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Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling: Anti-Science and Unethical?

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

David Bernhardt, the interior secretary, at the White House in January. “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” he said on Monday. Credit: Al Drago for The New York Times

One of the more brazen --- both anti-science and unethical --- disturbances to the Spaceship Earth System is about to take place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (for an overview of what is at stake, see Plumer and Fountain, 2020; D'Angelo, 2020). Why is it brazen? Well, given that the atmosphere encircling the Spaceship is already filled beyond capacity with greenhouse gases, including the carbon dioxide released from burning carbon fuel, finding more carbon to release makes no economic sense. Why? Well, the economy is already under pressure from extreme weather events. Just recently, here in mid-summer, 2020, we have experienced unprecedented heat in Arizona, 16-nights in July when the temperature stayed at or near 90-degrees at night, and 28-days over 110-degrees; derecho winds in Iowa, with drastic damage and often total destruction of 10-14 million acres of corn and other crops; and fire tornados --- firenados, up-and-coming, common word in this day of abuse to the Spaceship Earth Atmosphere --- in California. Really, you say. It seems time to shift the balance (Metaeconomics is about balance) away from this exclusive focus on ego-based self-interest driven excessive greed toward an empathy-based shared other-interest in conservation, an Empathy Conservation.

Drilling, pumping, processing, and burning even more carbon fuel, even the “thimble” of oil in the refuge --- only 10 billion barrels in situ: The Spaceship burns over 30-40 billion barrels every year --- does not even make any ego based excessive greed (selfish-interest) sense. And, it especially makes no sense as related to the empathy based other (shared with all travelers on the Spaceship: The need to sustain the Spaceship) – interest.

A message to the Administration, enablers and supporters: Try being mindful. Try empathy. Try walking in the shoes --- the caribou hoofs, polar bear pads --- and otherwise project yourself into the situation of everything that sees the Refuge as home and sincerely ask how you would like to be treated. Then, back-off, temper and bound your ego based self-interest; temper and bound the excessive greed at work to destroy the ecosystem of the Refuge. Think about sustaining the Spaceship on which you Travel rather than destroying it. Where are you going to go, with all your money? There is nothing to spend it on up there on Mars. Or, down in Hades; being the bible gets held up as some sort of governing tool, recall the story of the camel getting through the head of the needle? Try a bit more empathy --- most religions call for it --- instead.

And, while you are considering it all: Keep in mind that excessive greed also is not served by destroying the Spaceship on which you are Traveling around the Sun. There are better ways to serve excessive greed, like in making billions of dollars producing renewable energy from the Sun. Like in an issue of Newsweek with the cover page The Capitalist Manifesto, focusing on how excessive greed drove the economic and financial crisis of 2008, Zakaria, 2009, p. 41) makes the Point: “Greed is Good (To a Point).” And, it can only be Good if the Point is based in science&ethics.

In the case at hand, the science points to making the transition to running on the ultimate source of energy for the Spaceship, which is the Sun. Run on renewable energy (at least until the Sun burns out, which means running on renewable energy for the next 3-4B years!), making it the major source of energy. In turn, the ethic calls for empathizing with the creatures who call the Refuge home, as well as an ethic based on empathizing with every other Traveler on the Spaceship in the essential need to sustain the Spaceship. Empathy is the starting point to an ethic, in this case to an ethical capitalism, a Good Capitalism.

Think about it. Reframe your thinking using science&ethics, rather than anti-science&greed: Even if you cannot temper your ego-based excessive greed with empathy, think of that thimble-full of oil in the Refuge as a small store of the highest quality --- lowest entropy --- energy on the Spaceship: Save it. Your greed will be served well by it someday. You might need it to do some serious heavy lifting, like getting off the Spaceship you are destroying to find another one, somewhere --- rather than squandering it on driving around town in a huge SUV? Flying a huge airplane to a golf weekend? Seriously?

Just saying, as a MetaEcon, who sees the economic payoff from balance in ego&empathy, self&other-interest, market&government, and, especially, in science&ethics. No anti-science on an unethical (i.e. without empathy) path to destroying the Spaceship, please. Tempering ego based greed with empathy pays. In fact, as a MetaEcon makes it clear, it is essential for economic efficiency, as well as the peace and happiness for all the creatures Traveling together on the Spaceship. Can you (current Administration and enablers) consider that reality? Balance that metaphorical scale of justice, avoiding injustice --- image on the front page of the Metaeconomics website --- for every living creature on the Spaceship, please.

Note: The notion of Empathy Conservation is a phrase first alluded to in Sheeder and Lynne (2012), and coined in Czap et al. (2012), further developed in Lynne et al. (2016). It is well-established that achieving sustainability in Spaceship Earth Systems is only possible with sufficient empathy to temper the more primal tendency to ego based drivers (see Brown et al., 2019). It is the only way to avoid going down the path to the tragedy of the commons, which is really better described as the path representing the tragedy of excessive greed which promises to destroy the Spaceship on which we Travel. On tempering that excessive greed, see Lynne (in press).


Brown, K., Adger, W. N., Devine-Wright, P., Anderies, J. M., Barr, S., Bousquet, F., Butler, C., Evans, L., Marshall, N., and Quinn, T. "Empathy, Place and Identity Interactions for Sustainability." Global Environmental Change 56 (2019): 11 – 17.

Czap, N.V., Czap, H.J., Lynne, G.D., and Burbach, M.E. “Walk in My Shoes: Nudging for Empathy Conservation.” Ecological Economics 118 (2015): 147-158.

D’Angelo, C. D. Trump Finalizes Arctic Refuge Drilling Plan, Cementing His Anti-Public Lands Legacy Huffington Post, August 17, 2020

Lynne, G.D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in press ( )

Lynne, G.D., Czap, N.V., Czap, H.J., and Burback, M.E. “A Theoretical Foundation for Empathy Conservation: Toward Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons.” Review of Behavioral Economics 3 (2016): 245 – 279.

Plumer, B. and Fountain, H. Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling. New York Times, Digital Ed., August 17, 2020.

Sheeder, R.J. and G.D. Lynne. “Empathy Conditioned Conservation: ‘Walking-in-the-Shoes-of-Others’ as a Conservation Farmer.” Land Economics 87, 3 (August 2011): 433-452.

Zakaria, F. "The Capitalist Manifesto: Greed Is Good (to a Point)." Newsweek, June 22, 2009, 41 – 45.

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Lot of good info in here!! Keep writing! Maybe the right people will eventually see it!!

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