Ecology Is A Dodge
Tightly clutching his mint julep in his left hand the middle-aged businessman quietly slid his right arm around the young graduate's back.
"Benjamin." he beckoned, motioning the youth aside. "Benjamin, I got one word of advice for you."
"Yessir?" said the young man, who was already beginning to resent the stench of alcohol on the older man's breath. He looked quietly at the other's bulging stomach. His coach had warned him about liquor.
"Are you listening. Benjamin?" the man asked. "I've got only one word of advice for you." The youth nodded expectantly.
"Ecology," declared the businessman. "It's the up-and-coming field. Every firm's gonna want an ecologist soon. There's money in those hills and rivers."
ECOLOGY, according to every magazine or newspaper that you read, is the newest concern among student activists. The War is out, they tell you, and the environment is in.
Shortly after the tense November Mobilization, in which 500,000 persons gathered to demonstrate to a fleet of D.C. Transit buses surrounding the While House their opposition to the Vietnam War, newspapers and newsmagazines began to tell students that the newest issue to occupy their attention was ecology.
Ecology, declared the New York Times, "will replace Vietnam as the major issue with students." Through out the Establishment media, articles emphasized the waning interest in Vietnam and the increase in activist concern for the deteriorating environment. Stories on the campus potential of the ecology issue appeared everywhere.
This awakened media interest in the anti-pollution campaign was quickly followed by the grandiloquence of Richard Nixon, who made the "quality of life" the major highlight of his January State of the Union Message.
Nixon, ever mindful of the co-optive potential of ecology, sought not only to bring activists back into the normal political system but also to defuse the issue's power as an election issue for the Democrats, offered a glittering package of concern to the nation.
"A major goal for the next ten years for this country must be to restore the cleanliness of the air, the water and that, of course, means moving also on the broader problems of population congestion, transport and the like," the President declared.
"Unless we move on it now, believe me, we will not have an opportunity to do it later, because then the people have millions more automobiles and, of course, the waters and so forth developing the way they do without plants for purification, once the damage is done, it is much harder to turn it around. It is going to be hard as it is," he added logically.
Implied in the Nixon Administration's desperate attempts to grab the spotlight of environmental concern is a driving hope that America's young sheep, led astray by evil anti-war radicals and black militants, might return to the fold of constructive Mickey Mouse politics.
Channeling the Issue
Politicians realize that the ecology issue holds the possibility of real radicalizing potential. So they seek to channel it to their own gain.
Carl Klein, the assistant secretary of the Interior in charge of water-pollution programs, has been racing around the country staging flashy Administration-sponsored teach-ins on ecology, hoping thereby to defuse the radical (and Democratic) potential in America's decaying environment. He has created student groups like SCOPE (Student Council On Pollution and Environment) to co-opt young people into Administration programs.
In his State of the Union Message. President Nixon boasted of a $10 billion program to halt deterioration of the environment of the United States. The $10 billion, he proclaimed, would provide for municipal sewage plant construction over the next five years. Only $4 billion of this, however, would be provided by the Federal government. State and local governments would finance their $6 billion share of the deal through tax-exempt bonds.
A Glittering Sham
Congress had already passed a bill allocating $800 million for sewage control plants. The President, though opposed to the measure, signed the bill while indicating that he would not spend the money. Even in financial terms. Nixon's glittering scheme to fight pollution is nothing but a sham.
In order to understand the extent of the Administration's claborate joke, one has simply to realize that the projected costs for pollution abatement in New York state alone are $1 billion. Even "Laugh-In" can sense the claborate ruse: " If Nixon's War on Pollution is as successful as Johnson's War on Poverty, we're going to have an awful lot of dirty poor people around. "
MOREOVER, the type of sewage plants that the Administration plans to construct is the type that fouls up the water with phosphates and nitrates. Meanwhile, the Administration, instead of fighting industrial polluters, gives them six months to prepare "plans" to lower pollution flow, even when one of the polluters, Jones and Laughlin Steel in Cleveland, continues to discharge cyanide, of all things, into the Cuyahoga River (which caught fire last spring). Yet the government refuses to raise the cost of polluting our rivers and streams.
When Senator Muskie presented a moderate bill calling for a pilot program to test means of recovering and recycling solid wastes such as beer cans, plastic, paper, and "no-return" bottles. HEW Secretary Finch testified against it. Such a program is too expensive, Finch said.
Meanwhile, preparations continue for the national Environmental Teach-In. Conceived in the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson, blessed by HEW, the foundations, and the Urban Coalition, and augmented by liberals who had been frightened away from the angry rhetoric of the Panthers and the antiwar movement, the Environmental Teach-In presents a flashy, pre-pack-aged campaign which tells us that it is, of course in the interests of everyone (including the polluters) to clean up our smelly environment.
At Boston University, the John Birch Society is helping to organize the B. U. teach-in. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is assisting the teach-in there. And the oil industry was so pleased with the idea that it offered the national teach-in office financial support for the teach-ins.
"The April 22 teach-in is a vital first step," declared Sen. Nelson. "But after that day, we will also need well-organized, non-partisan, sustained political action nationwide to restore the quality of our environment. Americans must start now to take stands, aid candidates for office who support environmental programs, use every device within the political process to get action."
The Environmental Teach-In, to be sure, is a commendable idea of which any liberal politician can be justly proud. The deterioration of the natural environment of America has reached a critical point. In a nation which reckons its yearly success on the continued bloating of the very Gross National Product, environmental concern is long overdue.
Vietnam vs. Anti-Pollution
Billions of dollars are urgently needed to halt the destruction of our air, land, and water. Yet billions of dollars are not forthcoming. The Administration has no intention of forcing business and industry to finance anti-pollution schemes. And the government itself, quietly pursuing its military misadventures in Southeast Asia, cannot afford more than a few gimmicky schemes designed to appease the rising ride of criticism among angry youth.
Yet even though Administration officials seek to divert attention from its $25 billion annual program to kill Vietnamese peasants by encouraging concern for the deteriorating environment among possible activists, the issue will inevitably return to our war policies.
First of all, until the war in Vietnam is ended, no money will be available to fight the war against pollution. As long as war, feeding a huge corporate military-industrial complex, continues to dominate our budget allocations, only a few showy schemes, financed with paltry sums, motivated by public opinion polls, will be initiated by the politicians in Washington.
Ultimately, ecologists, tired of talk, committees, commissions, and feasibility studies, will realize that as long as the American government runs on a militarized national budget, they can expect little in the way of useful aid from the Nixon Administration. They will gradually sense that no strong anti-pollution war can be funded with the scraps remaining after the Defense Department grabs its share of the budger.
A strong anti-pollution campaign would, in fact, probably remove funds from such programs as the anti-poverty campaigns instead of the Vietnam war.
Ecology, as it is presently conceived by most persons, is an ideal design for the co-optation of young people into ineffectual campaigns waged at the expense of suppressed peoples overseas and suppressed minorities at home.
For ecology is currently conceived in a narrow sense. To most anti-pollution campaigners, ecology means pretty lakes, green grass, blooming trees, and ugly factories whose smoke does not pollute the air. Even more people, these reformers thinks, will want to buy a GM car every two years if the folks at General Motors install an anti-pollution device on their products.
MAY BE, however, the killing of Vietnamese peasants will someday appear unecological. So will the starvation of most of the world's population, condemned to hunger as their nations' resources are fed to a burgeoning American economy. Americans combrising only six per cent of the world's population, gobble up thirty per cent of the world's available resources every year. More important than improving our ways of gobbling these resources up is to allow other peoples to share in their use.
Fur Coats and Oilmen
Concern for the sea otter and the bald cagle is not misplaced. Traditional conversationists, deeply protective of a vanishing magnificent natural environment, serve a valuable purpose in the struggle to improve the quality of life. Concern for the air, the water, the land-the preservation and protection of beautiful scenery-adds valuable opposition to the campaigns of business to carve up the American wilderness into profitable industrial squalor.
The oil industry, for example, is attempting to take over Alaska. Conservation groups, fighting the wishes of Interior Secretary Hickel, have obtained an injunction preventing construction of an 800-mile. $1 billion pipeline stretching from Valdez in southern Alaska to oil-rich Prudhoe Bay on the northern coast.
In a joint suit, the Wilderness Society. Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Defese Fund have managed to delay the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a key ingredient in the efforts of oilmen to claim the profitable resources of Alaska.
Ecologists are waging valuable campaigns across the nation against the fur coats popular so long as an expensive status symbol, especially those of the young sea otter, who is clubbed to death by entrepreneurs seeking to obtain their valuable white furs. Despite a public outery which forced Canada's Parliament to pass weak legislation which managed to regulate the murders last year, the pressure on reluctant Prime Minister Trudeau to outlaw the profitable thoug grisly business continues to build.
Fights against polluters of the atmosphere, such as New England's famous Boston Edison, are continuing and ecology reformers hope to score a number of successes. Yet, the danger is that many of these activists will be easily co-opted by the small deeds and windy rhetoric of the powerful corporations.
In fighting for anti-pollution devices on automobiles, the goal is so limited that success can easily co-opt the reformer. Improve the automobiles so that more roads will be built, more iron can be mined, and more oil can be pumped. All of these efforts while the government mouths its concern for pollution.
Ecology, as it develops into a portion of the Movement, threatens to become the Movement's weak flank, where the danger of co-optation from inadequately-funded governmental gimmicks is the greatest.
This is in fact what most Establishment politicians and media seck from the ecology issue. Worried by the dangers of the heated anti-war fervor among many students, bothered by the growth of an anti-Establishment consciousness, fearful of the potentialforce of a growing opposition to racism, these men in power are seeking to use the ecology issue to bring radicals under their leadership once more.
Motherhood and Co-Optation
The issue of ecology-a perfect motherhood issue-affects everyone so that logically one can argue that there is no oppressing class. The ecology issue, unlike civil rights and Vietnam, was not a grass-roots movement among students. Nixon, for example, by turning attention away from the divisive issues of the war and white racism-where certain classes feel themselves grievously exploited, namely, young people and blacks respectively-can unite the nation behind the consensus of ineffectuality that he seeks. Workers and bosses are both affected by pollution, of course, so that traditional leadership can assert itself to restore our endangered environment.
Pollution is a profitable business. The ecology movement must be cooped to insure that a profitable level of pollution is maintained. " Let's face it-waste products are a fact of life we have to recognize. " says Dr. Lee A. DuBridge, Nixon's science advisor. " Clearly, the U. S. will be producing more waste in the future-not less. " DuBridge, like many others within the Nixon Administration, is assuming a growth economy, where progress is determined by the amount of garbage produced by a society.
What DuBridge seeks from ecology is simply to " determine reasonable levels of pollution consistent with good health. "
On Wall Street, pollution industries have emerged as one of the hottest growth issues for the coming decade. Research-Cottrell, Inc., the largest corporation devoted entirely to environmental systems, has quadrupled its sales within the past five years. Many of the pollution control industries are subsidiaries or divisions of the largest corporate polluters in the nation. Forbes Magazine notes that there is "cash in all that trash."
In its May 1970 issue, Ramparts details the growth of the "Pollution-Industrial Complex." Just as Chrysler profits from all of its parts that quickly break, both in replacement items and new purchases, many industries are seeking to profit from the spiraling growth of pollution-instead of paying the social costs of a ravaged environment.
Thus, writes Martin Gellen in Ramparts, "pollution control, developed as a complementary industry, is a way to insure that the favorable balace between costs, sales, and profits can be maintained and business can continue as usual-indeed, better than usual, for pollution control means new investment outlets, new income and new profits; the more waste the better.
"Polution control as conceived by the pollution control industry is merely an extension of the same pattern of self-seeking exploitation and market economics which is at the root of the environmental crisis itself."
It would be fine if American capitalism, raising the proud banner of the profit motive, can rise to the challenge of growing pollution. Fine, yet none of the problems from which this growing ecological concern has diverted us would have been solved. By protesting pollution, we simply would have provided another market for American industry.
" Ultimately, " declares the Wall Street Journal, " preservation of the environment may have to take absolute priority over social stability and welfare. "
IN MANY ways ecology is too narrowly defined. It has the potential to become not a ruse to re-invigorate a sluggish economy and divert radical criticism from issues of oppression, but the means to the realization that the greatest polluter of the earth is American corporate capitalism, whose continued health is based on continued expansion-expansion of the economy, of markets, and, crucially, of the population.
This is not to say that Soviet industrialization, for example would not pollute most of the earth given a change. American corporations, notably the powerful automobile and oil lobbies, have expanded throughout the world and have crucial influence on government policies. This influence is especially visible in domestic policy.
In this decade Los Angeles-one-third of which (two-thirds in the downtown area) is covered by cars, trucks, and the facilities to service them-plans to spend during the next decade $10,000 per family on new highway construction. During the same period, only $3090 per family will be spent in L. A. on schools, hospitals, parks, recreation, water supply, etc.
Mass transit, electric cars, and other improvements in pollution-free transportation have been kept in a state of continual infancy because of the powerful influence of the greedy and privileged petroleum industry in all levels of government.
Ecology, conceived as an anti-pollution reform campaign, will be absorbed and deactivated by expansive American industry. The war, poverty, racism, where the contrast between who profits and who loses, brought out after years of organizing, education, discussion, and radicalization, are the important issues remaining before us.
Dr. Paul H. Ehrlich, of Stanford University, warns political activists not to stray from the "real" issues of Vietnam, poverty, and racism with a pious concern for the environment.
"Your cause is a lost cause without population control, and race, war, poverty, and environment are really part and parcel of the same big mess. The wars we're fighting in Vietnam and Laos, for example, are immensely destructive to the environment. We've defoliated an estimated 20 per cent and much of the ecological destruction there is going to be permanent," says Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb.
The government which is advocating pollution reform, Ehrlich notes, is closely tied to the same groups which are the heaviest polluters.
The Interior Department, for example, thought it was established ostensibly to further conservation, is more generally found in the service of industry.
Its laws, regulating strip mining, for example, flagrantly favor the desecration of the land for, as Secretary Hickel declared. "the stimulation of individual incentive to seek out and develop valuable minerals which are essential to the continued growth and prosperity of this nation."
Recently, at Interior, John F. OLeary, head of the Bureau of Mines, was replaced because of pressure from the mining industry. O'Leary, the industry thought, was too strongly enforcing mine safety regulations recently passed by Congress to protect miners.
Other government agencies (need anyone mention the Pentagon?) are similarly tied to the industries that they are supposed to regulate. The Labor Department dismissed Jock Yablonski's allegations of gangland corruption on the United Mine Workers until Yablonski and his family were found murdered.
The Department of Agriculture, says Ehrlich, is "a subsidiary of the petrochemical industry that produces DDT and other insecticides."
On the Environmental Teach-In, Ehrlich offers advice. "I hope that the participants will zero in on the politicians, make it clear we aren't going to settle for their lies and do-nothing attitudes," he says.
And We All Knows Who Pays
Ecology, however, is attracting into its ranks all the liberals who used to spend their wasted time agreeing with goals while opposing tactics. If Boston Edison pollutes the atmosphere, well then, picket Boston Edison and make them fess up. The problem remains, when Boston Edison reforms its smoke, who pays?
The consumer pays, of course. Because of anti-pollution campaigns, the working man finds that automobiles cost more, electricity costs more, and his taxes are higher. His money is also probably providing employment for thousands of trained ecologists. The profit-makers will not pay.
Most of the focus of the ecology campaign is elitist. With only a very limited amount of governmental money available, reformers stridently demand that several rivers be cleaned up. Anti-pollution campaigns are a luxury of an affluent society. So the money, instead of going directly into the hands of the poor and the minorities, hires anti-pollution industries, off spins of the polluters, to construct elaborate drainage and filtering systems. Naturally, everything is financed at taxpayers' expense.
Clean rivers, like their pollution, are a bourgeois preoccupation. As though atoning for the poor job their class had done in running the nation, these young middle-class whites demand that the government clean up the Charles River. The government obliges, at heavy expense, and the Charles is cleaner. Because of this, every Sunday afternoon Harvard students may frolic along its grassy banks without fear of death, enjoying the view and throwing Frisbees.
The starving Third World nations cannot afford the luxury of being concerned with their polluted rivers. The blacks in Roxbury could care less about the pleasures of lounging along the banks of the Charles.
SO, WHILE American population grows, the nation's economy pushes its way over other peoples so that its inhabitants can enjoy a higher and higher standard of living. Per capita consumption of commodities and services in the U. S. continues to rise. Billions of dollars are required to halt the continuing decay of a nation where a gutting progress is its most important product. The billions of dollars of anti-pollution funds would be reinvested to re-invigorate the American economy, making its oppressions all the more efficient.
American economic growth-the population growth which underlies much of it, the search for more markets which underlies the rest-must be halted if we are ever to live in a clean world.
Ours is a society which encourages everyone to buy an automobile of his own-the bourgeois dream, any young hitchhiker has seen the drivers, roundly nestled in their own little piece of machine that belongs to no one else-so that the automobile will provide more industrial and capital growth by quickly breaking down. Ultimately the old parts are discarded and a new, sexy automobile is sold to the motorist, who proudly blasts his horn at any who dare cross his path.
Other machines-radios, toasters, washing machines-quickly fall apart as well. Yet every American family must have one, the newest model, for gimmicky advances are always putting the older models out of date. And industry continues to prosper.
If enzyme-active Axion is polluting the lakes and rivers of the United States, it proves to the makers that people are using their product. So they quickly affirm their concern for the environment in costly advertisements and then come out with a "new, improved" product.
In our merchandising society, where a woman's cleavage and a sexy scene can convince people to smoke themselves into a cancerous death, the deepest, most radical meanings of the ecology campaign are rapidly being deactivated.
Ecology Action and People
Ecology Action, at 925 Mass Ave., was formed in October so that people could get together as people, for ecology to them meant a strengthening and improvement of human relationships. Soon, however, reporters and newsmen were calling them up asking for the facts on pollution. Soon they were getting calls demanding information on the calm eruptions in Newport and the butterfly invasion of Trinidad.
"People assumed we were playing the role of a junior, weird Audobon Society," said an Ecology Action organizer, "almost as though they felt safest with us in that role."
The people at Ecology Action, though they believed conservation and anti-pollution campaigns were important, sought a more radical, personal approach. To them, ecology especially implied human relationships, in which man can live together harmoniously with his species. They changed the focus of the organization, leaving it less structured and planned, providing for the greatest amount of human interaction.
In cities today, they realized, men no longer act with even the slightest civility to one another. As men continue to despoil the natural environment, they replace it with a completely despoiled, brusque, quasi-human environment. This is the most criminal aspect of the destruction of the ecology of the planet.
And with more people, more brusqueness. Everyone spends as much money as possible accumulating the waste, amassing symbols of status and trading them in order to keep their magic potent. Civilized society is judged by its material products, yet civilized society is rapidly approaching a state where its members will envy the serenity of the Hobbesian state of nature.
As long as land is judged by the profit it can provide a developer, ugly high-rises will continue to puncture the horizon, woods will be considered valuable logging areas, the hillsides will turn into strip mines. Yet the economic fabric in America is constructed so as to encourage shoddy ravaging of the human and natural resources for the profit which they might yield. Man and nature both have a higher potential than to be oppressed for quick dollars. The ecology campaign must strike right at the heart of the industrialized insensitive society, where it destroys natural beauty for a capitalist or a socialist fatherland.
Yet, thus far the ecology campaign has missed many of these needs. Though committed to deeply basic human values, these white middle-class reformers often manifest a profound insensitivity to the more pressing problems of continued human degradation in ghettos, defoliated forests, massacred villages, and impoverished mountain communities. Often, they simply fall into the snares of the technocratic society itself, attempting technological solutions of an over-technologized problem.
Burning Bikes and Banks
In San Jose, California, recently, ecology activists purchased a new automobile and immediately buried it to protest against automobile pollution.
Local blacks loudly protested, demanding that the students auction the car to reimburse the black community with the money they had wasted on the car. The students finally raised the money to pay the blacks.
Yet after the San Jose ecology protest, all that the well-intentioned but misguided reformers could claim was that they had protested automobiles by providing one more sale to the Detroit carmakers.
"The students who burned the Bank of America in Santa Barbara," remarks a Ramparts editorialist, "mayhave done more towards saving the environment than all the Teach-ins put together." The Bank of America had opposed the Delano grape strikers. Its branches in Saigon and Bangkok had aided the American military occupation of Southeast Asia. Two of its directors sit on the board of Union Oil, which had killed much of the wildlife and destroyed the once-beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara with its oil spills. Students in Santa Barbara were angry as its bosses mouthed corporate concern for the beaches and the oil companies returned to their drilling.
CORPORATE greed has almost completely destroyed our environment. Men in power aim for continued growth, ripping away at nature's vital parts to obtain the greates possible profit in the shortest possible time. Government agencies are equally reluctant to enforce environmental protection policies.
Public outcry may move the politicians somewhat, especially if they see in ecology a possible way to shove Vietnam, poverty, and racism conveniently into the background. To the Nixon Administration, however, the business of America remains basically business, as American corporations piously multiply and subdue the earth.
All of these issues are part of the same battle. The government must not be allowed to continue its war in Vietnam and in the ghettos while activists marvel at the bravery of minks and muskrats.
Our ravaged society will be saved only by concerted radical action directed at all portions of our exploited environment-the cities, the poverty, the wars, the hatred-that condemns us to lives of desperation. If the ecology movement can survive the strong pressures to emasculate its thrust, it can strike at the fragile materialist cooptation underpinning our wasteful industrial society. Otherwise, ecology as an issue will become a tool of the enemy.