Class Reaches Arctic Circle
On a recent Alaskan trip to investigate the ramifications of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 14 Alma College students and their professor became the first Spring Term class to reach the Arctic Circle.
Dr. Marek Payerhin, assistant professor of political science, and the students traveled 560 miles along the 800-mile long Trans-Alaskan Pipeline until reaching the Arctic Circle. According to Payerhin, this is the first time Alma College students have reached the Arctic Circle.
One of the goals of Payerhin's class was to explore the long-term impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The spill on March 24, 1989, dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil across 1,300 miles of coastline when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
"The emphasis was on the social and political developments resulting from that disaster, especially on the local communities organizing for survival and fighting back, citizen advisory and monitoring bodies that sprang up in the wake of the spill, issues of corporate responsibility, and the governmental response at the federal, state, and local levels," Payerhin said.
Payerhin felt that witnessing the pipeline was a very important aspect of the trip for his students because the pipeline, while an exceptional technological achievement, is also very vulnerable. According to Payerhin about twenty percent of all oil supplied by the United States goes through the pipeline. "We are very prepared for another ship catastrophe but are not ready for a catastrophe with the pipeline," he said.
Payerhin noted that the pipeline is a touchstone for the conflict between science and nature. "The pipeline symbolizes the uneasy balance between technology and environment."
During the twenty-day trip students also visited Anchorage, Seward, Kenai, Whittier, Cordova and Valdez where they met with and interviewed local authorities, scientists, activists and representatives of citizen organizations working on issues resulting from the oil spill. The information gathered by the students will be handed in as individual reports on topics such as oil politics, environmentalism and psychological effects. The finished reports will be compiled into a book and handed out to the students and to each individual interviewed.
"This helps students to realize that we are not just learning about theory. Everything we learn about has had a real life impact," Payerhin added.
Posted: Thu, June 3rd, 2004 at 11:08AM