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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2003

A vote for nature

Eight Republican senators, including Ohio's Mike DeWine, voted their constituencies if not their consciences to join Democrats in defeating President Bush's top energy priority for 2003: drilling for oil on the coastal section of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The President's plan was always an impractical bone tossed to his friends in the oil industry. The ANWR is projected to have only enough oil to satisfy American appetite for six months, and none would come to market for at least seven years. That hardly makes the refuge America's last best hope to slake its sport utility vehicles' thirst or the nation's desire for energy independence.

At the same time the President's forces were mighty. None packed more heat than Alaska's Republican Sen. Ted Stevens. Clad in the “Incredible Hulk” tie he favors for uphill legislative battles, he vowed, as chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, not to forget “no” votes he saw as personal affronts.

One such vote was that of Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who replaced the late Paul Wellstone, a Democrat committed to protecting this wilderness area. Mr. Wellstone died in a plane crash while campaigning last year.

Besides Mr. Coleman and Mr. DeWine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snow of Maine rejected the drilling proposal, along with Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, and John McCain of Arizona. Five Democrats crossed in the other direction.

It was no small coincidence that Holmes Rolston III, philosopher, clergyman, and scientist whose melding of biology and faith have supported religious interest in the environment, learned the day of the vote that he had won the 2003 Templeton Prize. It is given annually to a person who has advanced spirituality, among them the Rev. Billy Graham and Mother Teresa.

The 70-year-old University of Colorado philosophy professor, Presbyterian minister, and student of physics and mathematics took issue with what he saw as errors in religious and scientific precepts.

He also insists that science cannot be value free, and argues that humans are part of the natural world. He finds goodness in plants, animal species, and ecosystems, not to the end of cutting off human use of resources, but to advance an environmental ethic that serves a nature that is both human and not.

“Our planetary crisis is one of spiritual information, not so much sustainable development, certainly not escalating consumption, but using the earth with justice and charity,” he said in discussing the award - valued at $1 million-plus, to be bestowed in May in London. “Nature is what it is in itself, independent of goods to be obtained.”

The U.S. Senate majority couldn't have acted on the President's misguided drilling proposal in better fashion or more in keeping with the professor's ideas.



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