Toward a New Environmental Movement

Time to Kick Out the Corporate Bastards

The environmental movement is on life support. Some would say it is already dead. Even though climate change and Al Gore are fast becoming the conversation du jour around the American dinner table, it also happens to be the rallying cry for do-gooder conservationists and corporations alike.

Call it the eco-economy. Virtually all major corporations now claim they are going “green”. Toyota dealerships cannot keep the hybrid Prius in stock. Apple, after heavy lobbying from Greenpeace and others, declares they are going to make their computers environmentally friendly. Genetically modified corn, which produces ethanol fuel, is being hawked by Monsanto as an alternative to petroleum based gasoline. Ethanol advocates are calling their program “Fuels for Profit”, while they sip McDonald’s organic coffee. The environmental movement has been corporatized.

Big green groups are not helping the situation. Their hands are tied by both the large foundations that pay their rent and the Democratic Party to which they are attached at the hip. They long ago gave up on challenging the system. Most groups today are little more than direct mailing outfits who have embraced a sordid neoliberal approach to saving the natural world. The true causes of planetary destruction are never mentioned. Industrial capitalism is not the problem, individuals are. Not the government’s inability to enforce its weak regulations. Not big oil companies, or coal fired plants. These neoliberal groups argue ordinary people are to blame for the impending environmental catastrophe, not those who profit from the Earth’s destruction.

Meanwhile, on the ground, grassroots environmentalists engaging in arson as a response to unfettered sprawl and our car addicted culture are dubbed terrorists by the Federal government. Despite their extreme and counter-productive methods, the cases are quite informative. In our post-9/11 world young eco-radicals are viewed by the FBI and corporations as if they are as dangerous as bin Laden. All activists, no matter their cause, should take heed. It is the first step in cracking down on radical activism.

Torching SUVs in the middle of the night, unfortunately, will not bring about any massive radical change, except, perhaps, in our “anti-terrorism” legislation. There are militant direct actions that are prevailing, however, from Paul Watson’s crusade to protect the wild creatures of the sea, to the environmentalists who stake out in trees for weeks at a time, to the grandmothers who chain themselves to logging trucks, despite the dangers.

Such actions, coupled with the organization of the working class, could help steer the environmental movement in the right direction. The philosophy of the great wilderness advocate Bob Marshall may prove to be quite prescient in the age of foundation driven conservationism. Marshall believed wilderness was for the regular folks. He believed wilderness was a “minority right” and argued that elitism inside the movement would be inherently corrupt. He’s right. The burdens of a coporatized society are great, not only for our forests and rivers, but to the workers who are consistently exploited and poisoned for profit.

Marshall believed the radical trade unions and socialized forestry was one answer to countering the destruction of the wild places he loved so much. Now is the time to once again embrace such an environmental ethic. Wilderness, that living symbol of freedom, exists for all to enjoy. It is not ours to exploit. The salmon and grizzly bears deserve better.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature and co-edits Joshua Frank is the co-editor of Dissident Voice and the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush. Together they are the editors of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press. Read other articles by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank.

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  1. Max Shields said on June 29th, 2007 at 6:54am #

    This has gotten to be an old problem – mainstreaming. Mainstreaming in America means alignment with power. Whether it’s a coopting of a movement or the integration of the movments intent into the mainstream, it becomes a cyncial undermining of the movement itself.

    The environmental movement has two problems: 1) it is not merely them against us; this is, afterall, global problem requiring all of us and first and foremost the corporate violaters and the enabling agents to rein in their gross mis-use of the planet; and 2) it, as alluded to in this article, views itself as a singular movement when in fact the environment is NOT a singular issue. It is an all encompassing issue. All of human kinds systemic problems are of a piece, food and hunger, disease and environmental calamities, war and peace, genocide and imperialism.

    But the issue remains. The power brokers, the ones with the MSM megaphones will continue to attempt to define the problem (reality) and determine the solutions regardless what’s going on on the ground. Darfur is a Genocide because the MSM in the US SAYS IT IS.

    As I said this is not new. The real issue is how to transform what is into what needs to be. Is there a real movement which is interconnected, a movement in solidarity with Counter-global capitalism and free markets, with workers’ unions, with cultural and political transformation, with the ecosystem as the measure rather than the commodity that it and all life forms are treated by the current pathological economic system?

    I think there is. I think that what matters is not what the MSM propagates, but the unions we start to form inspite of such propagation.

  2. atheo said on June 29th, 2007 at 7:14am #

    Has global warming become a tool for the perpetuation of the established social order?

    Speaking at the press launch of the Working Group III Report Mitigation of Climate Change in May 2007, Pachauri stated boldly:

    ‘It is of great satisfaction that this report for the first time has dealt with lifestyle and consumption patterns as an important means by which we can bring about mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. So of course you can look at technologies, you can look at policies, but what is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns.’

    Tony Gilland opines:
    [This is] an overtly moralistic message, that emphasises behaviour change over technological innovation, is delivered without criticism from any quarter, by a body whose authority is ultimately rooted in the collapse of politics.

    From the moment the IPCC was born, the scope for an overtly political approach to dealing with any questions raised or problems thrown up by climate change was compromised by politicians with little vision for society, who became increasingly attracted to the notion of ‘natural limits’ as a justification for political and economic stasis.

    As political convictions have withered, politicians and activists of all persuasions have come to present their arguments in terms of what ‘the science’ is telling us to do. Even Al Gore, who is seen as almost evangelical about what he describes as a ‘climate crisis’, presents his argument in morally weak terms as an ‘inconvenient truth’ brought to us by the work of scientists.

    The way in which politicians, the media and civil society have come to hang on the latest pronouncements of the IPCC demonstrates how this political failure has allowed a scientific conceptualisation of a political problem to become institutionalised across the globe, to the point where conceiving of it differently has become almost unimaginable. But imagine it we must, if we are to open a genuine debate about the politics, and science, of global warming.

  3. Max Shields said on June 29th, 2007 at 8:38am #

    atheo, I’m not sure where you and the quote leaves off, but I would say that in clear terms, all problems are classified and structured predominately around centers of power. Problems are shaken out and filtered by and for that power.

    On the smaller issue of whether science is used to bolster the identification of the problem, I don’t see the the issue. So, Gore uses what many recognize as the “reliability of empirical data”. Gore is marking out and framing what he can. I see weaknesses in his approach but I don’t think he’d be heard otherwise.

    The real issue is the dilution of the problem to satisfy the status quo (centers of power). Appropriate technologies are part of the environment dilemma, but the notion of “technology fixes” and new entrepreneurial inventions is part and parcel of the problem. We can imagine the solutions and they are not massive, but rather humanly scaled. Capitalism is a pathological cancerous growth and it takes our politics, or culture and the entire planet along for its death ride.

    Yes, the culture of endless consumption and measurement by consumer indexes and GNP/GDP are doomed. Technological fixes to makes this maddness work “better” is an insane project. It safe guards the mind-set trajectory that got us here and continues to move us forward.

    The changes required are, relatively, radical in scope but need not follow so historical ideological gamesmanship, in fact such gamesmanship is part of our problem. Yes, we need to stay clear of the powers who will define and bastardize the problem and the solutions, but that should not stop us from seeing clearly through to the root causes and letting those guide us through to the needed solutions.

  4. atheo said on June 29th, 2007 at 12:12pm #

    How does one conduct a reasoned discussion with someone who claims that “Hezbolah is a threat to the US and Israel serves the US in attacking them”?

  5. Max Shields said on June 29th, 2007 at 3:39pm #

    Who have you been reading – certainly nothing I’ve ever written – since I completely disagree with your quoted point.

    If you want to respond to my previous post, fine. Otherwise, find the person who made the comment you seem to be miscrediting me with, and have a ball.

  6. atheo said on June 29th, 2007 at 9:58pm #

    Quoting Max Shields:

    ” Israel has served as a proxy against Hezbollah (Iran/Syria); and sides with the US on all US foreign policies – inside and outside the region. Israel is a client state. We have no treaty with Israel; we don’t need a treaty with a nation that exists at our behest. ”

    Enough said. That’s kooky.

  7. Rosalind Peterson said on June 30th, 2007 at 4:53am #

    June 30, 2007

    In 1981, I learned a hard lesson about most environmental groups. They started to only address issues that they thought that they could “win”. Only a few, these days, retain any integrity at all – because they have become part of our corporate structure…mostly sending us literature with cute animals pictured asking the public for money to keep them in grand style.

    Most environmental groups have been taken over by a corporate mentality and invaded by individuals who have links to polluting corporations…few, if any have made any comment in the last six years about the Bush Administration gutting many of our environmental laws, etc. They have stood in almost mute silence watching…quiet because they no longer have the fight to speak out…beware of their promoting of corporate money market schemes like the new “cap and trade scheme” which is being hawked by the Bush Administration, our elected officials, and corporations.

    I suspect that many environmental groups like to identify a crisis in distant places and then tell us they will work on that project if we send money. However, we almost never find out how much they actually spend of our donations for these projects and what they are actually doing (after they take out their corporate cuts from donations).

    And now we have the Bush Administration selling out our public lands to corporations for next to nothing to be exploited for corporate profit. The damage to our lands is escalating through this process…and yet there is nothing being said from most environmental groups…except to jump on the corporate bandwagon.

    It is up to us to step up to the plate and demand that not only the environmental groups do better but that our elected officials take action to protect our environment now instead of hiding out and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists.

    According to a December 12, 2006, article by the Union of Concerned Scientists: “EPA Closing Libraries, Destroying Scientific Documents”, “…the (EPA) maintains a nationwide network of 27 libraries that provide critical scientific information on human health and environmental protection, not only to EPA scientists, but also to other researches and the general public. But now some of those libraries are being shut down and some of the scientific information they housed is being sequestered or destroyed.”

    “The libraries represent an invaluable source of scientific knowledge and research on issues from hazardous waste to pollution control. To make the best scientific determinations, scientists need access to this information. In 2005, EPA’s dedicated library staff fielded more the 134,000 database and reference questions from agency scientists and the public…”

    “…In February 2006, under the guise of cutting costs, the Bush Administration proposed cutting $2 million of the $2.5 million library services budget for fiscal year 2007…the EPA has already moved with lightning speed to close down several of its libraries to both the public and EPA staff. Five libraries have already been closed, and in Chicago, furniture and library equipment originally purchased for $40,000 was sold at auction for only $350. Some books, reports and other resources have been sent to repositories where they remain inaccessible. Other materials have already been recycled or thrown away…” UCS These drastic library cuts, continuing at a time when this scientific information is needed to reduce pollution in the United States, needs to be immediately reversed.

    And where are the elected officials hired by us to represent our best interests. Silent! No one is even asking those running for office about these issues…and yet we the people must ask the questions.

    And beware of atmospheric and ocean “geoengineerng” schemes that claim to be helping reduce global warming. These corporate money making schemes are designed to allow corporations to fleece the public and continue to pollute without regulations.

    A company call Planktos, located in California, has been experimenting with pilot projects in the last few years by adding iron particulates to our oceans to create algae blooms (ocean geoengineering). And yet, Planktos, without any government oversight or public debate is about to take one of the most beautiful, scenic, and diverse marine life regions, the Galapagos Island area, and transform it by placing iron particulates in the ocean to create artificial algae blooms, that will threaten ocean ecosystems (project to begin as early as July 2007). This project is schedule to start this summer unless stopped. These algae blooms will be so large that they may be seen from space…an enormous environmental experiment with unknown consequences.

    According to Friends of the Earth, “…The Galapagos National Park in Ecuador is expressing great concern about the dump, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was demanding answers about the potential harm this dump may cause the Galapagos – which prompted Planktos to change the flag under which it sails and abandon plans to use a U.S.-based ship…Planktos CEO Russ George has promised investors that his iron dumping scheme is a sure way to get rich. He’s attempting to sell carbon offsets to global warming polluters…” And they are heavily lobbying Congress to approve of using our oceans for private profit to allow polluters to pollute more.

    The problem with Planktos, is that they are now using questionable scientific market-based, large scale schemes to acidify our oceans and using our ocean resources to make money. They act like they own our oceans and that they can experiment at will without considering the environmental, marine life, birds, animals, food chains, or human health consequences. Is it time to put a stop to the using of our oceans, our food commons, for questionable untested experimentation for private profit and greed? And it won’t help global warming because those that buy the credits will continue to pollute at accelerating rates.

    These schemes have been going on for several years and yet only now is Friends of the Earth objecting. They should have been on top of this issue years ago…so now it is up to us to say “no” to many of these projects and pressure our elected representatives to put a stop to these money market schemes that will allow polluters to buy pollution credits to keep on polluting.


    Rosalind Peterson

  8. Max Shields said on June 30th, 2007 at 5:28pm #

    the only thinkg “kooky” is your total lack of knowledge about US/Israel relations; and your inability to stay on a topic which has nothing to do with the latter. Within the context of that post (you seem obsessed with), there were documents shared and a whole series of explanations which were utterly lost on your xenophobia.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 30th, 2007 at 8:36pm #

    On the ecological level our tremendous destructiveness is a mere blip. There have been five other mass extinctions before in Earth’s history, and the current one, the Anthropogenic Mass Extinction, will be followed by millenia of recovery, then a return once again to fantastic diversity and turn-over of species. The imminent end of our species seems certain. Every day brings news of fantastically evil and almost inexplicable actions. The destruction of the US EPA’s libraries is scarcely credible, but typical. We could only avert disaster by removing from power the tiny parasitic elite that is destroying the planet, while immiserating billions, simply to sate their gluttony. To achieve that would take world-wide revolution and a fight to the death, as these creatures would rather destroy humanity than give up their rule over it. We must look for solutions in human psychology, or failing that, at least find explanations that we can pass down to our descendants, if there are any, to help them avoid replicating our fate. I firmly believe a psychological approach leads inevitably to the conclusion that the ruling elite are basically psychopaths, whose character structure is based on hatred. Hatred of the Other, whether the human Other, manifested in race, class, gender and inter-personal hatred, the non-human Other, revealed in hatred of Nature and the temporal Other, the hatred of the world to come. The future is particularly hated as it is also feared and despised, it being those ‘deserts of vast eternity’, from whose bourne no business leader has ever returned. In fact, I’m convinced our ‘leaders’ are mad and evil, and that they and their predecessors have forged an evil system that rewards greed and the indifference to others, and punishes and roots out collective feelings and empathy. An unnatural selection works, and the apparatus of the modern capitalist state, a vast ‘indifference machine’ can no more be harnessed to any other aim than ‘profit maximization’ than I can fly to the Moon.

  10. Hue Longer said on July 1st, 2007 at 5:06am #

    Good stuff Mulga…check out an article by Joe Bageant called, “The Onion Eater”…think you’ll like it.

  11. Myles Hoenig said on July 2nd, 2007 at 7:08am #

    One of the biggest problems in the environmental community today, as mentioned in the article, is that they are tied to the hips of the Democratic Party. In the ‘progressive’ state of Maryland it’s shamefully, painfully, and embarrassingly true. 2 major environmental fights in the last few years have highlighted this problem. A few years ago Loyola College of Maryland, exclusive, predominantly white and upper middle class (at least) and tied to the Catholic hierarchy of Baltimore, fought the citizens of a working class, mostly of color, community in a huge land fight. They succeeded in destroying (fines are now being levied) the last unprotected urban forest in Baltimore in order to build a private use stadium. The mayor at the time, Martin O’Malley, was a major proponent of this land rape. He is now the Governor. The Baltimore City Council (all Democrats) allowed this to happen. No environmental group in Baltimore, or Maryland, would assist us in this fight. One can come to their own conclusions as to why.
    (The forest of Woodberry was awarded a national “Last Chance Landscape” designation while this fight was going on)

    The next fight is a utilities’ fight. Without going into the details, in 1999 the Democratic General Assembly of Maryland deregulated the utility industry and to this day have refused to reverse that law, in spite of states from Virginia to Texas (of all places) that see that deregulation was bad and are now regulating the industry.

    We in Maryland are now dealing with a 50% rate increase and soon it will go to market rate. The industry sets the market rate and the utilities are making incredible profits off of this. Needless to say, the Governor, (O’Malley, again), the General Assembly, and even the Baltimore City Council, all refuse to take action, focusing more on how to add funds to help those in need, rather than stopping this gangster enterprise.
    Ironically, MaryPIRG who fought against deregulation when our last governor was a Republican, is absolutely silent on this now that they have elected a Democrat. Yet in Illinois the PIRG is now fighting deregulation.
    The Democratic Party claims its environmental mantel but the reality is that it is in the pockets of the polluting industries as deep as the Republicans. Josh Frank has written some excellent articles targeting Al Gore on this issue.

    Like the peace movement, the only way we’ll have real environmental safeguards (and peace) is for these special interest groups to completely dissociate themselves from the Democratic Party. If there are good Dems out there to support, do so. But this blanket check their getting from the enviro’s is self defeating.

  12. Myles Hoenig said on July 2nd, 2007 at 7:11am #

    they’re, not their.

  13. Skdgpccg said on July 9th, 2007 at 6:42pm #

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