candid thoughts on the issues of the day.
Mother Earth's Voice on November 2
Published on November 1, 2004 By Robert Guinness In Politics

Introduction

As one priest put it, “The environment is the mother of all pro-life issues.” Despite the widespread evil of abortion, war, and violence, there is no other issue that more drastically impacts life than the environment. Even President Richard Nixon, in his 1970 State of the Union Address, demonstrated that the environmental cause is “as fundamental as life itself," according to Nixon's EPA Aministrator (Train and Russman, 2004) There is also no other conflict that incites violence than the struggle for limited, depleting resources. This is exactly what we are dealing with, on global proportions, at the start of the third millennium.

As Catholics, we should look to the guidance of Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who says, “How can we deny that today humanity is experiencing an ecological emergency?” (Pope John Paul II, 2002) Speaking of our decisions that impact the environment, he points out that:

"Indeed, the destruction of the environment highlights the consequences of decisions made by private interests that do not weigh the real conditions of human dignity. One finds prevalent an unbridled desire to accumulate personal wealth that prevents people from hearing the alarming cry of poverty of entire peoples." (Ibid.)

As far back of 1990, in his message celebrating the WORLD DAY OF PEACE, Pope John Paul II said, “The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of RESPECT FOR LIFE evident in many patterns of environmental pollution.” (Pope John Paul II, 1990) Catholics cannot ignore that the environment is an important pro-life issue, and in accessing whether a candidate is pro-life, we cannot disregard his or her treatment of Mother Earth.

The Innocent Are Being Killed

Many people in the U.S. don’t realize that people are already dying because of the global changes that we are inducing in our environment. During a recent visit to Canada, I heard a leader of the Inuit people of the Artic circle, where the effects of global warming are magnified, tell stories about how her people, hardly guilty of environmental damage, are literally dying as ice shelves melt and weaken. Experienced artic hunters, whose livelihood depends on hunting in the artic, now refuse to hunt on these dangerous ice fields. The survival of an entire ethnicity of people is being threatened by the changes the first-world has made in the environment. (Watt-Cloutier, 2004).

When I recently met Fr. Bill Christensen, who has served the poor in Asia for over 20 years and has been in Bangladesh since 1987, he told me about how this summer over half of Bangladesh was underwater due to flooding. I asked him if people there generally believed the flooding was a result of global warming, and he answered in the strong affirmative. I commented about how all over the world, the environment was telling us something with its floods, wildfires, and hurricanes. He replied, “It’s not telling us, it’s screaming at us!” When I told him that I was working to get other Catholics to see that John Kerry was a better choice for our world, he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Congratulations!”

Shooting the Sheriff

Bush’s record on the environment will go down in history as the worst administration in the history of the United States, at a time that perhaps we most needed a strong advocate for the environment. During four years of assaults, the Bush Administration has dismantled thirty years of pro-environment bipartisan legislation that was written in response to the dark ages of the 1970s, when rivers were catching on fire and, in many cities, children couldn’t play outdoors. The environmental advocacy group, Environment 2004, identified over 350 actions by the Bush Administration to weaken environmental protection (Environmental News Service, 2004).

In protest to these assaults, many members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resigned in protest. Even the Administrator, a Republican Governor, and the Deputy Administrator, a Monsanto executive, have resigned their posts. Eric Schaeffer, the head of the enforcement wing of the EPA and a public servant in the EPA for over 12 years, said in his resignation letter:

“…I cannot leave without sharing my frustration about the fate of our enforcement actions against power companies that have violated the Clean Air Act. Between November of 1999 and December of 2000, EPA filed lawsuits against nine power companies for expanding their plants without obtaining New Source Review permits and the up-to-date pollution controls required by law. The companies named in our lawsuits emit an incredible 5 million tons of sulfur dioxide every year (a quarter of the emissions in the entire country) as well as 2 million tons of nitrogen oxide.

“As the scale of pollution from these coal-fired smokestacks is immense, so is the damage to public health. Data supplied to the Senate Environment Committee by EPA last year estimate the annual health bill from 7 million tons of SO2 and NO2: more than 10,800 premature deaths; at least 5,400 incidents of chronic bronchitis; more than 5,100 hospital emergency visits; and over 1.5 million lost work days. Add to that severe damage to our natural resources, as acid rain attacks soils and plants and deposits nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay and other critical bodies of water.”
(Schaeffer, 2002)

These resignations are just a small fraction of the alarming number of long-time public servants who have resigned in protest to the Bush Administration’s extremist policies. For a complete list, see for example, THE BODY COUNT: Bush Administration Fall-Out . This is one of the clearest signs of non-partisan objections to Bush’s radical government.

As a Matter of Fact, Bush IS a Liar


Image 1: "Did I do OK on the environment question, Senator?" "Sure, Mr. President, if only your rhetoric matched your record." Did Bush lie all by himself, or did the voice in his earpiece make him do it? (Image courtesy of AP.)

During the 2nd Presidential Debate, in response to a question about his environmental record, Bush said, “I guess you'd say I'm a good steward of the land.” This statement reminds me of a game we used to play in the 3rd grade called “backwards day,” when we used to say the exact opposite of the actual truth.

Bush went on to say, “The quality of the air is cleaner since I've been the president,” when actually the number of unhealthy air quality days increased since he’s been the president. He said, “[There have been] fewer water complaints since I've been the president,” when actually the number of fish-consumption warnings for rivers doubled since he’s been the president. He said, “More land [is] being restored since I've been the president,” when actually his funding increases for National Park maintenance are half the annual increases during the Clinton Administration. (Environment 2004 2004, 66)

He has broken his campaign promises to fix the maintenance backlog in our National Parks, funding this initiative at 13 percent of his campaign pledge (Ibid.). Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said, “Every president has left more of America's landscape protected than they inherited. Bush has gone in the opposite direction.” According to Pope, the Bush administration had stripped environmental protections from tens of millions of acres of public land with decisions to ease development on some wetlands and allow logging in national forests (Eilperin 2004).

Bush often disguises his assaults on the environment with nice sounding labels like the “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” initiatives, when actually these proposals weaken emissions standards and make it easier to log and drill in public lands. These tactics remind me of the Bible verse, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” (Mt 7:15)

Mercury: Swimming in Toxicity

One of the most frightening threats to our lives we are self-inflicting upon ourselves is the enormous amount of mercury we are pumping into our environment. Mercury is extremely toxic, and a few milligrams of it is enough to kill you. (Center for Disease Control 2004). In even smaller amounts, it can cause permanent IQ loss, blindness, and possibly autism in children exposed to mercury in the womb (Kennedy 2004, 127). Researchers have also shown a strong link between mercury blood concentration and infertility (Choy et al. 2002). Other effects of exposure to mercury include, kidney failure, tremors, heart disease, severe liver damage, and, as previously mentioned, death (Kennedy 2004, 127).

Despite these dangers, in the U.S. alone, we put over 140 BILLION milligrams of mercury in our environment each year. Worldwide, humans introduce about 2000 MEGAgrams (2 TRILLION milligrams) into our global environment each year. In the U.S., nearly 90 percent of these emissions are from combustion, namely coal-fired power plants. (Envrionmental Protection Agency 2004).

Image 2:The real race is not between red and blue states. It is between red and green states, and sadly red is gaining ground. (Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey.)

The EPA estimates that 1 in every 6 women in the U.S. carries unsafe levels of mercury in her blood. (Kennedy 2004, 127). Because mercury emissions eventually get into our water, one of the first effects we see is contamination of our fish. Fifteen states have advisories saying that all the fish in its waters are unsafe to eat because of mercury, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and New Hampshire. The coastal waters surrounding Florida also have fish advisories due to mercury contamination, as well as most of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard (U.S. Geological Survey, 2000 ).

Because of these frightening developments in mercury contamination, the Clinton Administration began regulating mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act, requiring power plants to reduce their mercury emissions by 90 percent within three years. This is possible using existing technologies, costing less than one percent of the plants’ revenues (Kennedy 2004, 128). So when the Bush campaign says on its website, “President Bush is the first President to propose caps on emissions of mercury” this is another clear example of the lies that define his presidency. Indeed, when Bush got into office, he scrapped the Clinton reforms, and placed mercury caps at seven times the levels of the Clean Air Act.

Abortion Before Conception

As Catholics, we believe life begins at conception, and it is immoral to abort an embryo after fertilization. But is it not also immoral to destroy our reproductive systems such that fertilization is impossible? Is this assault to life not equally insulting to life and God’s creative power?

Increasingly, the men and women of reproductive age in the United States are unable to reproduce. Since 1938, the infertility rates in men have increased by over 15 times (Pressinger and Sinclair 1998). According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, one out of every ten people of reproductive age in the U.S. is now infertile.

This rapid and drastic increase in infertility can be attributed to many environmental causes, such as pesticides, mercury poisoning, and other chemicals we dump into our air, water, and agricultural fields. These links are well documented in refereed scientific literature. (For a bibliography on this subject, see for example Environmental Causes of Infertility. )

This assault on our reproductive systems has also led to an explosion in infertility treatments, most of which are prohibited by Catholic teaching. Infertility treatments are now a $4 billion industry, (ABC News 2004), a four-fold increase in less than 10 years.

Another issue linking environmental destruction to reproduction ethics is eclampsia and pre-eclampsia, also known as toxaemia, in pregnancies. These conditions, affecting 5-10% of pregnancies, occur when the placenta is damaged, usually cause the women to go into uncontrollable convulsions, and can lead to death in either the mother or child, or both.

Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia have been linked to acid rain (THE ANALYST 2004). Pre-eclampsia / eclampsia remains one of the most common reasons for women to die during pregnancy worldwide, as 12% of all maternal deaths is caused by eclampsia. The rates of severe preeclampsia have increased sharply in recent decades (Saftlas et al, 1990). As we continue to dump toxins into our environment this trend is likely to get even worse.

I spoke with one young woman, a Catholic, whose mother developed eclampsia and her life became threatened. Tragically, her family decided to abort the pregnancy and save the mother’s life. The mother went on to have three more children. One may debate the Catholic teaching on abortion in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, but it was clear this woman was thankful to have still have the life of her mother and her three younger brothers. It is also clear that Catholic teaching would point out the immorality in polluting our environment, forcing us into these difficult situations of choosing one life over the other.

President Bush, while proclaiming to be a pro-life candidate, has failed to address the issue of pollutants threatening our lives. Worse, he has systematically blocked efforts to force the corporate polluters to limit dumping their pesticides, dioxins, mercury, and other chemicals into the environment. Bush’s assaults on the environment are antithetical to Catholic teaching to protect life. God’s greatest gift is to humans is life, and the greatest insult we could return to God would be to self-extinguish that gift. Yet, Bush’s policies threaten us with widespread sterility, and it could take generations to fix the damage he has done to our environmental legal system—if we are so lucky as to have the future generations necessary to clean up our environment.

Bi-Partisan Opposition to Bush

It is not just Democrats and liberal environmentalists that are opposing Bush’s Environmental policies. Even Republicans agree with Environment 2004's critical assessment of Bush’s environmental record as President. Russell Train, the EPA Administer under Nixon and Ford, and Rick Russman, a Republican state senator from New Hampshire for 10 years, find Bush’s environmental record “profoundly disturbing.” After citing how it was his father, George H.W. Bush, who signed the Clean Air Act of 1990, they lament that, “Unfortunately, President George W. Bush’s administration is reversing the course from 30 years of bipartisan leadership to protect our health and environment.” (Train and Russman 2004).

They are not the only Republicans opposing Bush’s environmental policies. Daniel Esty, a senior EPA official under President George H.W. Bush, said, "This administration has walked away from environmental protection at the level that was advanced by presidents of both parties in the past" (Eilperin 2004). Republican Senators Judd Gregg and John Sununu strongly oppose Bush’s efforts to block the clean up of New Hampshire’s drinking water, contaminated with the carcinogen MtBE. (Train and Russman 2004).

In the Pockets of Polluters

President Bush clearly does not care about our health. His actions show that he only cares about the industries that fund his campaigns, as there is clear evidence that the same industries from which he lifts pollutions controls are some of his biggest campaign contributors. Coal-mining companies and coal-burning utilities donated $20 million to President Bush and other Republicans in 2000 and even before the 2004 campaign, contributed an additional $21 million over the next few years (Kennedy 2004, 117).

According to opensecrets.org, if you total up the contributions of just the Coal mining and electric utilities to Republicans since 1990, it is nearly $70 million, far outdoing contributions to Democrats. This says nothing of the What is even more striking is the enormous increase in contributions from these industries since Bush and his right-wing cohorts have come into power. (Open Secrets 2004, A, B).

Looking at the campaign contributions, it is almost not surprising that Bush has chosen industry profits over public health, but this clear connection makes this threat to our national health no less frightening. What is even more frightening, however, is how much the current trend of corporate contributions to Republicans and backlash against liberalism resembles the fascist movement of post-WWI Italy. If you study the history of Fascist Italy, Mussolini’s “Chamber of Corporations” stinks frighteningly similar to Bush’s “Chamber of Polluters”, who fund Bush’s campaigns and fill his cabinet, government agencies, and task forces.

The $70 million I mentioned above is just a small fraction of the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS spent by corporations in lobbying during Bush’s presidency and campaign contributions during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Admittedly, both Democrats and Republicans receive this corporate money, but the Republicans receive it in nearly a 3-to-1 advantage.

We need someone in the White House who is willing to stand up to the corporate polluters and protect our health. George W. Bush’s record clearly shows he is not only unwilling to do so, he may be incapable of doing so based on to whom his political career is owed.

That’s Not All, Folks

To be honest, I would like to go more deeply into the wide array of assaults that the Bush Administration has made against the environment, but in this essay, I had to choose only a handful of examples. For a fuller study of Bush’s record on the environment, see Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s Crimes Against Nature. Many may think this source is biased at first glance, based on the author’s name, but in reality Kennedy is a Catholic pro-life conservative Democrat, who has steered clear of politics for the majority of his life (not surprising given that both his uncle and father were murdered by politics).

Another good source is Environment 2004’s Putting the Polluters First. Environment 2004 is a Democratic Environmental Advocacy group, but as explained, their work has been praised by Democrats and Republicans alike. If you still think these two sources are biased, however, check out the Republicans for Environmental Protection (http://rep.org), a group of Republicans who have the courage to speak out against the damage President Bush has done to the environment.

In addition, I am collecting a large database of all the references I used in researching this issue on my website. This list can be viewed at http://22nd.org/environment/

As much as I would like to continue pointing out Bush’s insults to Earth, I must conclude by pointing out the clear alternative Catholics have on November 2 for a better “steward of the land.”

The Alternative: A True Environmental Steward

If there is one issue the Republicans can never say John Kerry has “flip-flopped” on it is protecting the environment. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gives him a lifetime rating of 92% on Senate votes affecting the environment, while Bush recently received the FIRST EVER “F” grade given by the LCV based on his environmental record. In fact, Kerry has the highest environmental record of all the many candidates who ran for the democratic nomination this year.

John Kerry’s record is clear, and anyone can check this record on the various environmental sites available on the internet. For me, however, the most telling example of his commitment to the environment comes when he talks about how his mother influenced his views on the environment:

[F]or me, protecting the environment isn’t just the cause of a campaign. It’s been the commitment of a lifetime. My mother was a true environmental activist. She started a local recycling program long before it was cool. And when I was a young boy, she would wake me up in the early hours of the morning, take me into the woods and simply say “listen.” At the time, I wasn’t so happy about being woken up. Now, I understand she was teaching me about our responsibility to this world better than you found it. (Kerry 2003)

John Kerry’s commitment to the environment goes deep into his upbringing. If there is one thing we can be sure about, he will keep Mother Earth safe during his presidency, at a time when She most needs a good steward and protector. No one in their right mind can argue that a vote for Kerry is a not clearly a vote for the environment.

Mother Earth has long been crying for us to do something about the environmental rape we have been committing against her. Mother Earth is screaming bloody murder for us to protect Her Life. As Catholics, this is one of many pleas we should hear when we step into the voting booth. As informed Catholics, it may very well be one of the loudest.


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