost essential to current societal circumstances. Should not effort, time, energy, and finance be more directed to means and processes that conserve this non-renewable, seemingly essential resource than expending effort, time, energy, and finances one means and processes that would encourage careless use of this non-renewable resource? In addition, oil is a product that is historically and scientifically damaging to the very environment that is, regardless of human attitude towards it, necessary for anthropocentric aspirations!

Well-educated anthropocentrism would most definitely seem to be aware of these issues and would very well be against such activities as destroying a particular environment, especially that of the unique caliber of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in order to facilitate and encourage further destruction of the very environment that is necessary for human survival. Obviously, those of the more eco-centric premise would not support drilling for oil in this refuge. It is possibly less obvious, but still apparent that one of the true anthropocentric premises could very well also be against such drilling in the refuge. It seems as though when ultimate premises are considered and expounded in order to derive practical applications, the argument would decisively weigh against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and be in favor of a more environmentally supportive and much different alternative!

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Economic Implications of Arctic Oil Drilling. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from