Burn the Maps and Get Lost in the Territory
Review of Jeffrey St. Clair's Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me
by Josh Frank

March 2, 2004

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Politics leaves its boot-print on almost every aspect of our lives. From our schools to health care, jobs and the environment, it seems we can never win when up against the powers that be. Casting our votes for the evil of two lessers, as dutifully citizens do every election cycle, surely leaves us with a lesser by the end of the day. So you would think “hope” should be brushed to the waste side as naïve optimism, clamored to by only the most stubborn of idealists.

If this is how you feel, you have yet to pick up the latest book by environmental writer Jeffrey St. Clair, Been Brown So Long it Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature, where St. Clair masterfully shatters the myth that all hope should be abandoned. Perhaps the most clairvoyant writer of our times, St. Clair understands the environmentalist plight like no other living writer. He recognizes that neither major political body in the US sides with those that seek to protect our diminishing natural landscapes. He dutifully dissects the “Big Green” cabal, which claims to be the voice of nature, but instead drools at the feet of their foundation backers in order to guard their six figure salaries.

However, despite his telling insights, St. Clair still has faith in a more just relationship between Earth and its human inhabitants.

Arriving at such synergy is no easy task. St. Clair exposes the effects compromise has unleashed on the environment, undermining grassroots’ accomplishments. He brilliantly explains the failures of South Dakota democrat Tom Daschle, where the senator slipped crass language into a bill in the summer of 2002 that allowed logging on First American’s holy land in the Black Hills.

Daschle's legal jargon, backed by the Sierra Club and other Big Green traitors, permitted this injustice to persist without having to abide by environmental restraints or lawsuits.

Due to such continuous failures, St. Clair despises institutional environmentalism. He has witnessed far too many concessions like the Sierra Club’s in South Dakota and contends that such organizations allocate more time raising money than working to save the environment. Executive directors for these green giants, St. Clair points out, are hired more for their fundraising capabilities than their passion for nature. A sort of twisted oxymoron as being “green” no longer means what it use to.

Unsparing in his critiques, St. Clair blasts Bill Clinton for backing out of the Kyoto Agreement in 1998. “There’s no debate that the Earth’s climate is warming dangerously and inexorably. No scientist whose pockets are bulging with corporate cash disputes the cause: burning of fossil fuels,” charges St. Clair. He also tears into George W. Bush for his “Healthy Forests Initiative” where as St. Clair puts it, “In the name of fire prevention, Bush wants to allow the timber industry to log off more than 2.5 million acres of federal forest … it’s nothing more than a giveaway to big timber that comes at a high price to the taxpayer and the forest ecosystems.”

St. Clair in his prescient style portrays the criminal acts of Enron before the titan’s misconduct graced the front pages of US newspapers. He also foretells of the practices behind the spread of the Mad Cow disease, where he depicts the grotesque slaughterhouse practices in Pasco Washington. “According to workers meat at the plant is routinely contaminated with cattle feces because workers on the processing line are not given enough time to wash their hands,” St. Clair writes, “meat falls to the floor, which is often littered with meat byproducts and entrails.”

This book is an adventure into the making of the “New West.” And St. Clair understands its makeup better than anybody writing in contemporary literature today. His influences range from the writings of Henry David Thoreau to the late Edward Abbey. But Jeffrey St. Clair’s style is all his own. He may certainly be the Seymour Hersh of environmental journalism, but unlike Hersh, his due has yet to come. Perhaps St. Clair is too ahead of our time. May we will all catch up soon.

Indeed, St. Clair believes there is still time left.

This book is a landmark for its untold stories of battles that are fought below the radar of the mainstream media. However, St. Clair is on the frontlines reporting the hard to swallow truths about our existence. For this bravery, he should be congratulated.

“There’s a war going on just outside your window,” writes St. Clair, and this remarkable collection of essays will encourage you to do more than sit and watch it play out on the nightly news; because “hope” relies on our willingness to participate directly.

“Remember: the map is not the territory," St. Clair writes. "So burn the maps and get lost in the territory, while you’ve still got a chance.”

Josh Frank is the author of the forthcoming book, Nothing Left: How Liberals Helped Bush, to be published in December by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.

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