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Bill Moyers: Battlefield Earth

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    The environment is in trouble and the religious right doesn t care. It s time to act as if the future depends on us – because it does. Bill Moyers:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2005
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      The environment is in trouble and the religious right doesn't care.
      It's time to act as if the future depends on us – because it does.

      Bill Moyers: Battlefield Earth

      Recently the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard
      Medical School presented its fourth annual Global Environment
      Citizen Award to Bill Moyers. In presenting the award, Meryl Streep,
      a member of the Center board, said, "Through resourceful, intrepid
      reportage and perceptive voices from the forward edge of the debate,
      Moyers has examined an environment under siege with the aim of
      engaging citizens." Following is the text of Bill Moyers' response
      to Ms. Streep's presentation of the award.

      12/08/04 " AlterNet" -- I accept this award on behalf of all the
      people behind the camera whom you never see. And for all those
      scientists, advocates, activists, and just plain citizens whose
      stories we have covered in reporting on how environmental change
      affects our daily lives. We journalists are simply beachcombers on
      the shores of other people's knowledge, other people's experience,
      and other people's wisdom. We tell their stories.

      The journalist who truly deserves this award is my friend, Bill
      McKibben. He enjoys the most conspicuous place in my own pantheon of
      journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the
      environment. His best seller "The End of Nature" carried on where
      Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" left off.

      Writing in Mother Jones recently, Bill described how the problems we
      journalists routinely cover – conventional, manageable programs like
      budget shortfalls and pollution – may be about to convert to
      chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations. The most
      unmanageable of all, he writes, could be the accelerating
      deterioration of the environment, creating perils with huge momentum
      like the greenhouse effect that is causing the melting of the Arctic
      to release so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the
      Pentagon is growing alarmed that a weakening gulf stream could yield
      abrupt and overwhelming changes, the kind of changes that could
      radically alter civilizations.

      That's one challenge we journalists face – how to tell such a story
      without coming across as Cassandras, without turning off the people
      we most want to understand what's happening, who must act on what
      they read and hear.

      As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a
      readable narrative for complex issues without depressing our readers
      and viewers, there is an even harder challenge – to pierce the
      ideology that governs official policy today. One of the biggest
      changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no
      longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat
      of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in
      our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in
      Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven
      true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being
      contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology
      and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are
      always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike,
      oblivious to the facts.

      Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first secretary of the
      Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-
      engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S.
      Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light
      of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he
      said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

      Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was
      talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots
      out across the country. They are the people who believe the bible is
      literally true – one-third of the American electorate, if a recent
      Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good
      and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture
      index. That's right – the rapture index. Google it and you will find
      that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of
      the left-behind series written by the Christian fundamentalist and
      religious right warrior, Timothy LaHaye. These true believers
      subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by
      a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the
      Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the
      imagination of millions of Americans.

      Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George
      Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted
      to him for adding to my own understanding): once Israel has occupied
      the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the anti-Christ will
      attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.
      As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the Messiah will
      return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their
      clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right
      hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents
      suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the
      several years of tribulation that follow.

      I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've
      reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the
      West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you
      they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of
      biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with
      Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with
      money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a
      warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where four
      angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be
      released to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the
      Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed – an
      essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I
      Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 – just one point below
      the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of
      god will return, the righteous will enter heaven and sinners will be
      condemned to eternal hellfire.

      So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to
      Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist,
      Glenn Scherer – "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse." Read it and
      you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe
      that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but
      actually welcomed – even hastened – as a sign of the coming

      As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe
      lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the
      U.S. Congress before the recent election – 231 legislators in total –
      more since the election – are backed by the religious right. Forty-
      five senators and 186 members of the 108th congress earned 80 to 100
      percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian
      right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill
      Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair
      Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona,
      House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only
      Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was
      Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the
      biblical book of Amos on the senate floor: "the days will come,
      sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." he
      seemed to be relishing the thought.

      And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 TIME/CNN poll
      found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found
      in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-
      quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the
      country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio
      stations or in the motel turn some of the 250 Christian TV stations
      and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to
      understand why people under the spell of such potent prophecies
      cannot be expected, as Grist puts it, "to worry about the
      environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods,
      famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of
      the apocalypse foretold in the bible? Why care about global climate
      change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why
      care about converting from oil to solar when the same god who
      performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few
      billion barrels of light crude with a word?"

      Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the lord
      will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book,
      America's providential history. You'll find there these words: "the
      secular or socialist has a limited resource mentality and views the
      world as a pie ... that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a
      piece." However, "[t]he Christian knows that the potential in god is
      unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in god's
      earth ... while many secularists view the world as overpopulated,
      Christians know that god has made the earth sufficiently large with
      plenty of resources to accommodate all of the people." No wonder
      Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant
      hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned out millions of the
      foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who have made the apocalypse
      a powerful driving force in modern American politics.

      I can see in the look on your faces just how hard it is for the
      journalist to report a story like this with any credibility. So let
      me put it on a personal level. I myself don't know how to be in this
      world without expecting a confident future and getting up every
      morning to do what I can to bring it about. So I have always been an
      optimist. Now, however, I think of my friend on Wall Street whom I
      once asked: "What do you think of the market?" "I'm optimistic," he
      answered. "Then why do you look so worried?" And he
      answered: "Because I am not sure my optimism is justified."

      I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with Eric Chivian and the
      Center for Health and the Global Environment that people will
      protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to
      their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am
      not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe that – it's just
      that I read the news and connect the dots:

      I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection
      Agency has declared the election a mandate for President Bush on the
      environment. This for an administration that wants to rewrite the
      Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act
      protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, as well
      as the National Environmental Policy Act that requires the
      government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural

      That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle
      tailpipe inspections; and ease pollution standards for cars, sports
      utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.

      That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to
      keep certain information about environmental problems secret from
      the public.

      That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against polluting
      coal-fired power plans and weaken consent decrees reached earlier
      with coal companies.

      That wants to open the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge to drilling
      and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore, the longest
      stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the last
      great coastal wild land in America.

      I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental
      Protection Agency had planned to spend nine million dollars – two
      million of it from the administration's friends at the American
      Chemistry Council – to pay poor families to continue to use
      pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to
      neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to
      their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the
      families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing,
      to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

      I read all this in the news.

      I read the news just last night and learned that the
      administration's friends at the international policy network, which
      is supported by ExxonMobil and others of like mind, have issued a
      new report that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not
      rising," [and] scientists who believe catastrophe is possible
      are "an embarrassment."

      I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent
      appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and
      obscene) riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered
      species protections from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial
      review for a forest in Oregon; a waiver of environmental review for
      grazing permits on public lands; a rider pressed by developers to
      weaken protection for crucial habitats in California.

      I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the
      computer – pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age 12; of Thomas,
      age 10; of Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane, 9 months. I see the
      future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father,
      forgive us, for we know not what we do." And then I am stopped short
      by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We
      are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their

      And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are
      greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability
      to sustain indignation at injustice?

      What has happened to our moral imagination?

      On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And
      Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"

      I see it feelingly.

      The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that as a
      journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news
      can be the truth that sets us free – not only to feel but to fight
      for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to
      despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces
      looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. What we need
      to match the science of human health is what the ancient Israelites
      called "hochma" – the science of the heart ... the capacity to
      see ... to feel ... and then to act ... as if the future depended on

      Believe me, it does.

      Bill Moyers is the host of the weekly public affairs series NOW with
      Bill Moyers, which airs Friday nights on PBS.



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