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Big business spurs anti-Earth Day protests

click to enlarge President Bush plans to look at "all public lands" for - energy development
  • President Bush plans to look at "all public lands" for energy development

Judging from George W. Bush's early environmental record, the anti-Earth Day rally held in the nation's capital sounds like an event that could have been sponsored by his administration. However, they're too darn savvy to attach themselves to anything so transparently anti-environmental. That didn't stop the good people at the Ayn Rand Institute and The Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism from holding their Anti-Earth Day gathering.

The Conservative News Service reported, under the headline "Anti-Earth-Day Rally Celebrates Science, Industry and Capitalism," that the main theme of the demonstration was support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production. The event was billed as a gathering in support of industry and technology.

Organizers from the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and The Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism wanted to counter environmentalists' claims that opening up the Arctic Refuge would cause significant damage to the Alaskan wilderness. CMDC chairman Nick Provenzo said, "The only 'massive and irreparable harm' is to the truth." Oil is "the very lifeblood of modern civilization," he added, and environmentalists are trying to "bleed dry the arteries of American commerce."

The Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism was founded in 1985 and named after the well-known author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. It is dedicated to promoting Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism, or unfettered laissez-faire capitalism. (I'm not a big fan of bio-pics, but if the Ayn Rand story as told on cable television in 1999 -- the lead was played by the wonderful Helen Mirren -- was anything remotely close to the lady's real life, well ... Houston, we've got a problem.)

The Institute, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, had more than $2 million in total revenue in 1998, 98 percent of which came from contributions and grants awarded by foundations, businesses and individuals. Its major project, according to The Right Guide, was the production of a radio talk show that cost some $285,856. The Institute regularly sponsors a high school essay contest during which "nearly 10,000 students are introduced each year" to Rand's novels.

Although these groups are kind of the burlesque bottom feeders of the anti-environmental movement, a broader anti-environmentalist "movement" currently exists that should make us all rest uneasy.


"New-era environmentalists"

"New evidence casts doubt on global warming," claims the April 2001 edition of the monthly Environment & Climate News, a publication of the conservative Heartland Institute sent free to thousands of legislators, columnists and news editors across the country. "Fresh doubts have been cast on evidence for global warming following the discovery that a key method of measuring temperature change has exaggerated the warming rate by almost 40 percent."

Another article, "As science retreats, scare tactics boom" (written by The Greening Earth Society), argues that "scary scenarios invariably are cooked up by people intent upon selling something. Sometimes it's a book of fiction. Sometimes it's a magazine. Sometimes it's a carbon tax. Actual observations do not support such scenarios."

This is the self-billed "newspaper for new-era Environmentalists," which boldly trumpets "Blueprint 2001: Drafting Environmental Policy for the Future," a new report from the Business Roundtable that lays "out a program for 'constructive changes in our environmental protection system.'" The report was put together by BR's Environment, Technology and the Economy Task Force, made up of representatives from government, think tanks and the private sector. Earnie Deavenport, chairman of the Task Force and CEO of Eastman Chemical Company, says that "we need to change the way business approaches the environment and the way the government achieves environmental improvement."

The report focuses on: "sustainability, emphasizing the links between economic growth, superior environmental performance, and rising standards of living for a growing world population ... strategic investment in science and technology ... to ensure the most credible science is used to set goals and develop risk-management strategies ... performance-based management by regulatory agencies ... (and) marketplace incentives rather than command-and-control regulation."

Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), recently named chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the Senate's most reactionary and anti-environmental members, was one of four elected officials who attended the news conference announcing the release of the report.


Setting business' agenda for the environment

The Greening Earth Society is one of several anti-environmental lobbying groups that have adopted benign sounding names. According to a mid-April story by the Cox News Service, the Greening Earth Society is a project of the Western Fuels Association. (Last year, the Western Fuels Association co-sponsored the publication of Environment & Climate News and gave Heartland its 40,000-plus mailing list for the institute's free distribution.) The Western Fuels Association's aim is to "promote the benign effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the earth's biosphere and humankind."

Cox News Service also singles out CARE, the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy, which "formed about a year ago to advocate coal as an energy source." There's also the Foundation for Clean Air Progress, which according to spokesman Bill Buff, who also works for the American Highway Users Alliance, was set up by "business interests" in 1995 "to promote Environmental Protection Agency data that show improvements in clean air quality."

These organizations, many of which are owned lock, stock and barrel by corporate interests, understand the huge opening represented by President Bush's so-called "commonsense" approach to environmental issues. In a March interview with The Denver Post, Mr. Bush laid out his thinking on land and energy use. "There are parts of the [national] monument lands where we can explore [for oil] without affecting the overall environment," he said. "There are some monuments where the land is so widespread, they just encompass as much as possible. And the integral part, the precious part, so to speak ... will not be despoiled."

Bush added that his administration would look at "all public lands" for energy development. "There's a mentality that says you can't explore and protect land," Bush said. "We're going to change that attitude. You can explore and protect land" without damaging the environment. He also called for "wiser use" of the nation's resources.

Each year, Earth Day provides a great opportunity to reflect upon the health of the planet. However, it's going to take more than reflection to safeguard the planet from the likes of the Ayn Rand Institute, the "new-era environmentalists," the Business Roundtable and Dubya's "commonsense" environmentalism.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement who documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. This article first appeared on the Web site www.workingforchange.com.

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