Overview: Globalization and Environmental Harm

By Shank, Gregory | Social Justice, Spring-Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Overview: Globalization and Environmental Harm


Shank, Gregory, Social Justice


The people running the United States government are from the energy industry. -- Fredrick D. Palmer (executive vice president of external affairs for Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company)

If I was a porpoise, I'd say it's time to retain a lawyer. -- Loren Thompson (a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a conservative public policy center)

WHEN WE FIRST ENVISIONED AN ISSUE ON "TOXIC CAPITALISM," GEORGE W. Bush's first 100 days in the presidency had spewed a whirlwind of pro-business, environmentally harmful executive decisions and legislative initiatives. Bush's hard-line stance on the environment included an encyclopedic range of decisions on carbon dioxide, oil drilling, arsenic levels in drinking water, mining, forests, oceans, energy, public access to information on the potential consequences of chemical plant accidents, and the Endangered Species Act. Budget cuts were implemented for renewable energy sources, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Interior Department; the Wetlands Reserve Program was to be dissolved. The administration attempted to restrict protections for marine mammals as part of a sweeping proposal to exempt the military from key provisions of environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and hazardous waste laws. To allow the Navy to deplo y an anti-submarine "Low Frequency Active" sonar system that could threaten entire populations of whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals, the Bush administration reversed federal policy based on the National Environmental Policy Act, claiming the law does not apply to vast tracts of ocean under U.S. control. Left in place was an executive order that does not allow for judicial review or recourse for the public (Shogren, 2002a; Seelye, 2002a).

Since these measures are out of step with the public on environmental and social concerns, the result has been the mobilization of a broad environmental movement. Clean air and safe drinking water are popular issues with voters, and the public believes global warming poses a real threat. Even EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who eviscerated state environmental regulations as New Jersey's governor, tried to warn Bush that abandoning his pledge to reduce global warming carbon dioxide emissions would hurt U.S. credibility overseas and alienate a greening conservative constituency at home. Undaunted, the Bush administration pulled out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global climate change, adding to its list of unilateralist rejections of international agreements on land mines, the international criminal court, and nuclear and biological weapons. Predictably, Bush's Kyoto decision provoked hostile demonstrations in Madrid, Stockholm, and Geneva and angry responses from officials of the European Union (Gelb span, 2002).

Because the U.S. emits one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, Bush's capitulation to the fossil fuel lobby--the coal industry and ExxonMobil--on capping carbon emissions from domestic power plants provoked resentment. North American emissions of carbon dioxide expanded over the last decade, while Europe's decreased and Japan's held steady. Energy and the environment are intersecting spheres. Vice President Cheney's energy plan minimized conservation and called for building at least one new power plant per week for the next 20 years, drilling for gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, weakening environmental regulations for refineries and pipelines, and relying more on nuclear power. Since 62 of Bush's 63-member energy advisory team have ties to oil, coal, nuclear, or other polluting interests, the plan smelled of crony capitalism when it proposed to deliver a wish list of deregulatory changes to these industries. The Republican energy plan would subsidize the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries to the tune of $35. …

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