Three specific problems in the Bush administration's
policies warrant further analysis: 1) the renewed commitment to
nuclear energy, 2) the exploration for oil in ANWR, and 3) the
administration's dismissal of global warming. The renewed
commitment to nuclear energy is highly risky, even if, as the
administration claims, technological advances have made an already
safe technology even safer.1 Certainly nuclear
technologies can never be fail-safe, and problems with weapons
proliferation, long term waste storage, and terrorism cannot be
avoided. The problem with weapons proliferation is not as apparent
now as it was just two decades ago but remains real. The threat of
terror attack has increased significantly since September 11, 2001.
The development of a deep geological repository at the Yucca
Mountain site in Nevada is better in terms of safety than current
on-site storage at power plants. There are, however, lingering
questions about the geological stability of Yucca Mountain and the
vociferous objections of Nevadans about the selection of their
state. With few exceptions (see the Skull Valley Case) no one wants
his or her home and the homes of generations to come to be
converted into a dump, especially for the thousands of years it
will take for radioactive waste to decay.
 The administration recommends that the federal government
ease the way for nuclear and build the repository. President Bush
has moved vigorously to overrule Nevadans and seems to have the
support of Congress, few of whose members are from Nevada.
Environmentalists remain in opposition, partly so to keep in place
what has become an impediment to the expansion of nuclear power.
Actually, environmentalists have given a mixed reception to nuclear
over the years, some in spite of its risks, seeing it as preferable
to available alternatives such as coal and hydroelectric. Other
environmentalists deny the trade-off between these equally risky
alternatives and maintain that conservation, reduced consumption,
and renewable energy sources offer better options.
 The second problem is the administration's proposal to open
ANWR to oil exploration and exploitation.2 This issue is complicated by
the dependence of the Gwich'in people, the Native American group
that lives immediately south of ANWR, on the Porcupine caribou
herd. As indicated before, in 2002 the House of Representatives
approved opening, but the Senate rejected it. So for now it remains
closed. This is the sort of proposal, however, that can be rejected
dozens of times and still remain alive. The decision not to open is
always reversible, while approval is only needed once and
represents an irreversible decision once drilling begins. As a
result, the proposal keeps coming back every few years, pushed by
the oil industry and Alaskans for economic reasons.
 At first glance opening ANWR does not seem to do much to
increase supplies. The oil would be pumped out in short order and
could easily be compensated for by conservation measures. It offers
a measure of independence but hardly enough to insure security.
 It figures so prominently because it is symbolic of the
overall economy/environment trade-off that is central to energy
decisions today. It may be a lightening rod to attract attention
from the many other controversial features of the administration's
plan. Losing the battle for ANWR would be of little moment to the
administration or the oil industry, give environmentalists a sense
of battle victory in a lost war, and facilitate "compromise" on
more essential elements, such as increasing supply and giving the
oil companies what they want.
 The environmental impacts of exploration and drilling in
ANWR are not known, but the U.S. Geological Survey thinks several
animal species could be harmed.3 Both industry and their
environmental critics so exaggerate their cases that discerning
truth from ideology and propaganda is impossible. Skepticism is
recommended. The fact of the matter is, however, that drilling is
proposed for one the most critical habitats in ANWR, which in turn
is one of the last pristine areas on earth. Scientists are unsure
of impacts. Past experience with oil production on the North Slope
of the Brooks Mountain Range in Alaska is mixed, and ANWR is
sufficiently unlike other areas to make comparisons difficult.
Whatever else, the plan is highly risky especially for the
relatively little oil available. It hardly seems worth it.
 Native Americans in Alaska generally support drilling, but
there are important exceptions within and between tribes. The
Inupiat on the North Slope support it and stand to gain
considerably. The Gwich'in who live south of the range stand to
lose the most and strenuously oppose drilling. Their source of
subsistence and the basis of their culture is the Porcupine caribou
herd that winters on Gwich'in land and then in May treks through
the Brooks Range to the 1002 land on the North Slope where females
calve and the herd fattens on the rich Arctic tundra. Drilling is
proposed for the herd's richest summer habitat. The Gwich'in fear
both for the herd and for the integrity of their own culture that
is already under assault from globalizing forces. For now the
matter is closed, but expect it to resurface anytime, especially if
Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress.
 The third problem is global warming. The administration
devotes all of five paragraphs to global warming in its plan and
does not include the terms "global warming" or "greenhouse gases"
in its glossary.4 President Bush has admitted
that humans are the primary cause of global warming but has
dismissed it as a major problem without offering any
 The temperature of the earth's atmosphere has fluctuated
over its history, and scientists have ways of measuring these
fluctuations by investigating ice cores and fossil records. What
these investigations reveal are alternating cycles of warming and
cooling over long periods and smaller episodes of fluctuation
within these longer cycles. Warming and cooling are thus natural
elements of a dynamic atmosphere, and differentiating human-induced
warming from natural fluctuation presents a problem.
 Some scientists think the longer-term fluctuations are
random. Others relate them to variations in the sun's cycles, the
moon's orbit, or the earth's orbit. Some of the fluctuations appear
to be caused bycatastrophic events.5
 Were it not for the so-called "greenhouse" gases (water
vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and others) the earth's atmosphere
would be about 33°C cooler. Scientists have known about the
warming effect of these gases for over a century. The theory is
well established and appears to be verified by the evidence. These
gases allow solar radiation to pass through from the sun, but they
absorb infrared (heat) reflected back into space. By trapping heat
these gases serve as a blanket and keep the earth warmer than it
would otherwise be. While carbon dioxide is only a small fraction
of the gases in the atmosphere, periods of warming coincide
historically with elevated levels. Carbon dioxide is the chief
culprit, accounting for 60 percent of added gases.6
 Since measurements began in 1959 on the top of Mauna Loa in
Hawaii, levels of carbon dioxide have increased about 15 percent.
Average temperatures have risen in the in the twentieth century by
0.6°C or 1°F. The 1990s was the warmest decade in the past
one thousand years. The oceans have warmed, apparently absorbing
some of the heat that would have warmed the atmosphere even more.
There is a notable loss of ice in both polar regions with a 42
percent decline in the thickness of Arctic ice. Sea levels are
 All this is circumstantial evidence, of course, but it
points consistently in the same direction. In addition, most models
of climate change point strongly in the direction of further
overall warming, although the details vary from model to model.
 The main source of added carbon dioxide is the burning of
fossil fuels-oil, natural gas, and coal. The United States is the
leading source of CO2 emissions. Most scientists now think the
evidence is conclusive: Global warming in the past century is
largely caused by human beings. According to the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations designated body of
two thousand scientists: "There is new and stronger evidence that
most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable
to human activities."8
 Unless unprecedented action takes place, temperatures will
warm significantly in coming decades. Ice will melt, sea levels
will rise, and low-lying coastal areas will be inundated. Storms
will increase in their intensity. Biodiversity will decrease even
further. Infectious diseases will increase. Many regions will
experience increased drought, and weather patterns will change in
unforeseen ways. The IPCC concludes in its Third Assessment Report:
"We are courting climate catastrophe unless our burning of fossil
fuels and release of CO2 is sharply reduced."
 The Kyoto Treaty has recently emerged from international
negotiations to stabilize and reduce the release of greenhouse
gases. The Bush administration has dismissed this treaty. In a
separate action it has recommended the "grandfathering-in" of the
worst polluting coal-fired power plants. Its energy plan calls for
an increase in supply of fossil fuels to meet energy demand. The
administration's position is clear. Global warming either does not
exist or will be solved by new technology and market capitalism.
Reduced levels of economic growth due to shortages are a far more
 The administration may be correct. It would seem based on
sound science, considerations of sustainability, and the
precautionary principle, however, that a more prudential course is
in order. Conservation and research and development on renewable
sources of energy would seem to be the preferred direction.
 Energy policy is complex. Comprehension requires basic
knowledge of economics, politics, the natural sciences, and ethics.
The depth and breadth of knowledge required is unfortunate because
today's energy choices will be an important factor in determining
tomorrow's society and the future of the global environment. Energy
choices are that critical.
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 3, Issue 3
1 William P. Cunningham and Barbara Woodworth Saigo.
Environmental Science, pp. 485-91.
2 Robert L. Stivers. "Oil and the Caribou People," in
Robert L. Stivers et. al. Christian Ethics: A Case Method Approach,
second edition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994, pp. 144-164.
3 Sam Howe Verhovek. "Drilling Could Hurt Wildlife,
Federal Study of Arctic Says." The New York Times, March 30,
4 Robert U. Ayres. "How Economists Have Misjudged Global
Warming." World Watch, September/October 2001, Vol. 14, No. 5, p.
5 William P. Cunningham and Barbara Woodworth Saigo.
Environmental Science, p. 385. United Nations Environmental Program
(UNEP). Global Environmental Outlook 3, London: Earthscan
Publications Ltd., 2002, pp. 214f.
6 UNEP. Global Environmental Outlook 3, p. 214.
7 Ibid. p. 214.
8 Ibid. p. 152. Also see IPCC (2001), Climate Change 2001:
The Scientific Basis. The Contribution Working Group I to the Third
Assessment Report, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
9 Robert U. Ayres. "How Economists Have Misjudged Global