Up in Alaska right now, energy issues, climate change, and a looming biodiversity crisis linked to the burning of fossil fuels are converging in a rugged mosaic of salmon-rich rain forest; tundra populated by polar bears, caribou, and musk oxen; and iconic mountains like McKinley (known as Denali to native peoples) sheathed in melting glaciers.
In Brinkley’s hands, the still-raging battle to save Alaska’s wild character is riveting. In contrast to the word “quiet” in the book’s title, a noisy racket has been raised by a number of prominent Americans across generations who believe their country’s destiny depends, in part, on how it stewards the state closest to the North Pole.
They know that something important about America will perish if free enterprise trumps the ability to set aside nature for nature’s sake. Among those inspired by Alaska’s grandeur have been – in Brinkley’s words – “a noble band of conservationist revolutionaries” ranging from John Muir, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and poet Robert Service to US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Rachel Carson, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder.
It’s fascinating that a member of the high court could find spiritual kindredness with Beat poets. And it’s equally fascinating that it was conservative Republicans who first rose zealously to prevent Alaska from being overrun by the greed of Gilded Age tycoons.