By MARK HAMILTON
(Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)
I could probably tell how old you are by asking you to remember which of the hysteria you best recall.
Was it the killer bee invasion? (No, not the murder hornets).
How about the coming ice age? (Careful, remembering that one makes you pretty old).
A younger person might remember the ozone depletion, acid rain, and a flooding world. (Climate change has been unsuccessfully predicted for at least 20 years with every doomsday forecasted now history).
Remember that the Earth would run out of oil in 10 years? (That one has been predicted about every 10 years since 1960.)
Spreading hysteria from dubious investigations has been around a long time but lacked the global reach and mind-boggling speed with which these narratives of fear move today. In the earlier cases, with which I began this discussion, they were sufficiently slow that they were overcome with newer and opposing research and investigation. Facts mattered, and very importantly, no one (or at least very few) had gone on record passionately endorsing the hysteria. No tweets to haunt your jumping the gun, no video of you with a sign promising the end of life as we know it. Whether or not you believed the hysteria, it was not part of you.
Today’s doomsday predictions are problematic. Typically, they involve virtually no data; they are narratives inviting people with legitimate concerns about important issues to join the movement to halt development or operation or planning of a particular project or event.
The formula is a simple one: “This [project/operation/event] will [destroy/abuse/disenfranchise] unless you send us money.”
This is a seductive and lucrative approach. Many of us care about the environment, the animals, the ocean, human dignity and so forth, through a list of truly important issues of our time. Unfortunately, our caring makes us suckers for the emotional snake oil salesmen of fear and doom.
The cyber echo confronts us at every turn, proclaiming the victimization of the land, the water, the animal, the culture, the gender, and so forth. The combination of emotion and repetitive viewings tempts us to agree or comply with absolutely no assessment of the data upon which the fear was formulated.
There is no data, nothing to examine, nothing to refute. We respond to the cry of “Wolf!” without the ability to visit the flock to see for ourselves. This version of the shepherd boy is not held accountable despite decades of data refuting the position, or decades of the absence of the predictions coming to pass.
Sadly, the approach will not change; there is simply too much money and too much virtue signaling associated with the emotional appeal.
Recalling my critique of the villagers’ ultimate reaction, the issues are important. We cannot fail to show up. We can and must demand some accountability. Don’t assert to me, demonstrate. Show me why this particular issue needs my support. You may not have my money, my “like,” or my self-loathing. And, no I won’t sign your petition—by the way, do you even live here?
A quick note on petitions: Don’t wait to oppose the effort when it gets on the ballot. Set up your own table outside the mall with a simple sign that reads, “Before You Sign,” with a pamphlet outlining the argument against the petition. People are cajoled into signing with the come-on: Do you care about the environment? However reluctant to sign up, many will do so just to avoid seeming that they are not interested in the environment, or whatever else is the issue at hand. Having an alternative “to learn more” gets them off the hook.
A quick check to see if you should be frightened is very easy. Ask yourself, “If 10% of the narrative of fear were accurate, could this project ever be permitted?” There is nothing to fear. The permitting process is solid. It’s called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
I’ll discuss this process in upcoming columns because NEPA will always be followed and is your insurance against being Pebbled.
The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring. The series continues next week.