Reality TV? Faking Green in Sarah Palin’s Alaska

Last Sunday, I watched “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the new TLC TV reality show. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to see how Palin, who is reportedly earning $250,000 per episode, and is one of the executive directors, would use the TV show to build her political persona.

In the first episode, Palin fishes very close to brown bears, does a little glacier hiking at Denali National Park, and commutes in a light aircraft, showcasing Alaska’s mountains. I could not stop admiring how beautiful Alaska is.

Not surprisingly, the TV script was carefully written not to emphasize the politics beneath the show’s surface. While the TV show portrays Palin’s relationship with nature as that of a strong woman facing the challenges of the wilderness, it also tries to bury Palin’s actual, decidedly anti-environment politics. Betsy Reed, writing for The Nation, summarized Palin’s environmental record:

  • “Palin was an early and enthusiastic proponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and essentially anywhere else the oil industry wanted to go; as Michael Klare wrote here in 2008, “Her only real nitty gritty legislative experience is in measures aimed at expanding oil and gas production, to the virtual exclusion of other factors, including the environment.”
  • She was an aggressive advocate of building a massive $40 billion gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to Canada and eventually to the Lower 48.
  • In 2007, she green-lighted a toxic dumping plan by oil companies in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
  • She opposed a statewide ballot initiative to restrict new mining operations that would threaten salmon in the state’s streams and rivers.
  • She opposed a clean water initiative that would have protected Bristol Bay, for which her daughter is named, from contamination by a huge mining operation.
  • She pushed back against California’s efforts to combat air pollution.
  • As governor of a state with a rate of birth defects twice the national average, she did nothing to protect Alaskans from the toxic byproducts of mining and energy development.
  • She sued the Interior Department over its decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species. …”

Anti-environment policies have been backed not only by Republican leaders, but also to a lesser degree by the current administration. Last month, the Obama administration lifted a moratorium on deep-sea oil and gas drilling, which has encouraged Royal Dutch Shell to waste no time and begin publicly lobbying to get the final approval on drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Royal Dutch Shell is trying to convince government officials and the public that the catastrophe that happened in the Gulf of Mexico is not going to happen in the Arctic with its political and advertising campaign. It seems, nonetheless, that Shell has not done exhaustive research to back its campaign. Indeed, last week the Pew Environment Group published a report explaining in detail the “unexamined risks, [and] unacceptable consequences of oil drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.”

Leslie Kaufman, from the New York Times, summarizes the main findings of the Pew’s report:

  • “Oil spill contingency plans often underestimate the probability and consequence of catastrophic blowouts, particularly for frontier offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
  • The impact of an oil well blowout in the U.S. Arctic Ocean could devastate an already stressed ecosystem, and there is very little baseline science upon which to anticipate the impact or estimate damage.
  • Oil spill cleanup technologies and systems are unproved in the Arctic Ocean, and recent laboratory and field trials (including the Joint Industry Project) have evaluated only discrete technologies under controlled conditions.
  • Certain environmental and weather conditions would preclude an oil spill response in the Arctic Ocean, yet an Arctic spill response gap is not incorporated into existing oil spill contingency plans or risk evaluation.”

While America can distract itself by watching “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the Arctic’s real future is in peril. This is not a moment for partisan political quarrels: deep-sea oil drilling is not a Republican versus Democrat battle, as leaders from both sides have given the green light to destruction of the environment. After taking a break to enjoy some mountains on TV, we should focus on what really matters: advocating for policies that protect the environment and support local communities instead of multi-billion dollar corporations.

Susana Sánchez, an international student from Costa Rica, works with PopDev as a Research Assistant. She came to the United States to complete her medical degree, and in the process became interested in the social problems that affect Latinos in the United States, particularly undocumented immigrants. She is a fourth-year student at Hampshire College, where she majors in immigration and gender studies. She loves to spend time with her family in New Jersey and dreams of the day she will return to her native Costa Rica to work on public policy and enjoy the country’s beautiful seashore.



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