Tuesday, February 15, 2005


My ancestors waded ashore in the very early days and were part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Most definitely they considered themselves the "first" Americans. Half-naked red savages did not count. For heavens sake, they weren't Christians--not even despised Papists.

They arrived in North America with an unbending, intolerant fundamentalist ideology, one that would not tolerate questioning or disobedience in any form. Their ultimate constitution--interpreted of course by the leader of the tribe--was the Bible they clutched to their breasts.

My ancestors confronted a "Nature" unlike anything they had seen before. It was dark, foreboding, and unforgiving. And it seemed unending. They knew their God had given it to them to do with as they saw fit. It was obvious; it was completely undeveloped. The Indians certainly didn't deserve it, because they hadn't "improved" it in any meaningful way.

Improvement, of course, meant private property. Improvement meant putting up fences and farming the land. Improvement meant establishing property rights. Improvement meant the buying and selling of land for profit. And thus it began.

By 1900 the United States had turned nature into a commodity. It had clearly become the driving, sustaining ideology of the country. If you can turn everything, such as animals, oranges, timber into commodities you can reduce it to one single factor--price. Nature was no longer seen as separate, unique parts of something bigger, part of something else. America had become the supreme magician: It made nature vanish, in that the natural capital like water, plants, and trees--which made all these commodities possible--simply disappeared. Out of sight and out of mind.

Now we arrive at Mr. Bush and his assorted collection of friends inside and outside of government. Environmental stewardship does not seem to be part of their vocabulary. In general, the key positions that are responsible for environmental affairs in the Bush administration are held by people whose background is in the oil, gas, and mining industry. I don't believe they merely want to modify or fine-tune environmental accomplishments over the past thirty years. They want to gut environmental oversight period, and forever.

If I were to speculate, Bush and company in their own ideal world would like to return to around 1900, a time when Mr. McKinley was president, a time when we were helping our "little brown brothers" in Cuba and the Philippines, among other places. It was a time when rapacious capitalism was at its peak. It took a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, to put an end to some of the worst abuses of these robber barons and their bought and paid for politicians.

As well, if you happen to believe in some crude Christian fundamentalism, where the "apocalypse" is nearly upon us, it doesn't much matter what happens to the planet and the numerous species that reside on it. Everyone is clear on where the chosen will be going in this gloomy, Manichean universe. It's all just magic.

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