[Mb-civic] Is Nothing Sacred?

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Mon Sep 27 11:56:43 PDT 2004

Is Nothing Sacred? 

By Tai Moses, AlterNet
 Posted on September 27, 2004, Printed on September 27, 2004

Some years ago I had a job working on the staff of a geological sciences
journal. On the wall of the office was a bumper sticker that read: Earth
First! We'll Mine the Other Planets Later.

Heh heh. But I soon learned that it was an accurate portrayal of the
sensibilities of some of my colleagues; decent people who appreciated nature
but whose obsession with minerals, gems and other geologic goodies tended to
shape their worldviews. The earth was a container full of mysteries to be
discovered and used.

My boss, a mining geologist, once showed me a photograph he had taken of
Bingham Canyon, the largest open-pit mine in the world. Located near Salt
Lake City, the mine measures nearly a mile deep and two and a half miles
across, and in its 100-year existence it has yielded about 17 million tons
of copper, as well as gold, silver and other ores.

This boss of mine was a good guy; generous, fair, intellectually curious. We
agreed on many things, but when it came to the environment, we parted ways.
To him, Bingham Canyon was a marvel of technology and science. To me, it was
a poster pit for pollution: for poisoned rivers and groundwater; for arsenic
and other toxic byproducts of mining ­ not to mention sheer ugliness.

That conversation has been on my mind a lot lately, as the election looms
and the differences between the candidates come into sharper focus. John
Kerry and George W. Bush are polarized on many issues, but perhaps none so
intensely as the environment. A look at their voting records, policies and
platforms reveals that, when it comes to that diverse collection of concerns
we call "the environment," the two candidates are standing on opposite sides
of a philosophical abyss as wide and deep as Bingham Canyon.

Bush is intent upon gutting federal protections to our air, water and
wildlands. He will drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in
Alaska; slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency; and
overturn the 40-year-old Wilderness Act, which protects tens of millions of
acres of the country's pristine forests from the oil, gas, timber and mining
industries. These aggressive attacks on the environment are a clear sign
that the very air we breathe has become a casualty of what author John
Carroll calls, "the slow-motion wreck of American values that has occurred
over the past three years."

In a recent editorial, the New York Times observed that the Bush
administration "seems to make no accommodation for anything besides humans'
economic desires."

There is a simple reason for this: one of the core values of Bush
conservatives is that natural resources are there to be exploited for the
good of mankind. In their view, the world ­ and especially nature ­ is a
hostile place that needs to be conquered and controlled. Bush's policies are
the modern-day extension of Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century belief in
bringing god, civilization and technology to the primitive, untamed lands of
the West.

That became crystal clear in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, when he
declared that, "In this century, the greatest environmental progress will
come about not through endless lawsuits or command-and-control regulations,
but through technology and innovation."

The Republican party platform includes a detailed discussion of
environmental policy, but most of it is linked to the supply of energy.
Environmental conservation for its own sake gets only a nod. The platform
refers to "modernizing" the Endangered Species Act, and developing the Artic
Refuge using the most "sophisticated technologies."

The Bush administration wants to reduce the role of government, dismantle
pesky regulations and assert man's dominion over nature; in this, they avow
they are doing "god's work."

Oddly, visiting shock and awe on the environment is hardly in concert with
traditional Republican values. After all, we have President Eisenhower (a
Republican) to thank for designating the Arctic Refuge, and Republican
president Theodore Roosevelt was a renowned conservationist whose legacy
includes the very Wilderness Act that Bush is dismantling.

More moderate Republicans ­ that is, pre-Reagan administration ­ have
historically supported some measure of government regulation and
acknowledged the need to protect and preserve the land.

Aimee Christensen, executive director of Environment2004, says,
"Conservation is deeply ingrained in the Republican ethos, and Bush is
betraying his Republican roots."

A growing number of old-school Republicans, alarmed at the right-wing tilt
of their party, are trying to foster some reforms. Martha Marks, founder of
Republicans For Environmental Protection, told Sierra Magazine that the GOP
has "been hijacked over the last two decades, catering to special-interest
money and ideologues."

The result, Marks says, is "an anti-environmentalism that flies in the face
of some of Roosevelt's most inspiring pronouncements: 'I do not intend that
our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of
the many.'"

Polls reveal that the majority of Americans, no matter what political party
they belong to, desire stronger environmental protections. People want to
breathe clean air and drink fresh water. They want their children to enjoy
the same beaches, deserts and mountains as they did when they were kids.

As linguist George Lakoff says, the weaker the conservatives' positions, the
more Orwellian their language. Since Bush knows that most Americans want a
healthy environment, he employs deceptively labeled legislation like "Clear
Skies" and "Healthy Forests" to camouflage the fact that these bills are
gifts to industry polluters and do little to protect the environment or the
interests of the average American.

John Kerry, unlike Bush, talks about the environment in terms of
responsibility and nurturance. Kerry recognizes that environmental issues
are public health and safety issues: communities that are free of toxins are
healthy, secure communities, able to care for healthy children and families.

As a strong believer in conservation, Kerry is upholding not just
progressive values, but traditional American values. "As Americans," his web
site says, "we have the right to breathe unpolluted air, drink safe water,
eat uncontaminated food, live in clean communities and enjoy our natural
treasures. In the 21st century, we can have progress without pollution ­ we
can grow our economy while protecting our natural resources."

A clean environment, Kerry emphasizes, is an American right. Forests,
rivers, wetlands and oceans, fish and wildlife ­ these things have their own
intrinsic value and are not to be recklessly exploited. Kerry promises that
he will "defend our environmental values and protect our environmental

George Bush wants to let power plants spew three times more poisonous
mercury into the air than they currently do; John Kerry co-sponsored a bill
in 2003 that would cut power plant emissions of mercury and other

Bush and Kerry have warring visions on the environment, because the
environment represents different things to each of them. Bush sees nature as
a treasure trove of raw materials to be used for short-term gain. To John
Kerry, wildlands, rivers and oceans are publicly held assets to be cared for
and guarded for future generations.

Sometime it seems like I'm looking at that photograph of Bingham Canyon all
over again. And I wonder: is it a shining example of man's domination over
nature ­ or just a big, ugly hole in the ground?

 © 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
 View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/19994/

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