2016-07-27
You can understand why people in the grip of such fantasies cannot be expected to worry about the environment. As Glenn Scherer writes in his report for the on-line environmental magazine Grist, 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? Why bother to convert to alternative sources of energy and reduce dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East? Anyway, until Christ does return, the Lord will provide.

Scherer came upon a high school history book, "America's Providential History", which is used in fundamentalist circles. Students are told that "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." The Christian, however, "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."

While it is impossible to know how many people hold these views, we do know that fundamentalists constitute a large and powerful proportion of the Republican base, and, as Anatol Lieven writes, "fundamentalist religiosity has become an integral part of the radicalization of the right in the US and of the tendency to demonize political opponents as traitors and enemies of God and America"-including, one must note, environmentalists, who are routinely castigated as villains and worse by the right. No wonder Karl Rove wandered the White House whistling "Onward Christian Soldiers" as he prepared for the 2004 elections.

2.I am not suggesting that fundamentalists are running the government, but they constitute a significant force in the coalition that now holds a monopoly of power in Washington under a Republican Party that for a generation has been moved steadily to the right by its more extreme variants even as it has become more and more beholden to the corporations that finance it. One is foolish to think that their bizarre ideas do not matter. I have no idea what President Bush thinks of the fundamentalists' fantastical theology, but he would not be president without them. He suffuses his language with images and metaphors they appreciate, and they were bound to say amen when Bob Woodward reported that the President "was casting his vision, and that of the country, in the grand vision of God's master plan."

That will mean one thing to Dick Cheney and another to Tim LaHaye, but it will confirm their fraternity in a regime whose chief characteristics are ideological disdain for evidence and theological distrust of science. Many of the constituencies who make up this alliance don't see eye to eye on many things, but for President Bush's master plan for rolling back environmental protections they are united. A powerful current connects the administration's multinational corporate cronies who regard the environment as ripe for the picking and a hard-core constituency of fundamentalists who regard the environment as fuel for the fire that is coming. Once again, populist religion winds up serving the interests of economic elites.

The corporate, political, and religious right's hammerlock on environmental policy extends to the U.S. Congress. Nearly half of its members before the election-231 legislators in all (more since the election)-are backed by the religious right, which includes several powerful fundamentalist leaders like LaHaye. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the most influential Christian Right advocacy groups. Not one includes the environment as one of their celebrated "moral values."

When I talk about this before a live audience I can see from the look on the faces before me just how hard it is for a journalist to report on such things with any credibility. So let me put on a personal level what sends the shiver down my spine.

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. I confess to having always been an optimist. Now, however, I remember 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 believed 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 this-it's just that as a journalist I have been trained to read the news and connect the dots.

I read that the administrator of the US 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, sport 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;
  • that is radically changing the management of our national forests to eliminate critical environmental reviews, open them to new roads, and give the timber companies a green light to slash and cut as they please.

    I read the news and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency plotted to spend $9 million-$2 million of it from the President's friends at the American Chemistry Council-to pay poor families to continue the use of 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 concocted a scheme 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 that President Bush has more than one hundred high-level officials in his administration overseeing industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers, or corporate advocates-company insiders waved through the revolving door of government to assure that drug laws, food policies, land use, and the regulation of air pollution are industry-friendly. Among the "advocates-turned-regulators" are a former meat industry lobbyist who helps decide how meat is labeled; a former drug company lobbyist who influences prescription drug policies; a former energy lobbyist who, while accepting payments for bringing clients into his old lobbying firm, helps to determine how much of our public lands those former clients can use for oil and gas drilling.

    I read that civil penalties imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency against polluters in 2004 hit an fifteen-year low, in what amounts to an extended holiday for industry from effective compliance with environmental laws.

    I read that the administration's allies at the International Policy Network, which is supported by Exxon-Mobil and others of like mind and interest, have issued a report describing global warming as "a myth" at practically the same time the President, who earlier rejected the international treaty outlining limits on greenhouse gases, wants to prevent any "written or oral report" from being issued by any international meetings on the issue.

    I read not only the news but the fine print of a recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with obscure amendments removing all endangered species protections from pesticides, prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon, waiving environmental review for grazing permits on public lands, and weakening protection against development 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; Thomas, 10; Nancy, 8; Jassie, 3; SaraJane, 1. 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 the shiver runs down my spine and I am seized by the realization: "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 our 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. Why don't we feel the world enough to save it-for our kin to come?

    The news is not good these days. But 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. 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. We must match the science of human health to what the ancient Israelites called hochma-the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us.Believe me, it does.