Confronted with chemical contamination, deforestation, privatization of water, species extinction, and global warming–what kind of analysis do we need in order to change direction to more sustainable human activity? CounterPunch co-editor and author Jeffrey St. Clair has written an excellent book that provides at least some of the analysis that environmentalists and anyone concerned about the future of the planet would benefit from.
For those familiar with St. Clair’s work, Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth, is a great sequel to his 2003 book Been Brown so Long, It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature. Born Under a Bad Sky is mostly a collection of essays with some journal entries that cover the past twenty years. In these essays, St. Clair takes an investigative journalist’s approach to understanding who is responsible for environmental destruction, what policies support this destruction, and how the mainstream environmental groups have failed miserably to defend the wilderness over the past two decades.
Challenging the Clinton Environmental Legacy
One reason why the analysis provided in Born Under a Bad Sky is so important, is it documents in great detail how much of the environmental policies of the Clinton years paved the way for the Bush II administration. In fact, St. Clair argues that on some environmental issues, the Clinton administration was worse. This is not what the perception is generally within liberal or environmental circles, but St. Clair backs it up with numerous examples from logging policy, to species extinction, to the Clinton administration on global warming.
St. Clair takes on logging & mining companies, the factory farm industry, agribusiness, chemical companies, and big oil in his investigations. However, none of these industries could get away with this environmental destruction without having friends in Washington who either turn a blind eye to the destruction or help push policy that allows the destruction to happen.
An excellent example of government/business collaboration is found in St. Clair’s essay on the livestock industry. In most states in the western United States, the cattle industry is given the rights to let their livestock graze on rough 260 million acres of public land. Since cattle are one of the biggest causes of environmental destruction is western states, the Clinton administration was determined to make some reforms.
Bruce Babbitt was Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton years and he announced in 1993 that reforms would be made to what are called Cattle Grazing Allotments. Upon hearing this news, the cattle industry and western politicians pressured Babbitt to back off from his reform proposals. Babbitt, in conjunction with the cattle industry held “Town Hall” meetings on the topic and produced a document known as “Ranchland 94.” This policy didn’t change much other than call for a modest increase in the grazing fees. In 1993, just before the vote on NAFTA, western politicians who were in the pocket of the cattle industry threatened to vote against NAFTA if Clinton didn’t make further concessions on grazing lands. Clinton conceded and the grazing policy was so beneficial to the cattle industry that when Bush took office in 2001, “they barely had to adjust a single component of the Babbitt plan to fashion it to their liking.”
Keen Observations on the Nature and the Environment
The last section of the book includes journal entries from St. Clair while hiking, camping and white water rafting in the west and southwestern United States in 2006-2007. His keen observations about nature are matched by his ability to weave in the political realties of why those parts of the country are under attack from corporate profiteering and political pandering.
This is an excellent book that can provide an important framework for fighting the powers that seek to profit from the destruction of the planet.
Jeffery St. Clair, Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth, (CounterPunch, 2008).