by Martin Murie
(Swans - July 16, 2007) Secret discussions leading to secret decisions about matters of huge import. Let's start with the Pentagon collaborating with corporate warfare outfits to use what they call "depleted uranium" to increase the armor piercing effectiveness of weapons. Carol Christen tells us that 460 thousand tons of uranium-tainted explosives have been expended on Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. (1) Now that carcinogen circles the earth, in dust of air and dust of earth, just as the debris from President Truman's wrong decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still with us.
One of the posters we carry in antiwar demos reads: "Bush Doesn't Care About Our Troops. But We Do." I think every word of that is true. Think of it, our top decider willing to spend lives, Iraqis and Americans and other members of the Coalition of the Willing, for a cause not worthy of the name.
Cast your mind back to the War Between the States. The top decider of those times, Abe Lincoln, kept looking for a general who was willing to spend lives, and finally found the man, U. S. Grant. But even Grant shed tears at the Battle of the Wilderness. There's an obvious moral here. Sending humans into death has to be for a very damned good reason.
How could the depleted uranium decision be made without first investigating collateral damage? We see now the danger to the earth, to our lives and the lives of our descendents, but what was in the minds of the generals? Did they just go ahead, operating inside the spell of military logic and a mistaken feeling of security, of power, embedded as they were in a military bastion, home base of the greatest empire the world has ever endured? Is such ignorant arrogance possible? Yes.
There are plans to expand Camp Schwab in Okinawa. Never mind that it invades one of the last habitats of a rare mammal, the Okinawa Dugong, related to the Florida Manatee. Those dugongs live in the seaweed and coral reef waters of Henoko bay. Expansion of the base will "further the dugong's long slide toward extinction." As always, of course, ecological systems being what they are, many another species of plant and animal will be mightily disrupted. (2)
Are dugongs important? Yes, because their lives are, like ours, an integral part of the planet's fauna and flora, along with sharks and sea-going turtles who are now, once again, meeting death from long-line fishing. Collaterals from miles and miles of hooks are too many to count and they are compounded by climate change that disrupts plankton reproduction, threatening food chains, including most top-predator whales. We do not know enough to even begin to estimate the impacts of our continual nibbling at lives and habitats of other life forms. We do know enough to be pretty sure that at some point in our nibbling process a huge surprise lurks.
One of the truly weird notions embedded in our imperial reach is that collateral damage, whether in medicine or habitats, is something that happens somewhere else, or if it has to be dealt with, technology will find a way. Like lifting a huge solar collector into space to capture energy and beam it down to earth. Like speeding up the new military vehicle that can withstand Improvised Explosive Devices, under the silly assumption that a guerilla war can be won by techno magic, a power to be reckoned with, firmly embedded. Witness the new dodge, turning food plants into ethanol.
Another military base expansion is planned in southern California. This one will invade desert tortoise habitat. A slap-dash subcontract was negotiated for capturing tortoises and transporting them to another desert, but now the military is dithering. Seems they forgot to check out the new desert to see if there's enough water. Where is Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) when we need it? Isn't it written into the Endangered Species Act that Fish and Wildlife must be consulted on Environmental Impacts? Was there an Environmental Impact Study? Jan Baughman has a lead on that, in her on-target cartoon in the July 2, 2007, issue of Swans: a polar bear on the couch, the consultant telling the bear that he can deal with his existential crisis, but can't use his name. Jan appended the relevant quote, from a March 2007 memo from Region Seven of FWS.
Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating who'll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears. (3)
There's more. It's essential to get the full flavor of these intimidations. Here, an excerpt from a letter, US Dept. of Interior letterhead, addressed to FWS Director from Regional Director, Region 7.
The Service's official representative for this meeting is Julia Gourley, a Science Arctic Official. Ms. Gourley is a government employee who works in the Office of Oceans and Environmental Science in the U. S. State Department. She is the official head of the delegation ... Mrs. Hohn will be participating in the Senior Arctic Official meeting as a member of the U.S. delegation ... There will be no discussion of sea ice, polar bears or climate change at this meeting. Mrs. Hohn understands the administration's position on climate change, polar bears and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to these issues. (4)
I keep wondering who these people are. Regional Director, for instance, if a biologist, she/he must experience episodes of limpness, lapdog/trained poodle syndrome. If a political appointee, I have no idea what goes on in there, but can ask a question. How in hell can you send people to meet with "senior" officials concerning northern parts of this earth without talking about sea ice, polar bears, and climate change?
Scientists have their own code of ethics. They are not obliged to justify a president's "position," by silence or lies. The science code is based on search for empirical causes and ramifications. Do Not Hide or Distort Factual Findings. This code allows scientists from different nations, different cultures, different languages, to talk to each other, to cooperate in observations and experiments. Do empirical findings impinge on political/economic/cultural matters? Absolutely. Should scientists defy censorship? Yes, as a matter of principle, for humanity and all The Others. That's a tall order, but repression is everywhere, has to be challenged everywhere. It's time to act, before it's too late.
Meanwhile, let's lift a glass to those brave folks who keep leaking documents from the dark halls of Go-Along-To-Get-Along.
Here's a story to put next to the polar bear story. From the Pentagon's legislative liaison office comes a memo informing the House Armed Services Committee that from now on "the military would determine those it deems appropriate below the rank of full colonel to speak or brief members of Congress." Further, "No remarks or transcripts would be allowed," and "all officers" meeting with the Committee "had to be accompanied by a political appointee from the administration." (5)
In contrast to the secrecy campaigns noted above, are the blatant privatization schemes all across the land? This is the populist/propagandistic wing of people management. Put these two wings on a central authority, "the administration," and you have a huge voracious creature.
At the ends of chains of command and decision are the rest of us, the great majority. About ten days ago a crew of power line workers from a firm subcontracted by National Grid parked two big hoist trucks and a bulldozer across the road. Their job was to replace two power poles with taller poles. Three full days of labor ensued. A diamond drill vehicle was brought in to bore through the rocks. We and the neighbors watched from time to time. Fascinating, the subtle hand signals, the careful jockeying of hoists to avoid wires and trees. Skilled labor. But when finally positioned, one of the poles was no taller than the original. I asked a worker about that. He said, "Don't ask me, I'm just following orders." We talked. He became animated and confidential. "The plans are made by people at desks." His final words: "They've never done it."
We need to think hard about this. Heads of corporations and political appointees, our rulers, are people whose time on earth has been captured by insider maneuvers, tactics, procedures, paperwork, and consultations with others of similar stripes. Decisions made in offices. Decisions e-mailed or sent by snail mail to subordinates. However, "They've never done it."
How much sea ice (and shore ice, also subject of much concern among northern scientists) has that high official from the State Department seen, stepped on, touched? This is a legitimate question because science proceeds by actual touching and feeling and smelling, sometimes even tasting the subject matter. Hard data, i.e., measurements, are an essential but not exclusive component. A report read on a screen or on hard copy about, say, lemmings, comes from people who have handled lemmings, tended traps, sampled habitat features, kept the work going, month by month, year by year, in rain, sleet, snow, cold, sunshine. People who, above all, are aware of the limitations of a particular study, knowing it is only a part of the big picture that will never be completed. Fascinating work. Skilled work.
Blatant disregard, and it is blatant, of on-the-ground research is embedded in techno fixation structured into the black feathers of this voracious creature now trying to make the entire earth its own. And it has at least one foot and a couple of flight feathers in the camp of religious fundamentalism.
Indeed, the blitheness with which Bush & Co. ignores the ever-worsening threats of global warming, air pollution, and the disappearance of endangered species -- among many other looming ecological disasters -- can only be explained as an expression of their faith. To such apocalyptic types a ruined earth is no big deal, so long as God can be alleged to go for it. (6)
I am not so sure about Bush & Company being that bound to faith, but blitheness is the right word for their clampdown on science and their hostility toward any shape or color of environmentalism.
Looking at the polar bear cartoon again, I remembered an essay by Bonner McAllester, a biologist who writes a column for Monterey News in Massachusetts.
I heard it last night at a party, the polar bear has been given endangered species status ("given"?), and since habitat destruction is what has pushed the bear into this shocking category any action taken by anyone which threatens its habitat is illegal.
Biofuels and BigWind cannot save us or the polar bear. Only a drastic shift away from our addiction can do this. We are addicted to something that is called the American way of life.
Am I crazy? Am I lonely? Am I frightened? Yes. And I am ready. I hope to see you in jail, for the bears. (7)
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