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Following Governor Hickel’s address to the UN conference in 1994, UN Secretary General Boutros  Boutros-Ghali invited the Governor to his office to explore how to implement  Hickel’s ideas.  At the time, Hickel chaired The Northern Forum which he  addressed in the text of his speech.  The Secretary General suggested that the   Governor also establish a “Southern Forum” to address the problems of the  southern hemisphere.  Hickel responded that as the sitting Governor of the State  of Alaska and the Chairman of The Northern Forum, he already had his hands  full.

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Intrigued by Governor Hickel’s “Message to China” (May 4, 2008), Hong Kong engineer Michael Leung points to the Great Wall as an example of China’s historic ability to build great projects.

A builder by profession, when Wally Hickel entered public life in Alaska, he became an advocate for large construction projects.  He believed they would help lift the Alaskan people  out of poverty and improve the economy of the U.S. and the Pacific Rim nations.

In a September 22, 1994 address to the 47th annual UN Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New Your City, he delivered a speech that summed up his belief that big projects can be the alternative to war. 

Why War? Why Not Big Projects?

Excerpts from an address to the Forty-seventh annual United Nations Department of Public Information Non-Governmental Organization Conference United Nations Headquarters, New York, New York September 22, 1994. Walter J. Hickel, Governor of Alaska and Chairman of The Northern Forum.

Why War?

Today I call on the United Nations to turn its attention to the Far North—to use our energy and our resources to harness big projects in the fight against poverty.

I represent the leaders of 21 Arctic and northern regions, the members of The Northern Forum, a unique non-governmental organization (NGO) made up of 21 governors.  We come from many lands, including Lapland and the Yukon, northern China, Japan and Norway, from the Komi Republic in western Russia and the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug—Alaska’s next door neighbor.

Unlike in the Antarctic, people live in the Far North.  People of rich culture and history.

We have much in common, notably our climate, our natural resource wealth, and our constant conflict with our mother countries.  Washington D.C. doesn’t understand the Arctic, nor does Moscow, Oslo or Ottawa.

The basic lesson is that the Arctic is not as difficult as it is different.  For instance, we have no population problem.  The Arctic does not compete with the world for people. But the Arctic is rich with the resources people need. 

We who live at the top of the world, live above an ocean of oil and gas, a continent of coal, mountain ranges of minerals, and a world of natural beauty.  If, as this conference suggests, “development is another name for peace,” then the Arctic will be one of the world’s great peacemakers.

There are vast, untouched lands above the Arctic Circle.  And government, not the private sector, controls nearly all of this remote real estate.  This is certainly true in Alaska.  Private individuals own less than 1 percent of our land.  That’s one reason the Arctic, in the past, has been exploited.  When no one owns it, no one cares. 

The obligation rests with the government both to care for the land and to make it productive. Therefore government must not be seen as the enemy. Government must be the friend. Government must regulate, to ensure that our lands and people are not exploited.  But government must also advocate. Without government saying “yes,” there will be no sustainable economic foundation.

As the Inuit, Sami, Lapp, and other indigenous peoples of the North learned long ago, in a cold, harsh environment, you have to care about others.  You share to survive.  You waste nothing.  You care for the total.  Every hunter’s prize is a gift, not just to that hunter, but to his family and village.  He shares his whale, walrus, or caribou with others—especially the very old—and the very young.

We, the Arctic people, do not fear change.  Because nature does not fear change.  In the Far North, we observe that nothing changes the environment as much as nature.  Signs of the vitality of the planet, signs of its youth, are seen in our volcanoes, our earthquakes, and our rivers, most of which don’t run blue.  They run rich with the colors of a changing earth. 

Not unlike the other regions at this podium this morning, there is conflict in the Arctic.  But our conflict is not violent—not yet.  There is conflict between those from Outside who fear for the Arctic and those Inside who have faith in it.

A world war of priorities

The Arctic is a battlefield in a world war of priorities over the preservation or use of our resources. This war is waged on every land, and it is a bitter fight. As the population in the temperate and tropical regions grows, the need for resources will grow. Most people don't want development in their own backyard; so those resources will come mostly from the Arctic, the oceans, and space.

And yet, every year there seems to be a new "Arctic preservation strategy." In most cases, these plans threaten both the Arctic's potential and its people. These policies are not born of malice, but of ignorance.  And ignorance is a killer in the Arctic. One misstep, one wrong turn, and we are faced with the brutal truth that Mother Nature in the North has no compassion.

The Eskimo peoples learned this lesson well, as have the most recent pioneers. But today, do-gooders from afar want to put our lifestyles and livelihoods at risk.

For 17 years, Alaskans have produced close to two million barrels of oil a day from our North Slope, shipping it down the trans-Alaska pipeline.  This energy flow makes up 25 percent of the domestic oil production of the United States of America.  And without the oil that can be produced safely from a small corner of the Arctic Refuge, that pipeline may soon run dry.

The Eskimo people who live on the coastal plain have watched our oil development there for 20 years.  At first suspicious, they are now strong advocates.  It has resulted in modern medical facilities, schools, housing, and jobs that allow them to combine modern benefits with a subsistence hunting and fishing lifestyle.  And the wildlife has not been harmed. In fact, caribou herds have increased as much as six fold, thanks to enlightened management practices.

People are the most precious things on earth. If we abandon that basic truth, we will tolerate untold human suffering.

On the eve of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, I shared the podium with my host, Secretary-General Maurice Strong, at the Global Forum. And I warned against those who see the world in only one dimension. I called on the world community to adopt a universal environmental equation, an equation that addresses the total environment. That equation, simply stated, is this: The total environment includes people, people's needs, and nature.

The cost is to care

What does it cost to protect the total environment? The cost is to care. Because when we decide to care, we will pay the true cost.

Let me give you an example from our part of the world. Today a pound of fresh pollock from the North Pacific may wholesale for one dollar. But there's great waste in how that fish is harvested. Every year hundreds of millions of pounds of other types of fish caught in that same net--the so-called by-catch---are dumped overboard--wasted.

With the hunger in the world today, this is a criminal act! This waste must be brought to an end! When it is, that fish may cost a little more – perhaps a dollar five a pound. It's time we paid that extra five cents.

What I am saying is that we must all look to a new definition of success that includes caring for the earth and all of it's living things and natural wonders. The throw-away society didn't work. The give-away society doesn't work. And, let's face it, the lock-away society won't work either.

No matter what you call your system—when the government fails, the government fails.  And if the world economy fails, the United Nations will fail.

It’s time to literally build a new world.


Today I bring to you a proposal for the next century.  I commend it to all nations and NGOs for their best thinking and creativity.

Philosophers have talked for centuries about building a new world.  Today we are meeting to discuss building peace. My conclusion is that to build a new world—to build peace—we must literally build  it. 

Historically, the world's most cynical leaders have used war or preparing for war as an economic strategy. War puts people to work and gives them a purpose. Work concentrates the thoughts of a nation, making it think and act as one.

But why war? Why not big projects?

After all, war is just a big project. My idea is not new. It's as old as the pyramids and the aqueducts of Rome.

The late inventor Buckminister Fuller conceived of a global energy network, linking the industrial and developing world with an energy grid.  Existing electrical generators, unused during the night in the North, can be tapped-- at the speed of light--to bring poverty-fighting power to the south.

Two billion people live without electricity today.  Show me any area in the world where there is a lack of energy, and I’ll show you basic poverty.  There is a direct tie-in between energy and poverty, energy and war, energy and peace. 

While Fuller’s global concept may seem like science fiction, electrical interconnections between regions—and even continents—can and must be tackled now.  This can be a vast and visionary undertaking—worthy of our generation. 

Some people may ask, “Where will the money come from.”  I say money is not the problem,  There’s always enough money to go to war.  It all depends on our priorities.

In some quarters, big projects today are not “politically correct.”  Many sincere people believe “small is beautiful” and “wilderness is the world.”  But we in the Far North understand the power of a big project to change society.  Russia did it with the 6,500 mile trans-Siberia Railway.  Alaska did it when we built the largest project in the history of free enterprise, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.  It mobilized our people, gave them a challenge, and a goal.

I have talked with my fellow governors in The Northern Forum about longline energy grids.  And we have discussed sharing our vast fresh water resources in the North with the arid nations of the South.  We are planning to use our vast natural gas resources to help clean up the smog-choked cities of the industrial world.  And we have dreamed about a rail tunnel beneath the Bering Sea.

Imagine, a rail trip from New York through Alaska, connecting with the trans-Siberian Railway, and onto Paris, circling more than halfway around the world, and carrying with it a wealth of ideas, of commerce, and of wonder.

The regions of The Northern Forum are already working to make Russia’s Northern Sea Route a common carrier for the world's goods. For example resources from the Pacific Northwest of United States of America--transported on ice-armored freighters over the top of the world--can arrive in Rotterdam eight days faster than if they sail through the Panama Canal. Japanese cargo can get there a remarkable 18 days faster.

The solution to our social problems is not money. It is productive work. 

And the best jobs are those with a sense of mission. The builders of the great monuments of the world demonstrated that truth centuries ago—the craftsmen who constructed the cathedrals of Europe; the Africans who designed and built the pyramids; the Mayans who created ancient temples in America; the Khmer who built Angkor Wat.  For some, putting those stones in place was a religious experience of its own.

Today, where do the tourists of the world want to go? They visit those shrines.  They want to see the Statue of Liberty and Washington, D.C., with its marvelous monuments and architecture.  The Eiffel Tower.  The Taj Mahal.  St. Petersburg.  The Sistine Chapel.  The Parthenon. 

And it’s not just monuments that attract.  Great engineering achievements do, too—the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Sydney Opera House.

And even in Alaska many of our visitors want to see and touch the 789-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

Mankind’s handiwork fascinates and inspires every generation.

So, as we approach the end of this century, let’s agree on some big projects and build them. 

Let’s link up the world’s excess electrical generating capacity with those most in need.  Let’s take water from North to South.  Let’s construct the Bering Tunnel and join the world’s continents.  Let’s harvest the wealth of northern resources, especially our storehouse of energy. 

If we tackle these projects, we will learn that the days of pioneering are not over.  Alaska has been called the last frontier, but in reality there will be frontiers as long as there are humans.  Every child born is given new frontiers to explore.  God’s way to test us is to give us our own frontiers, and the greatest frontier is within ourselves. 

Today, I call on the United Nations to turn its attention to the Far North.  The next decade, the first of the next millennium, might be dedicated to the Arctic—the Decade of the Arctic. 

In my part of the world, the peoples of the Arctic can communicate now without being blocked by curtains of iron or ice. 

Our “new frontier” is to work together to improve the living standards of our peoples; to fight both to preserve our values of old and welcome the new; to build a way of life that is truly sustainable.  Then the Arctic, no longer ignored, can participate in a world-wide effort to build peace for all people.