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Best of the Bad News
Alex Steffen, 13 Mar 04

So, we don't normally do bad news, but this Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. polemic on the Bush Administration's (anti-)environmental policies really is a must-read. It's also, frankly, one heck of a resource, detailing on one page the White House's multiform assaults against science, public health, natural systems and common decency. If you read this, you won't need to read anything else about Bush's record on the environment. It is, quite simply, the best of the bad news.

"George W. Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental president. In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America's environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country's air, water, public lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation's most important environmental laws by the end of the year. Under the guidance of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the Bush White House has actively hidden its anti-environmental program behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats. The Bush attack was not entirely unexpected. George W. Bush had the grimmest environmental record of any governor during his tenure in Texas. Texas became number one in air and water pollution and in the release of toxic chemicals. In his six years in Austin, he championed a short-term pollution-based prosperity, which enriched his political contributors and corporate cronies by lowering the quality of life for everyone else. Now President Bush is set to do the same to America. After three years, his policies are already bearing fruit, diminishing standards of living for millions of Americans."
(Thanks, Chris!)

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apropos, i think :D

twilight at easter
by jared diamond

Why were Easter Islanders so foolish as to cut down all their trees, when the consequences would have been so obvious to them? This is a key question that nags everyone who wonders about self-inflicted environmental damage. I have often asked myself, "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?" Like modern loggers, did he shout "Jobs, not trees!"? Or: "Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood"? Or: "We need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature"?

Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment, including ours today. It turns out that there is a series of reasons why people in any society— whether Easter Islanders, Maya, or ourselves—may make fatal mistakes that will look foolish to their successors. They may not anticipate a problem, because of the problem being unprecedented in their experience: e.g., today's overharvesting of the ocean's seemingly inexhaustible fisheries, for the first time in human history. They may fail to perceive the problem when it does arrive: e.g., global warming today, initially difficult to distinguish from just the usual year-to-year fluctuations in temperature. Conflicts of interest may prevent them from addressing a perceived problem: e.g., dumping toxic wastes into rivers is bad for people living downstream but saves money for the company doing the dumping. Some problems just prove too difficult to solve with current abilities: e.g., no one has figured out how to eliminate the Dutch elm disease that reached North America. Probably all of those kinds of explanations apply to deforestation on Easter Island, but the most important reason there may be conflicts of interest. A chief's status depended on his statues: any chief who failed to cut trees to transport and erect statues would have found himself out of a job.

The Easter Islanders' isolation probably also explains why their collapse, more, perhaps, than the collapse of any other pre-industrial society, haunts readers and visitors today. The parallels between Easter Island and the modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalization, international trade, jet planes, and the Internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other, just as did Easter's eleven clans. Polynesian Easter Island was as isolated in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth is today in space. When the Easter Islanders got into difficulties, there was nowhere to which they could flee, or to which they could turn for help; nor shall we modern Earthlings have recourse elsewhere if our troubles increase. Those are the reasons why people see the collapse of Easter Island society as a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, for what may lie ahead of us in our own future.

Posted by: reflexorset on 13 Mar 04

Kudos Reflexorset for a profound metaphor. Meanwhile Alex talks about "the worst environmental President in history". What history? Does less than 200 years of nationhood qualify as history? It's not even a pimple on the butt of civilization. Do the math. 20% sucking 80% of the world's resources? It's not sustainable - and in a shorter time than we dared imagine - the awakening is here!

Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 17 Mar 04



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