I happened to be in Las Vegas during the final days of the election. It was a fitting location to watch the most historic election of my lifetime conclude with an outcome that many people I know felt was improbable less than a year ago. Vegas is, after all, a city familiar with difficult odds, and even the most seasoned Vegas veteran might have hesitated to wager on Senator Obama's.
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So what will this incredible development mean for the earth? Time will tell, of course, but we here at Tom's Turn are quite optimistic, both because of and in spite of what was said in the campaign.
The late Dan Luten was sneakily brilliant, somewhat iconoclastic, and possibly a maverick had that word not been so debased lately. In his fifties, he left a job as a chemist with Shell Oil to teach geography at Cal and became deeply involved in conservation. He served on the board of Friends of the Earth, which is how I got to know him pretty well.
One bon mot he tossed off that stuck with me was, "The country does not exist to serve its economy."
A few weeks ago we wrote of a former Earthjustic law clerk, Jamie Saul, who was blackballed out of a job at the Department of Justice because he favored vigorous enforcement of environmental laws. Maybe blackballed is the wrong word—he applied for a job and didn't get it for reasons that were certainly improper and possibly illegal.
The DoJ looked into such hiring practices in the wake over the scandal over the firing of several U.S. attorneys for what sure look like political reasons. Turns out politics infected decisions involving more than U.S. attorneys.
Jamie Saul is a young lawyer, a graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland and one-time law clerk in the Seattle office of Earthjustice. As he entered his third year of law school, he applied for a position in the Department of Justice in order, as his application said, to "serve as part of the team charged with enforcing the world's most comprehensive environmental laws, and with defending the crucial work of our environmental and resource management agencies," a thoroughly noble sentiment for a lawyer at the beginning of his career.
He didn't get the job.
I got a call the other day from a fellow in Alabama who is a keen student of The Washington Times and its influence on right-wing politics in the U.S., the paper being owned and operated by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, otherwise known as the Moonies.
My caller was incensed by something I had written that dismissed the Times as a silly embarassment that was costing the Reverend Moon and his minions millions of dollars and having no influence to speak of on anything.
One recurring theme among environmentalists, regularly confirmed by pollsters, is that concern over environmental issues seldom guides the way people vote, especially for president. People care, no doubt about that, but generally something else—crime, war, the economy, party loyalty—tips the balance one way or another.
This time will be interesting to watch. There's little question whether global warming will be under discussion—it will be, with the two candidates arguing whose approach will work better, faster. I'm hoping it won't stop there—we need a robust debate about a wide range of environmental issues, from the loss of species to the collapse of the oceans to energy policy. Such matters generally get lost in the clangor of sound bites and spin mongering, but maybe this time will be different.
The fix the planet finds itself in, a predicament that worsens daily, is largely the result of human mismanagement and hubris: too much consumption of all the resources you can think of—fossil fuels, metals, topsoil, fish—by too many people.
I could show you reports and articles from 35 years ago that predicted all this (not yet on-line, for better or for worse), but few listened. It's about time someone did, and an election, for all its excesses and hype, is a time when the media pay some attention to actual issues. Let's hope this time the candidates will talk about what really matters.
Today Americans first learned that former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has written a tell-all book about his years in the Bush Administration.
According to press accounts, the administration was less than candid with the American people. McClellan now believes he told numerous untruths on behalf of the administration. While the administration will certainly dispute McClellan's account, the whole issue begs the question.
We don't get very many comments here at Tom's Turn—please comment!—so when we do, we pay attention. To this one, for example, from Brenda Hixenbaugh:
"Considering the track records of certain officials, isn't it time that we get people elected who are directly connected to all of this planet's and our needs? Surely there are a great number of environmentalists who are qualified for all of these jobs, up to and not excluding the presidency?"