The New Alaska Myth
January 6th, 2007
By Neil Zawicki of Insurgent49
Exxon Mobil Corp. has, since 1998, been paying people serious amounts of money to mislead the public and to discredit the efforts of leading scientists behind the now generally accepted theories on global warming.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the oil company gave out $16 million to forty-three ideological groups to spread uncertainty and to misrepresent peer-reviewed studies on the subject. Such tactics are the same used by tobacco companies to undermine the debate and create confusion, said Union of Concerned Scientists Strategy and Policy Director Alden Meyer.
On the Exxon Mobil website, the company reports $133 million in contributions for 2005, citing $6.8 million used to fund "public information and policy research."
Critics, like Harvard University Professor Dr. James McCarthy, say the company is seeking to "create the illusion of a vigorous debate" on global warming, while actually planting the seeds of doubt in the public mind.
Meanwhile, 2007 is predicted to be the hottest year on record.
This may seem strange to all of you up there in such alarming piles of snow, but in Alaska, much can be deceiving, and anyone who's walked the streets of the Red Light District known as Alaska's tourist season will agree that Exxon might not have to spend all that money to make people dumber.
One of the finest journalists ever to grace Alaska once wrote that "tourists make gentler johns than oil companies". Maybe so, but their delusional notions of the environment are legendary.
I drove a tour van one summer up there. One day I had a pack of bear hunters who swore scientists had discovered that oil poured on the ground eventually trickles back into the wells. Really.
But the day that put it all together in one clump of vapid, fattened, weird little hyper conservative guests was the day I had two black-clad, 70-year-old Masonic women (in town playing bridge at the Anchorage Masonic lodge, and they really were wearing black dresses), a shallow business woman from San Diego, and a goofy family from Orange, Calif.
"Hi, I'm Steve, we're from Orange!" said the father of the California family as we raced along near Potter Marsh.
"I beg your pardon?" said one of the Masonic women.
"I said we're from Orange!" replied the man.
"Oh, I see," said the Masonic woman. "You defaulted on your bonds."
"I'm sorry?" he said.
"Orange, California took out city bonds and couldn't pay them back."
The van became awkward.
"Oh, I didn't realize that," said the man.
Next, the two Masonic women began ranting about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"There's nothing up there but snow and ice in the winter and in the summer . it's all swamps and mosquitoes!" one of them shouted.
I bit my lower lip and kept driving.
"That's right!" shouted the other one. "It's all swamps and mosquitoes!"
It was as if some evil mathematician had taken Ted Stevens and divided him by the power of the Masons, cubed.
Formula: TS/M3 = two eerie, black dress-wearing Masonic women ranting about ANWR in a tour van headed for Seward.
Then, the shallow businesswoman tried to lighten the mood by talking about how much money she had.
"I'll bet this van doesn't have the turning radius of my BMW," she said loudly.
"How much are homes here in Girdwood?"
"Oh, they start at around $300,000," I said politely.
"Well, I could buy one right now!"
I smiled even harder. She was one of those people who spoke without thinking, and hardly even registered what she was saying, beyond attempts to impress.
Eventually, we came to rest in the parking lot of the Portage Glacier gift shop, and I was at least grateful we didn't see any exciting moose along the way, which would have only caused us to pull over and prolong the trip.
We all sat in the van eating the pathetic sack lunches provided by the tour company, and the shallow business woman took some hand cream out of her purse and began rubbing some into her palms.
"Oh, is that hand cream?" asked one of the Masonic women. "It smells so nice."
The shallow businesswoman lit up with frantic, excitable words about her mother's hand cream legacy.
"Oh, yes, would you like some?" she said, "When I was a little girl, my mother always carried hand cream with her and it was always the best hand cream and she taught me to use hand cream all the time and to only use the best hand cream."
The Masonic women lathered up and the van got quiet. And then she said it:
"Yes," continued the shallow business woman, "my mother regularly creams herself."
I looked out the window and silently approached delirium from laughter. Nobody else noticed what she had said, but I did. I noticed every absurd second of that enchanted summer.
I guess if Exxon wants to buy misinformation to keep us sucking on the oil teat, that is their right. And as long as people pay good money to eat baloney sandwiches next to receding glaciers, they will have an audience.
Neil Zawicki, exiled Alaskan, is Editor at Large for Insurgent49, a former reporter for the Alaska Star, and winner of the Alaska Press Club's 'Best Columnist' award. He is now living out the rest of his days in an undisclosed location in Oregon. He can be contacted at [email protected] 'Alaskan In Exile' appears on insurgent49.com every Friday.