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Wednesday, January 19, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

Apocalypse Soon: Has Environmental Abuse Finally Gone too Far?

by Brandi Neal
http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0119-32.htm

In light of recent environmental disasters, it's time to pose a 
question. How many of these recent events are attributed to human 
involvement and how many can be written off as the earth's fury that we 
couldn't possibly have had any control over? After the death of 
environmentalist David Brower in 2000, former Congressman and Executive 
Director of Voice of the Environment <http://www.voteaction.org/>, Dan 
Hamburg wrote <http://www.commondreams.org/views/111300-104.htm>, "David 
Brower challenged us to comprehend both the awesome beauty of creation 
and the awesome responsibility we have to preserve it. Whether we meet 
that challenge will determine nothing less than our survival." In the 
wake of recent events, these words couldn't be more important.

It's true that hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados are a fact of life, 
and aside from having a slight advance warning to take cover, there is 
little we can do to prevent them. But what about other global 
phenomena's such as the recent tsunami, mudslides and the rapidly 
depleting ozone layer. Sadly humans have lent a hand in these tragedies. 
Deforestation of old growth forests has contributed to mudslides, making 
the soil unstable by taking away the anchors that naturally hold it in 
place. The Wilderness Society <http://www.wilderness.org/> President 
William H. Meadows, said as early as 1999, "The logging and roadbuilding 
are doing enormous damage to some of the best lands in America. They 
pollute our streams, damage wildlife habitat, tarnish the scenery, and 
promote mudslides."

According to the Earth Island Institute 
<http://www.earthisland.org/map/>, the formerly exotic vacation paradise 
of Phuket, Thailand was once populated with a healthy protective layer 
of coral, sea grass and mangrove forests, underwater barriers all 
designed by nature to slow the surge of incoming waters. This was all 
cleared to make way for resorts to lure western tourists and industrial 
shrimp aquaculture, placing unassuming beach combers in imminent danger. 
Earth Island Institute reports that, on Simeuleu, a small island near 
the earthquakes epicenter, the damage was minimal and only four people 
were killed. Island residents attributed this to the still intact 
mangrove forests that line the coast and slowed the massive waves that 
were responsible for so much death and destruction on December 26, 2004. 
Today, less than half of the world's mangrove forests remain, leaving 
the door open for similar tragedies to occur in the future.

Elsewhere, Inuit hunters are bringing a lawsuit against the United 
States claiming human rights violations. Inuits claim that America's 
selfish, extravagant lifestyle is destroying their environment and 
threatening to snuff them out. The United States consumes 1/3 of the 
world's resources and is responsible for 23 percent of the world's 
carbon dioxide emissions, a key component in global warming. According 
to an article posted on Planet Ark 
<http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/23101/story.htm>, 
Inuit Indians in Alaska, Greenland, Russia and Canada are suing because 
the increasingly warm temperatures are undermining their way of life, 
which is based around hunting arctic animals that are in danger of 
becoming extinct. In recent years hunters have fallen through thin ice, 
the warmer temperatures have destabilized buildings and contributed to 
mudslides. According to United Nations studies, the Arctic Ocean may be 
largely ice free in the summers by 2100, effectively destroying the 
Inuit's way of life and wiping out their culture, an indirect genocide.

Polar Bears, another mammal dependent on the arctic for survival, are in 
danger of becoming dinosaurs as well. According to an article published 
in the Independent 
<http://news.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=581579&host=3&dir=507> 
on November 11, 2004 the rising arctic temperatures, chemical pollution 
and dwindling feeding territories are contributing to the animal's 
demise. Typically the bears hunt on pieces of drifting ice, but with 
icebergs shrinking and growing further apart, the bears must work twice 
as hard and swim twice as far to obtain food. As a result, females are 
becoming at risk of becoming infertile from loss of body fat and 
chemical pollution. No reproduction means no more bears.

On the home front, in a recently passed bill that benefits big business 
with little regard to the destruction done to the environment, President 
Bush single handily undid 30 years of environmental law. The Natural 
Resources Defense Council 
<http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp> said on 
December 22, 2004 "In a move that will facilitate more logging and 
grazing at the expense of old-growth habitat and wildlife safeguards, 
the U.S. Forest Service has rewritten the National Forest Management 
Act, which 30 years ago set standards for managing the nation's 190 
million-plus acres of forest. Critics warn that the revised rules will 
open up these lands -- including old growth forests, roadless areas and 
sensitive wildlife habitats -- to industry to log, drill and build 
roads. The changed rules eliminate the environmental review process for 
forest management plans -- a process that provides the public with 
information about forest planning and a chance to participate in 
management decisions about public lands."

Furthermore, The International Fund for Animal Welfare 
<http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw/general/default.aspx> said in a recent news 
release <http://www.commondreams.org/news2005/0117-04.htm> that the 
North Atlantic Right Whale, population only 350 worldwide, is in danger 
from extinction because they are constantly hit by naval and passenger 
ships in the ocean and left for dead, their battered bodies washing up 
on beaches days later. Under the Endangered Species Act and Marine 
Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is 
obligated to protect the species from harmful human activities, but the 
accidents often go unreported. This is yet another chip in a string of 
crippling blows to Mother Earth. Bush's White House acts on instant 
gratification urges, making decisions that will benefit their own short 
sighted interests.

On the eve of the Bush inauguration, the NRDC has released it's fourth 
official report regarding Bush's environmental policies. Rewriting the 
Rules (2005 Special Edition) The Bush Administration's First Term 
Environmental Record. The NRDC says, "The Bush administration took 
nearly 150 actions to undermine environmental protections over the past 
year, consistent with its historic assault on the nation's environmental 
safeguards. This January 2005 NRDC report assesses the Bush presidency's 
first-term environmental policies, and previews battles expected during 
the administration's second term." The report can be read here 
<http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rr2005.pdf>.

How much more pollution and abuse can the earth handle? Deforestation, 
arctic drilling, oil spills, destruction of precious coastlines. Here in 
Maine our environmental laws are strict, but pristine areas such as 
Acadia National Park have some of the worst air quality in the country, 
thanks to air pollution from the entire eastern seaboard blowing in. I 
don't want my children to ask me one day, 'Mommy, what were the forests 
like?'. It's a shame that corporations try to convince us that a healthy 
economy has to come at the expense of the earth that nourishes us and 
every so often has to remind us to take it easy on her by unleashing her 
fury. At this rate, the frequency of disasters will increase until we 
ultimately cause our own demise.

It would be a damn shame to have to adjust to lakes of fire (Lake Erie), 
not be able to swim in the ocean for fear of growing a second head, be 
harmed by breathing the air outside and to wilt under the film of 
greenhouse gasses. Though the future may seem grim, we are entering a 
historical period in regard to environmental policy. Speaking out, 
banding together and putting a stay of execution on environmental 
deterioration is more important now than ever before. We can't waver 
now, Brower never gave up, he fought in the face of adversity. 
Remembering his vision, encompassing the connection between all living 
things, is the just the breath of fresh air we need.

Brandi Neal is an assistant editor at Common Dreams. She can be reached 
at brandilneal@commondreams.org 

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