- Historic Sites
Our Last Great Wilderness
America’s greed for oil has drastically upset the ecological balance of Alaska’s North Slope, and the end is not in sight
August 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 5
Today we stand face-to-face with the Arctic Ocean. The North Slope is the end of the line for American conquest—the North Slope and the moon.
It has been argued that it is more difficult for us, with our Judaeo-Christian tradition, to live in harmony with nature than it is for those raised in Asiatic cultures. As noted by Philip Johnson, an ecologist with the Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, at the conference on North Slope ecology last year, the Garden of Eden typifies the view of a world made for our benefit. The dominant attitude of our culture, Dr. Johnson said, “is egocentric about man and exploitive about nature.”
Yet, as he pointed out, any species that overwhelms its environment invites destruction. Such a species either exhausts its food supply or becomes so prolific that some devastating predator evolves to devour it. We have evaded this law of nature so far but cannot do so indefinitely.
Perhaps, in this respect, we should not forget what the Eskimo says to us: “Take your planes, and cars, and washing machines, and supermarkets. Throw them all away and I can still live. Even on the Arctic pack, I can live. ”
There are anthropologists who believe the Eskimo and his culture will survive the present onslaught. The Arctic, they say, is too harsh for normal settlement by the white man, but it will always be able to support Eskimos in the traditional manner.
If we can save the Arctic for the Eskimos, perhaps we can save the rest of the continent for ourselves.