[Mb-hair] Worth Reading

John Herzog jherzog at dcnet2000.com
Mon Jan 10 12:52:58 PST 2005

This week the Center for Health and the Global
Environment at Harvard Medical School presented its
fourth annual Global Environment Citizen Award to Bill
Moyers. In presenting the award, Meryl Streep, a
member of the Center board, said, 'Through
resourceful, intrepid reportage and perceptive voices
from the forward edge of the debate, Moyers has
examined an environment under siege with the aim of
engaging citizens.' Here is the text of his response
to Ms. Streep's presentation of the award:

I accept this award on behalf of all the people behind
the camera whom you never see. And for all those
scientists, advocates, activists, and just plain
citizens whose stories we have covered in reporting on
how environmental change affects our daily lives. We
journalists are simply beachcombers on the shores of
other people's knowledge, other people's experience,
and other people's wisdom. We tell their stories.

The journalist who truly deserves this award is my
friend, Bill McKibben. He enjoys the most conspicuous
place in my own pantheon of journalistic heroes for
his pioneer work in writing about the environment. His
bestseller The End of Nature carried on where Rachel
Carson's Silent Spring left off. 

Writing in Mother Jones recently, Bill described how
the problems we journalists routinely cover -
conventional, manageable programs like budget
shortfalls and pollution - may be about to convert to
chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations. The
most unmanageable of all, he writes, could be the
accelerating deterioration of the environment,
creating perils with huge momentum like the greenhouse
effect that is causing the melt of the arctic to
release so much freshwater into the North Atlantic
that even the Pentagon is growing alarmed that a
weakening gulf stream could yield abrupt and
overwhelming changes, the kind of changes that could
radically alter civilizations.

That's one challenge we journalists face - how to tell
such a story without coming across as Cassandras,
without turning off the people we most want to
understand what's happening, who must act on what they
read and hear.

As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to
fashion a readable narrative for complex issues
without depressing our readers and viewers, there is
an even harder challenge - to pierce the ideology that
governs official policy today. One of the biggest
changes in politics in my lifetime is that the
delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from
the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval
office and in Congress. For the first time in our
history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of
power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions
that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to
a world view despite being contradicted by what is
generally accepted as reality. When ideology and
theology couple, their offspring are not always bad
but they are always blind. And there is the danger:
voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first
Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online
environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist,
reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S.
Congress that protecting natural resources was
unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus
Christ. In public testimony he said, 'after the last
tree is felled, Christ will come back.'

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know
what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious.
So were his compatriots out across the country. They
are the people who believe the Bible is literally true
- one-third of the American electorate, if a recent
Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several
million good and decent citizens went to the polls
believing in the rapture index. That's right - the
rapture index. Google it and you will find that the
best-selling books in America today are the twelve
volumes of the left-behind series written by the
Christian fundamentalist and religious right warrior,
Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a
fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by
a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate
passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative
that has captivated the imagination of millions of

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British
writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant
dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding
to my own understanding): once Israel has occupied the
rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the
anti-Christ will attack it, triggering a final
showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who
have not been converted are burned, the messiah will
return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted
out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where,
seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch
their political and religious opponents suffer plagues
of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the several
years of tribulation that follow.

I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the
literature. I've reported on these people, following
some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are
sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you they
feel called to help bring the rapture on as
fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have
declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish
settlements and backed up their support with money and
volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was
a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation
where four angels 'which are bound in the great river
Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of
man.' A war with Islam in the Middle East is not
something to be feared but welcomed - an essential
conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time
I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144-just one
point below the critical threshold when the whole
thing will blow, the son of God will return, the
righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be
condemned to eternal hellfire.

So what does this mean for public policy and the
environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of
reporting by the journalist, Glenn Scherer - 'the road
to environmental apocalypse. Read it and you will see
how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe
that environmental destruction is not only to be
disregarded but actually welcomed - even hastened - as
a sign of the coming apocalypse.

As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a
handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden
to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before
the recent election - 231 legislators in total - more
since the election - are backed by the religious
right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the
108th congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval
ratings from the three most influential Christian
right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of
Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House
Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt.
The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the
Christian coalition was Senator Zell Miller of
Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of
Amos on the senate floor: 'the days will come, sayeth
the Lord God, that i will send a famine in the land.'
He seemed to be relishing the thought.

And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002
TIME/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans
believe that the prophecies found in the Book of
Revelation are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter
think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive
across the country with your radio tuned to the more
than 1,600 Christian radio stations or in the motel
turn some of the 250 Christian TV stations and you can
hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come
to understand why people under the spell of such
potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts
it, 'to worry about the environment. Why care about
the earth when the droughts, floods, famine and
pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of
the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about
global climate change when you and yours will be
rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting
from oil to solar when the same God who performed the
miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few
billion barrels of light crude with a word?'

Because these people believe that until Christ does
return, the lord will provide. One of their texts is a
high school history book, America's Providential
History. You'll find there these words: 'the secular
or socialist has a limited resource mentality and
views the world as a pie - that needs to be cut up so
everyone can get a piece.' however, '[t]he Christian
knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that
there is no shortage of resources in God's earth -
while many secularists view the world as
overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the
earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to
accommodate all of the people.' No wonder Karl Rove
goes around the White House whistling that militant
hymn, 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' He turned out
millions of the foot soldiers on November 2, including
many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving
force in modern American politics.

I can see in the look on your faces just how had it is
for the journalist to report a story like this with
any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level.
I myself don't know how to be in this world without
expecting a confident future and getting up every
morning to do what I can to bring it about. So I have
always been an optimist. Now, however, I think of my
friend on Wall Street whom I once asked: 'What do you
think of the market?' 'I'm optimistic,' he answered.
'Then why do you look so worried?' And he answered:
'Because I am not sure my optimism is justified.'

I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with Eric
Chivian and the Center for Health and the Global
Environment that people will protect the natural
environment when they realize its importance to their
health and to the health and lives of their children.
Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to
believe that - it's just that I read the news and
connect the dots:

I read that the administrator of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency has declared the
election a mandate for President Bush on the
environment. This for an administration that wants to
rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the
Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and
animal species and their habitats, as well as the
National Environmental Policy Act that requires the
government to judge beforehand if actions might damage
natural resources.

That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone;
eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections; and ease
pollution standards for cars, sports utility vehicles
and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.

That wants a new international audit law to allow
corporations to keep certain information about
environmental problems secret from the public.

That wants to drop all its new-source review suits
against polluting coal-fired power plans and weaken
consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies.

That wants to open the arctic wildlife refuge to
drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island
National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped
barrier island in the world and the last great coastal
wild land in America.

I read the news just this week and learned how the
Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend
nine million dollars - $2 million of it from the
administration's friends at the American Chemistry
Council - to pay poor families to continue to use
pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been
linked to neurological damage in children, but instead
of ordering an end to their use, the government and
the industry were going to offer the families $970
each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing,
to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

I read all this in the news.

I read the news just last night and learned that the
administration's friends at the international policy
network, which is supported by ExxonMobil and others
of like mind, have issued a new report that climate
change is 'a myth, sea levels are not rising,
scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are 'an

I not only read the news but the fine print of the
recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with
the obscure (and obscene) riders attached to it: a
clause removing all endangered species protections
from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review
for a forest in Oregon; a waiver of environmental
review for grazing permits on public lands; a rider
pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial
habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my
desk, next to the computer - pictures of my
grandchildren: Henry, age 12; of Thomas, age 10; of
Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane, nine months. I see the
future looking back at me from those photographs and I
say, 'Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.'
And then I am stopped short by the thought: 'That's
not right. We do know what we are doing. We are
stealing their future. Betraying their trust.
Despoiling their world.'

And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care?
Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our
capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain
indignation at injustice?

What has happened to out moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: 'How do you see the
world?' And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: 'I see
it feelingly.''

I see it feelingly.

The news is not good these days. I can tell you,
though, that as a journalist, I know the news is never
the end of the story. The news can be the truth that
sets us free - not only to feel but to fight for the
future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote
to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to
those faces looking back at me from those photographs
on my desk. What we need to match the science of human
health is what the ancient Israelites called 'hocma' -
the science of the heart..the capacity to see.to
feel.and then to act - as if the future depended on

Believe me, it does.

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