Industrial resistance to regulations aimed at protecting the environment is both narrowly self-serving and persistent. In principle, however, it’s all about protecting their current and potential monetary gains—despite a legacy of negative, social-environmental consequences bequeathed to all generations unto everlasting.
For example, ABC News journalist Bill Blakemore interviewed Michael Mann, a preeminent climate scientist from Penn State University, on the April 19, 2012. The following is a brief excerpt from the five-part series on industrial harassment of the climate scientist:
Blakemore: Tell us some of the worst things that have happened to you and your family.
Mann: Well, I’ve had death threats made against me. I’ve had sort of thinly veiled threats made against my family. I have had envelopes sent to me containing white powder where I actually had to have the FBI come in and analyze the contents and make sure that I or my colleagues hadn’t been exposed to harmful substances.
We [Mann and many of his colleagues] regularly get nasty emails in our inbox; we have organizations and front groups demanding that we be fired from our academic positions because we’ve spoken out on this issue [global warming].
Blakemore: The term McCarthyism comes up more and more from prominent peer-reviewed scientists around the world; they talk about the McCarthyism in the United States against climate scientists. Members of Congress have asked to have you investigated.
Mann: Well, for example, James Inhofe, a senator from Oklahoma, who happens to be one of the largest recipients in the U.S. Senate of fossil fuel money, has really been on a campaign for more than a decade to try to discredit the science of climate change, to try to discredit individual scientists like myself, and to subject us to intimidation efforts.
He actually had a list—which harkens back to the days of McCarthyism. He had a list of 17 climate scientists who should be investigated for perpetrating the hoax of human-caused climate change. [Here, once again, is informed denial of observable, measurable data (facts) to defend narrow self-interests—regardless of the social-environmental cost to people worldwide.]
Unfortunately, it’s not that all new a tactic. Look at what the tobacco industry was doing decades ago. Hiring their own scientists, creating lavishly funded front groups to try to discredit science and the individual scientists linking the use of their product to adverse health effects on humans.
Now, we’re seeing the same thing with the fossil fuel industry trying to discredit scientists like myself linking the use of their product, fossil fuels, to the health of the planet.
Blakemore: Of course, I have no political party affiliation and we try to be as fair as possible in all of our reporting as professional journalists, but I must say that over the last—since 2004, 2005—one of the patterns we’ve seen is that one of the two major political parties has somehow been—I can’t help but say “tricked”—into making the denial of this [global warming] a litmus test, which seems to have the effect of intimidating media leaders, including mainstream journalist leaders, into thinking that, if they cover the event of climate change, they may look to people like they’re being partisan. Do you think that’s one of the patterns here?
Mann: I think that’s one of the very unfortunate patterns that has emerged in recent years. And I think people who read my [book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines”1 ] will be surprised to learn that one of the greatest heroes in this story was a Republican.
It was the Republican chair of the House Science Committee, Sherwood Boehlert, an old-school pro-science, pro-environment Republican who actually stood up and defended my colleagues and me when we were under attack by his fellow republican, Joe Barton of Texas.
And it wasn’t that many years ago when this really wasn’t a partisan issue, when politicians of conscience on both sides of the aisle recognized that we needed to have a good faith discussion about what to do about the problem.
There is no room anymore to have a good faith discussion about whether the problem is real. But, there is a worthy discussion to be had about what to do about that problem, and wouldn’t it be great if we could get beyond this false debate about whether the problem even exists, and on to the legitimate debate that is to be had about what to do about it?
. . .
It’s about making decisions now, making responsible decisions, so that we preserve the quality of life for our children and grandchildren, and that should not be a partisan issue.2 If you want to know what responsible social-environmental decisions are and how to make them, read: “Decision Making for a Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach.3
In another instance, reported on July 14, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency dropped a proposed rule that would require the large livestock farms to report information about their operations.
Some of the largest concentrated animal feeding operations have tens of thousands of animals and generate more sewage than many cities [part of which is methane—a potent greenhouse gas] but aren’t required to tell the EPA how much [animal] waste they’re generating or how it’s handled.
The EPA agreed to propose the rule as part of a settlement agreement with environmental groups that said the agency doesn’t have enough information to carry out its duties under the Clean Water Act.
Industry groups had threatened to sue if the rule was adopted.4
Well, you might say, they’re just greedy and unconscious, and so condemn them out of hand. Although that may be true, think for a moment what it really means to be greedy. Greedy refers to the acutely felt need of having more of something than is actually required—such as money. However, the key to unlocking the true meaning of the definition is who decides when enough is enough and why it is or is not enough.
Here, it must be remembered that industrialists are simply people like the rest of us, and those who are greedy are just as afraid of not having enough money for their survival as anyone else might be. Clearly, however, this type of fear does not include everyone.
“Greed,” which is the fear of not having enough to survive in the face of potential loss, rules the life of most people because they project the probability of impending disasters into their future, and thus live their imagined disasters over and over in their daily lives. If it is not money they are accumulating to protect themselves against contrived future calamities, they hoard other material objects, just in case they might need them one day. At some point, however, they cannot use or release any of what they have collected—including money—because to do so would leave them feeling impoverished.
To illustrate, as a boy during World War II, I became accustomed to the relative scarcity of certain items—but never to depravation. Shortly after the war, I became aquatinted with an English man from Sheffield who had endured the extremes of uncertainty due to the seemingly endless bombing by the Nazi Germans. I met him when he emigrated to my hometown, where he immediately began to collect string, which in his experience had been all but non-existent during the war years. He would tie the little pieces together and roll the string into a ball. He delighted as his ball of string grew over the weeks, months, and years. At some point, the ball became too big to lift easily, and yet he could not bring himself to use any of it. He eventually moved away and took his string with him.
What if a neighbor desperately needed some string and the man shared it? While a segment of string would be removed from the ball, would that really diminish the string’s possessor? Well, he might have felt that it way considering his experience during the war in which he had lived in constant fear. His neighbor, on the other hand, would likely have been elated with the such generosity in a time of need. Who, you might wonder, was right. They were both right—from their respective points of view, each based on their experiences in life.
Today, I see a spreading analogy to the ball of string—the ever-growing rows of storage units for personal items that people just can’t bring themselves to part with. So, the question becomes: Do the people own the “stuff” or does the “stuff” own the people? With respect to the latter, I find it ironic that the storage facilities are called “self-storage units.”
As the world’s human population grows and the global resources of Nature decline accordingly through abuse and over-exploitation driven by the money chase, an ever-increasing number of people live in fear of lack—of a material insufficiency to survive. Others live beyond their means to get as much as they can while they can—an increasing common failing of American society (witness the credit-card debt). In any case, those who hoard and those who live beyond their means (as well as the antithesis of those who live extravagantly just because they have the wherewithal to do so) are all part of the crisis of global warming because of the self-centered way they use the increasingly limited material resources that allow Nature to service all people with life’s necessities.5 And, make no mistake, fear of loss (personal power in whatever form it is perceived) is the epitome of self-centeredness—witness every dictator, from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Although the difference between industrial greed and that of private individuals is only a matter of degree in that—while everyone is doing the best they know how based on their level of social-environmental consciousness—they are still helping to condemn everyone to greater social-environmental degradation through time. The ultimate outcome will be accumulating degrees of social-environmental poverty through such phenomena as global warming, which is already altering much of the Earth in ways that are proving to be increasingly unsustainable for humanity—to say nothing of other forms of life.
Our adult behavior is a reflection of our thinking, our sense of values. The question is: Would we, as an adults and parents, want to be on the receiving end of our social-environmental decisions if we were one of today’s children and—without a voice in the matter—had to live with the consequences of our decisions? If we would not want to be on the receiving end of the growing social-environmental crises, why are we helping to creating them? The choice is ours—one of cause and effect.
We can either raise our level of social-environmental consciousness, become psychologically mature adults, trustees of the children’s future and the Earth’s biophysical productivity, and thus choose the social-environmental high road or we can continue degrading our home planet for all generations. Those are the options. It is, after all, only a choice—yours and mine as the adult decision makers. So, with the foregoing in mind, how will you choose?
1. Michael E. Mann. 2012. The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.
2. The interview between Bill Blakemore and Micheal Mann is based on: (1) Bill Blakemore. ‘New McCarthyism’ and (2) Bill Blakemore. Climate Denialists. (Note: I have, for the sake of clarity, simplified the discussion in this piece as best I could without changing the meaning of its content.)
3. Chris Maser. 2013. Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 304 pp.
5. Russ Beaton and Chris Maser. 2012. Economics and Ecology: United for a Sustainable World. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 191 pp.
Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.