Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Environment: Corporate America’s Sacrificial Lamb

by S. Paul Forrest

If you missed the show, you can listen to our discussion how the bad habits of a consumption-minded society and the criminal disregard of profit hungry industry are impacting the health of humans, animals and nature are discussed with a hard look at the job versus environment debate. Listen to the show HERE and be sure to tune in weekly to Breaking Taboo, 7:00 PM EST on 

A sacrificial lamb is a metaphorical reference to a person or animal sacrificed (killed or discounted in some way) for the common good. In the human survival sphere of thinking, it is a depletion or negation of an element or organism in the global realm that is considered necessary to support the further existence of the human race. In terms of the environment, it is the purposeful destruction of nature that is deemed necessary for the preservation of the human species through the use and manipulation of its components to ensure survival. The reality is though that this destruction is not necessary for the common good and only serves to further the profit margin of the corporation itself.

The environment is our support system; the provider of our food, our fuel and our very existence. It provides the resources to run our factories, our homes and our businesses. It is the beholder of not only the amenities we need to survive but also the shelter to protect our families. It seems only fitting that some refer to this ecosystem as our Mother Earth. Unfortunately, with the level of destruction incurred by the past and present quest for the resources to support our growing population, we are quickly approaching an environmental tipping point.

The reality of this “necessary” destruction had not been recognized by a large percentage of Americans until British Petroleum drilled a gaping, oil spewing hole in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Before then, it was only those black-listed environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace that spoke openly about the ongoing devastations. These groups were of course, quickly discounted as extremists but now, with the growing numbers of those outside the ranks of environmental protection becoming more aware of the issue, the call for tighter corporate restrictions and energy resource responsibility has begun to escalate.

Many argue this type of damage incurred by resource allocation is necessary to supply our common energy needs and by not taking these risks we are at the mercy of foreign interests’ further controlling our economy and threatening our National Security. The sacrifices we make to our health and that of the environment are the only way to ensure our survival. Although this may be true in some limited respects, the complete release of corporate responsibility will only guarantee the irreparable destruction of our environment.

Trumping the aforementioned oil drilling debacle in the Gulf and many other spills around the Globe, one the greatest threats to our American environment today is mountaintop removal mining for the collection of coal; a resource that provides America with 50% of its electrical needs. This type of mining is one where great stretches of land are clear cut and the tops of mountains are literally blasted off to get to beds of low sulphur coal. The debris, which consists of all the remaining rocks and soil saturated with sulphurous coal dust and iron, is dumped in nearby valleys and streams. Largely based in the central Appalachians of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, this process has polluted numerous water sources and left those people who depend on that source in a situation where their health has become jeopardized.

Clarencetine Mullins, a resident of Pound, Virginia told me the following about the situation in her town which is located near a site utilizing this type of mining:
“When I was young we had reservoirs in different places along the Mountains in the hollows where spring water would collect. Even in the worst drought we had a clean source of water. When the stripping started, it changed the water table and polluted the spring water with a lot of sulfur and iron. If you washed your hair or clothes in it well, let’s just say we all had that magical Boehner glow. Tea was a green color and our sinks and tubs stained with an orange glow. 
No one dares to drink the water in the Mountains anymore for fear of what is in it. Instead, we pay for chlorinated water from the town for drinking. First you have to boil the stuff, let it sit over night, then run it through a filter pitcher before you can have a decent drink of water.”
Likewise, many state and federal lawmakers see natural gas as the answer to our nation's need for new energy sources. Yet extracting gas through a process called hydraulic fracturing — more commonly referred to as "fracking" — poses unacceptable risks to the American public. Fracking requires large quantities of water and a cocktail of toxic chemicals that have been shown to poison water resources in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

To date, at least 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented near drilling sites around the country. In some cases, residents can no longer drink from their taps, and in at least one instance, a home near a fracking site exploded after a gas well leaked methane into its tap water.
 This is the result of supplying America’s fuel needs through continuing corporate irresponsibility at the expense of the people. The real injustice is that it is being allowed by our government; those people we have entrusted with our protection.

In 2007, the Bush administration, as a parting gift to the coal industry, enacted new legislation that broadened the activities of this aggressive mining technique. Nationwide Permit 21 was set in place increasing the ability of mining companies to dump the excess product of this mining technique into Appalachian valleys and streams. It was a convenient loophole meant to loosen the restrictions put in place by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the Clean Water Act and is currently supported by the Army Corps of Engineers.

This is the same administration that instituted deep water oil exploration and drilling in 2003 as recommended by the M.M.S., funded by tax incentives and subsidies. This initiative, NP21 and several other economic initiatives enacted by the Bush Administration put into action the ability of corporations to profit at the expense of the people and meant profit for companies like Halliburton, BP Oil and Massey Energy.

I would like to remain optimistic enough to believe that the Bush administration had every intention to simply allow for America to move toward energy independence with these initiatives. The sad reality though, is the Bush connections to industry and former Vice President Cheney’s vestment in Halliburton stick in my mind like a catchy tune I can’t stop singing. The mentality of this particular Administration seemed to be one of our environment serving as a sacrificial lamb for the benefit of their own interests.

The current administration under President Obama, has tried to amend some of these freedoms of industry employed by Bush but the reality of America’s energy needs has obviously imposed itself on their legislative actions. I am going to give Obama the benefit of the doubt as I have done Bush, and assume that people like myself, who exist outside the harsh realities of Washington, couldn’t possibly understand the task of providing for the people. After all, I find it difficult at times to provide not only monetary support for my own family but moral support and the stress associated with pleasing everyone at the same time. I couldn’t possibly begin to understand the stresses of providing for an entire nation.

With that said, Obama has successfully enacted legislation like the Clean Energy Act, but he has also conceded the enacting of such Bills as S 510, H.R. 875 and Senate Bill 425 that puts the power of choice for the people’s health and food sources directly into the hands of companies like Monsanto. Again, I would like to be optimistic and think they are only trying to ensure proper food handling and packaging to alleviate heath dangers but profit and continuing political contribution seem to be the overriding themes.

The worst part of this whole environmentally destructive situation is the Right’s incessant dismissal of the direct impact of man’s activities upon the ecosystem. Politicians like half-term governor Palin, talk show hosts like Limbaugh and news agencies like FOX have all contributed to the public belief that these damaging practices are necessary for the general good. These people consistently advocate the release of restrictions on corporations to this end. They have told us that it is a necessary step for the energy independence of America for man could never do anything to irreparably damage the environment.

I often wonder how many Politicians and corporate CEOs currently advocating this continued destruction would exploit their own mothers as they do this beautiful world everyday for the security they seek. There is no question that certain steps must be made to provide for an ever increasing population but when the people for whom the resources are meant become the victims of said provisions, the time for serious measures to force corporate responsibility has come.

The simple solution to this dilemma is to create an association of companies responsible for American resource allocation and collection that is not-for-profit. When the profit margin is negated, the desire to cut corners and put the population at risk is largely eliminated. At the least, there will more honesty when problems do arise. BP for example, told U.S. Government investigators that they followed all protocol but later findings revealed several procedures that were foregone and some tests that should have served as signs that something was wrong, ignored. I don’t believe there would have been this level of cover up if Deep Horizon had been a not-for-profit endeavor.

It is not only the environment that is the issue here; it is also the people and wildlife living near these areas of environmental destruction that have become the victims of the America’s addiction to unsustainable energy. As is typical with addiction, a person or in this case, an entity will do anything to satisfy it. They will commit misdeeds against family, friends, and even themselves to satisfy it including lying, stealing and cheating. All one has to do to understand the power of this addiction is look at the actions of corporations in recent years with respect to their profit gathering practices. With respect to this article though, the Environment has become Corporate America’s fix in the sating of our collective addiction and there is great work ahead to get clean.

This issue is not just an America problem. Across the Globe, coal mine accidents, oil spills, nuclear waste disposal, palm oil pollution, factory emissions, red aluminum sludge, slave labor employ for diamonds, gold, etc all have devastated not only the environment but indigenous peoples in the name of profit. Between May 2000 and August 2005, Brazil lost more than 132,000 square kilometers of Rainforest for farmland and lumber to support the population. The number of species lost and indigenous tribes displaced has been astounding.

I am not about to demand that all production cease and we sit in caves like Neanderthal man again as some Environmental Groups advocate but we must take serious steps to curb our consumption and exploitation of the environment to ensure our future. I often think that we have already gone too far and the human population grown too large to do otherwise but necessity is the mother of invention and unless we enact controls over industry world wide, there will be no reason to invent alternative, sustainable approaches to supplant this growing destruction.

The United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) has begun many initiatives to find solutions to these problems. They are working to outline sustainable development initiatives, waste disposal and resource allocation. They have developed the Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and are working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to further the protections of the Global environment. No, these steps are not perfect. Yes, they could be improved but at least there has been recognized the need for change by the global community.

Many groups look at these steps and dismiss them as an effort to create global control or a global economy and some environmental groups have dismissed them because they don’t act to shut down corporations contributing to environmental damage. To these groups I can only say that the damage is widespread and reform a child in measure. There will be mistakes and loopholes for corporations to wiggle through and most certainly some corporations will still act illegally despite the risks of fines and closure. We must support these initiatives though, despite their floundering beginnings, for even the smallest of steps, taken one after the other, become a great stride toward stopping the use of our Environment as a Sacrificial Lamb.

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