Crimes Against Nature

A month ago, I was talking to someone I know well — a family member — about the election. He said he was split in his thinking on some of the major planks of Democratic and Republican platforms – for example, he considered himself to be pro-environment. But he has decided to vote for Bush in the coming election.

Throughout this election cycle, discussion of the war in the Iraq has all but eclipsed discussion of the environment. When you take the long view, the state of our air and water will have a broader- and deeper-reaching effect on the world we live in (and the world our children live in) than the war in Iraq, than Social Security, than outsourcing questions, than whether a few more or a few less taxes will improve or diminish our overall standard of living. Many changes to the environment are irreversible, or at least extremely difficult to reverse. And, forgive me for speaking in cliche’s, but this is as true today as it was on the first Earth Day — until we find a workable replacement planet and master high-speed interstellar travel, we only have one earth. And we are its stewards. No one will take care of it, or clean up our messes, but us.

I don’t think we should shut down all industry and turn America into an agrarian commune. But I do think we need to weigh every action and every industry against its long-term environmental impact. Because after this Iraq thing blows over, after we do or do not fix the health care system, after we do or do not hand out a few more dollars in tax cuts for the rich, we will still be living in our own cesspool, breathing and eating and drinking our own effluent.

Maybe people think talking about the environment is boring, or no longer relevant, or that we’ve made “great strides.” News flash: Our environmental problems have not gone away. Environmental crises are so large, so deeply enmeshed in our world and in our lifestyle, that most people have forgotten how to see them. Smaller concerns fill our heads and our front pages, while species disappear, as forests vanish, record numbers of beaches close, asthma rates skyrocket, coral reefs are decimated, mercury levels balloon, the Union of Concerned Scientists say global warming is real (and caused by humans) and on and on.

What does all of this have to do with the coming election? Simply put, George W. Bush not only has the worst environmental record of any president we’ve ever had, but he has actively worked against environmental protections in favor of profit for industry. And that, I believe, has greater ramifications for humanity than Iraq or any other issue that has consumed this campaign cycle. If there is any doubt whatsoever in your mind about whom to vote for, just forget everything else for a moment — Bush’s environmental record alone is reason enough to remove him from office.

I’m going to quote at length from a recent interview with Robert F. Kennedy, talking to Mother Jones about Bush’s environmental record.

Under [Bush’s] leadership, Texas became the most polluted state in the country, with the highest levels of air pollution, the highest levels of water pollution, and the highest level of toxic waste and toxic releases. And it was 49th among 50 states in per-capita environmental spending.

The Bush administration consistently favored corporate interests over the environment and public health, assaulting the very idea of a common good.

… the right wing, who claim to be on the side of property rights, but really only favor property rights when they’re talking about the right of a polluter to use his property to destroy his neighbor’s property or the public property.

He did it on the campaign trail by simply saying that he was going to support initiatives to control global warming. But once he got into office, he immediately reversed that and abandoned that promise, and began dismantling our environmental infrastructure.

When they want to destroy the forests, they call it the Healthy Forest Act; when they want to destroy the air, they call it the Clear Skies bill. The head of the air division of the EPA was Marianne Horinko, whose former job had been advising corporate polluters on how to evade Superfund. The second in command of EPA was a Monsanto lobbyist. If you look at virtually all of the sub-secretariats and agency heads in the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Interior and EPA, the same pattern holds. Polluters have been put in charge of the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution.

… one out of every four black kids in New York City now has asthma. Asthma attacks are triggered primarily by ozone and particulates, and the major sources of those materials in our atmosphere are 1,100 coal-burning power plants that are burning coal illegally. The Clinton administration had initiated investigations and prosecutions against 70 of the worst of those. But this is an industry that donated $48 million to President Bush and the Republican Party in the 2000 cycle and has given $58 million since. One of the first things that Bush did when he came into office was to order the Justice Department to drop those lawsuits.

The Clinton administration had classified mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which triggered a requirement that those utilities remove 90 percent of the mercury within three and a half years. It would have cost less than 1 percent of plant revenue, and the great thing about it is that it works; we now know that when the utilities stop discharging mercury, that the fish downstream clean up almost immediately. … But this is an industry that gave all that money, over $100 million, to the president. A few months ago, the Bush administration announced that it was scrapping the Clinton-era regulations and substituting instead regulations that were written by utility lawyers, from the law firm of Latham and Watkins. Under the new rules, the utilities will effectively never have to clean up their mercury.

At this point, Congress is controlled by anti-environmental Republicans like Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay is a former Houston bug killer who entered politics because he was angry that his extermination business had been impacted by the ban on DDT and other pesticides, and he’s out to destroy America’s environmental laws.

What [Bush has] done already would have been unimaginable five years ago. He is the number-one threat to the global environment. And the disastrous impacts of this administration don’t just go to the environment, but also to our democracy.

From Salon.com, on our failure to develop alternative energy sources:

The U.S. has fallen behind other nations in development of solar power, sacrificing tremendous potential revenue opportunities while simultaneously cultivating continued dependence on foreign and domestic oil sources (remember that Bush has a lot of buddies in the oil industry).

Read much, much more at BushGreenWatch, Mother Jones’ special report The Ungreening of America, Common Dreams… or hell, just google it.

This election cycle, please take the long view.

Update: Even as I write, today’s papers underline the point. In the Chronicle, Bush would give dam owners special access (Proposed Interior Dept. rule could mean millions for industry). And at Contra Costa Times, Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped from the environmental honor roll, scoring a 58 out of 100 — more than most Republicans, but far below the 100/100 Gray Davis scored in 2003.

Music: Laura Nyro :: Save The Country

8 Replies to “Crimes Against Nature”

  1. Me too. I am very sensitive for nature matters. And also I think that we are way too many people on this planet. We are bound to create a terrible imbalance in nature just by being so many.

  2. I’m sorry but I have to say that I could find several sources to contradict everything you posted. For example, you mentioned that pollution has caused more people to have asthma. I can give you several articles that show that the increase in asthma is due to being too clean. People bathe too much, wash their hands too much, and use too many anti-bacterial cleansers. We are weakening our immune systems so that it can’t protect us from our environment. The biggest asthma trigger isn’t pollution, it’s dust mites. People are spending way too much time in their homes instead of being out in the fresh air. I also have a colleague who is an immunologist and he believes that all of the cleansers we are using break down our membranes and allow the allergens into our system.

    I’m all for people believing in a cause but make sure you do your research to make sure what you read is true. And don’t just read stuff that supports your point of view.

    It’s not just this posting but also the ranting of friends, family and coworkers that is driving me up the wall.

  3. > I’m sorry but I have to say that I could find several sources to contradict everything you posted.

    That would be interesting. Feel free to do so, if you have the inclination (but don’t feel any obligation, since I would then have to go out and find more stuff to contradict those sources). Of course one can find sources to contradict almost anything, which is why we have such a thing as “controversial issues.” But there isn’t much controversy left on environmental issues from people who spend their careers studying and tracking it. Yes, there will always be people who claim that “everything is fine” and that environmentalists are barking up the wrong tree, but those people won’t be the people who are actually out there studying the environment.

    > I can give you several articles that show that the increase in asthma is due to being too clean.

    That’s interesting. I’ve long maintained that a lot of sickness is caused by people being too fastidious, but had never heard of a connection between that and asthma. It recently came out that Amy, Miles and I all bathe about twice a week — most people think we’re very clean people, and were shocked. I think we *are* very clean people, but that showering daily is totally wasteful, and possibly harmful to health.

    > I’m all for people believing in a cause but make sure you do your research to make sure what you read is true.

    I read a great deal of material on environmental issues, don’t feel I’m spouting off half-cocked here.

    > It’s not just this posting but also the ranting of friends, family and coworkers that is driving me up the wall.

    My brother has posted on this weblog a total of three times in his life. No other family members ever have, and no co-workers ever have. I’ve only ever met a very few people who leave comments here. What are we saying that’s driving you up the wall?

  4. Gattaca, one additional comment:

    > I’m all for people believing in a cause but make sure you do your research

    The question is *how much* research? I do a lot of reading on this topic, and did another hour of reading before posting. Obviously I can’t put the kind of research time into a blog post as a full-time journalist would, but then this is a weblog, not an article for the Wall Street Journal (which, by the way, has run a ton of articles on the enviro impact of the Bush admin.)

    >to make sure what you read is true.

    I’m pretty careful about that. Sometimes I link to something that is later discredited – we are all subject to that possibility. If you think that any of the claims made in the post are untrue, you are of course invited to link to counter-evidence.

    > And don’t just read stuff that supports your point of view.

    That’s the rub. And one we all have to grapple with. It’s a human trait to find info that supports one’s point of view, so we all have to be guard against that. But in the case of the environment, there isn’t much out there (almost nothing in fact) from credible sources suggesting that we’re not on a path of environmental self-destruction or that the Bush admin. isn’t the environment’s #1 enemy. So your admonishment is correct in principle but doesn’t really apply to this topic.

  5. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped from the environmental honor roll, scoring a 58 out of 100 — more than most Republicans, but far below the 100/100 Gray Davis scored in 2003.

    Of course. Allowing months of rolling blackouts is exactly what environmentalists love. The energy crisis was a direct results of California environmental activism.

  6. > Of course. Allowing months of rolling blackouts is exactly what environmentalists love. The energy crisis was a direct results of California environmental activism.

    Huhn? Not sure I follow. In fact, I can’t even tell whether you’re joking or serious. What do you mean?

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