Today comes word of how much money, exactly, almost every man, woman and child living in Alaska will collect from the government next month.
Now, obviously one has to be just a bit different from most other Americans to go live in The Last Frontier State. And you have to give them credit for struggling through long, dark winters without (most of them) going stark raving mad.
But this annual announcement — this year’s check from the Alaska Permanent Fund will be $1,305 — shows up a bit of a contradiction in Alaskans’ political leanings.
To paint with perhaps an overly broad brush, Alaskans are known for being conservative, I-can-do-without-government types. Even former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, and current U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, also a D, can hardly be classified as lefties, while their Rs — Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkokowski, as well as just-departed U.S. Sen Ted Stevens — are longtime conservative stalwarts. (Sarah Palin, on the other hand, did at least talk a good game about keeping the oil companies in line. Before she wigged out … uh, I mean retired.)
But this annual check from the gummint? Isn’t that welfare? Doesn’t that make Alaska a welfare state? The money comes from the oil flowing off the North Slope. One-quarter of all lease revenues going to the state are diverted into the Permanent Fund, which invests the money and makes payouts in according with a rolling five-year average of how the investments are doing.
One thing those checks do is help cement Alaska’s political leadership behind the oil industry. Which means Alaskans are generally less willing to do much about global warming… even though their high-latitude state stands to suffer the most, the fastest. Heck, the permafrost is already melting out there in the Alaskan outback, foreshadowing billions of dollars in costs to rescue streets, sewer systems and public buildings.
Need an example of kowtowing to Big Oil? One need look no further than Murkowski’s move yesterday to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the most prolific greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
Not everyone in Alaska gets a check. You have to have been living there for a year, for one thing. Anyone in prison or convicted of a felony that year is out of luck. And many of those who do get the payments are absolutely in need of the aid, including a number who live as subsistence fishermen and hunters.
No, it wouldn’t do to cut those people off. But it would be nice to see this cognitive political and economic dissonance go extinct along with the polar bears. Starting to look honestly at what the costs of climate change will be for Alaska and figuring a way to have a sustainably functioning economy without wrecking the planet would be nice for starters.
— Robert McClure