September 02, 2003

Bill Moyers speaks his mind on Bush-brand environmental destruction and more

(8/30/03) Another US soldier has died in Iraq. For what?
Meanwhile...The global warming crisis in particular
and environmental protection in general has been one
of the main subject areas of the LNS since its
inception, in the grim days following debacle of the
Nov. '00 - Jan. '01...One of the saddest aspects of
this grim episode in US history is that in these
critical years, instead of leading the world on the
issue of global warming as it was during the
Clinton-Gore era, the _resident's illegitimate
(Fraudida), corrupt (Enron, Halliburton, Carlyle,
First Energy, etc.) and incompetent (9/11, Iraq,
homeland security, the Economy)refuses to acknowledges
the crisis even exists...Another main subject area of
the LNS since its inception has been to herald courage
in public personalities and ordinary citizens. No
example is more spectacular than that of Bill Moyers
(although Cronkite too has spoken bravely). Moyers
rails against the dying of the light even as most
prominent news media personalities simply take the
pills and wash them down with the water in the little
white cup...Here is an extraordinary interview for the

Now Hear This

Bill Moyers speaks his mind on Bush-brand environmental destruction and more by Amanda Griscom

26 Aug 2003

Bill Moyers is best known as the broadcast journalist
who, for more than 20 years, has brought the public
frank, soul-searching, and sometimes frightening
examinations of -- well, of almost everything under
the sun. On air, he's equally comfortable discussing
politics or poetry, scriptures or science.

Born in Oklahoma in 1934 and raised in Texas, Moyers
has had a highly celebrated and peripatetic career
that has included stints as a Baptist minister, deputy
director of the Peace Corps in the Kennedy
administration, and press secretary to President
Johnson. Moyers later became publisher of the New York
daily Newsday, an analyst and commentator on CBS and
NBC news, and a cofounder, with his wife Judith
Davidson, of Public Affairs Television, where he
produced series ranging from "God and Politics" to
"Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth."

Having racked up more than 30 Emmy Awards during his
television career, Moyers is now the host and producer
of the Friday night PBS series "NOW with Bill Moyers."
He is also one of the few TV news and culture
journalists who believe that there are still plenty of
viewers who want to think and learn. At "NOW," Moyers
has focused with increasing intensity on the Bush
administration's environmental record. Since his show
launched in January 2002, Moyers has produced more
than 20 reports on environmental subjects ranging from
mountaintop-removal mining to the industry backgrounds
of Bush's key political appointees. This Friday at 9
p.m. EST, he'll put the Bush record in a larger
context, airing an interview with award-winning
scientist David Suzuki, who believes the global
environment is in its final moments of sustainability.

Grist tracked Moyers down at his office to discuss
environmental policy rollbacks, the ecological
concerns that he says "burn in his consciousness," and
the world he wants to leave for his grandchildren.

Grist: In the year and a half since the launch of your
PBS program "NOW," you have done extensive reporting
on the Bush administration's environmental record. At
a time when most news outlets have focused on war and
recession, you and your team have been among the few
journalists who've consistently taken a hard look at
these policy rollbacks. What has been motivating you?

Bill Moyers: The facts on the ground. I'm a
journalist, reporting the evidence, not an
environmentalist pressing an agenda. The Earth is
sending us a message and you don't have to be an
environmentalist to read it. The Arctic ice is
melting. The Arctic winds are balmy. The Arctic Ocean
is rising. Scientists say that in the year 2002 -- the
second-hottest on record -- they saw the Arctic ice
coverage shrink more than at any time since they
started measuring it. Every credible scientific study
in the world says human activity is creating global
warming. In the face of this evidence, the government
in Washington has declared war on nature. They have
placed religious and political dogma over the facts.

Grist: Can you elaborate on their religious and
political dogma?

Moyers: They are practically the same. Their god is
the market -- every human problem, every human need,
will be solved by the market. Their dogma is the
literal reading of the creation story in Genesis where
humans are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and
over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing ..."
The administration has married that conservative dogma
of the religious right to the corporate ethos of
profits at any price. And the result is the politics
of exploitation with a religious impulse.

Meanwhile, over a billion people have no safe drinking
water. We're dumping 500 million tons of hazardous
waste into the Earth every year. In the last hundred
years alone we've lost over 2 billion hectares of
forest, our fisheries are collapsing, our coral reefs
are dying because of human activity. These are facts.
So what are the administration and Congress doing?
They're attacking the cornerstones of environmental
law: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, NEPA [the
National Environmental Policy Act]. They are allowing
l7,000 power plants to create more pollution. They are
opening public lands to exploitation. They're even
trying to conceal threats to public health: Just look
at the stories this past week about how the White
House pressured the EPA not to tell the public about
the toxic materials that were released by the
September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.

Grist: I'm interested in your explanation of why -- I
haven't heard this dogma-based argument before. More
often, critics interpret the White House environmental
agenda as political pragmatism, as simply an effort to
stay in power and pay back corporate contributors.

Moyers: This is stealth war on the environment in the
name of ideology. But you're right -- there is a very
powerful political process at work here, too. It's
payback time for their rich donors. In the 2000
elections, the Republicans outspent the Democrats by
$200 million. Bush and Cheney -- who, needless to say,
are oilmen who made their fortunes in the energy
business -- received over $44 million from the oil,
gas, and energy industries. It spills over into
Congress too: In the 2002 congressional elections,
Republican candidates received almost $15 million from
the energy industries, while the Democrats got around
$3.7 million. In our democracy, voters can vote but
donors decide.

Grist: Add to that the fact that in every key
appointment at every environmental agency you find
someone from industry -- a lawyer, a lobbyist, a
former executive.

Moyers: The list is shocking. The Interior Department
is the biggest scandal of all. Current Secretary Gale
Norton and her No. 2 man, J. Steven Griles, head a
fifth column that is trying to sabotage environmental
protection at every level. Griles has more conflicts
of interest than a dog has fleas. The giveaway of
public resources at Interior is the biggest scandal of
its kind since the Teapot Dome corruption. You have to
go all the way back to the crony capitalism of the
Harding administration to find a president who invited
such open and crass exploitation of the common wealth.

Grist: Protecting the environment has become an
increasingly partisan issue under the Bush
administration. The GOP has decidedly become the
anti-environment party, causing pro-environment
Republicans like Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont to
defect. And yet historically, there has been a deeply
entrenched ethos of conservation in the Republican

Moyers: Absolutely. But that was before the radical
right and the corporations took over the party. Your
generation is too young to remember that back in the
l970s, when the world began to wake up to the global
environmental crisis, the U.S. became the undisputed
leader in environmental policy. Richard Nixon signed
some of the pioneering measures of the time, including
the very Clean Water Act that Bush is now hollowing
out. And before that, of course, Teddy Roosevelt put
the Republican Party in the vanguard of conservation.
This idea of protecting and passing along our
resources to future generations was a deeply
entrenched ideal among those who were known as
conservatives. But this is not a conservative
mentality in power today. It's a new political order.

Grist: How do you define that new political order?

Moyers: I'll give an example that says it all: Jim
Jeffords, the former chair of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee, is an environmental
champion. He made his priority efforts to curb global
warming and protect the environment while advancing
the economy. His successor is [Republican Sen.] James
Inhofe of Oklahoma. He's the man who once
characterized the Environmental Protection Agency as
"gestapo." That's the new political order.

Grist: Can you describe any instances where you or
your colleagues were shut out by the administration in
your effort to report a rollback story?

Moyers: A press officer at the Interior Department
told one of our producers no one there would appear on
or speak to "NOW." We get [that response] all over
town -- "We're not talking to 'NOW.'"

Grist: Has the Bush administration been more effective
at pushing their environmental agenda than the Reagan
and Bush I administrations before it?

Moyers: Ronald Reagan came to power with the same
agenda, but made a mistake when he appointed James
Watt head of the wrecking crew at the Department of
Interior. Watt made no attempt to disguise his
fanaticism. He was outspokenly anti-environment and he
inflamed the public against him with his flagrant
remarks. But he took over a bureaucracy of civil
servants who had come of age in the first great
environmental wave of the l970s -- people who believed
they had a public charge to do the right thing. When
Watt stormed into office, these civil servants
resisted. Now, 20 years later -- after eight years of
Reagan, four years of Bush the First, and three years
of Bush the Second -- that generation of civil
servants is gone. The executive branch is a wholly
owned subsidiary of the conservative/corporate

Grist: And surely their public-relations strategies
have become far more sophisticated.

Moyers: Absolutely. They learned a big lesson from the
Watt era. Not to inflame the situation. Use stealth.
If you corrupt the language and talk a good line even
as you are doing the very opposite, you won't awaken
the public. Gale Norton will be purring like a kitten
when she's cutting down the last redwood in the forest
with a buzz saw.

Grist: Doesn't it seem inevitable that this tremendous
discrepancy between the Bush administration's actions
and words will be exposed?

Moyers: There is always a backlash when any
administration, liberal or conservative, Democratic or
Republican, goes too far. In this case, all the
scientists that I respect and all the
environmentalists that I listen to say to me, "What's
different this time, Moyers, is that it could happen
too late." Let's say by 2008 the consequences of all
these policies become clear and the public rises up in
protest. We don't have between now and 2008 to reverse
the trends; it will be too late then.

Grist: What do you mean by "too late"?

Moyers: Every policy of government that is bad or goes
wrong can ultimately be reversed. The environment is
the one exception to the rule of politics, which is
that to every action there is a reaction. By the time
we all wake up, by the time the media starts doing
their job and by the time the public sees what is
happening, it may be too late to reverse it. That's
what science is telling us. That's what the Earth is
telling us. That's what burns in my consciousness.

Consider the example of Iraq. Once upon a time it was
such a lush, fertile, and verdant land that the
authors of Genesis located the Garden of Eden there.
Now look at it: stretches upon stretches of desert, of
arid lands inhospitable to human beings, empty of
trees and clean water and rolling green grasses.
That's a message from the Earth about what happens
when people don't take care of it. No matter what we
do to Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains a wasteland
compared to what it was. American policy makers see
only the black oil in the ground and not the message
that all the years of despoliation have left.

Grist: The irony is that despoliation doesn't just
wipe out the verdant land, it makes it impossible to
have a healthy, diverse economy.

Moyers: It stuns me that the people in power can't see
that the source of our wealth is the Earth. I'm an
entrepreneur, I'm a capitalist. I don't want to
destroy the system on which my livelihood and my
journalism rest. I am strongly on behalf of saving the
environment [in no small part] because it is the
source of our wealth. Destroy it and the pooh-bahs of
Wall Street will have to book an expedition to Mars to
enjoy their riches. I don't understand why they don't
see it. I honestly don't. This absence of vision as to
what happens when you foul your nest puzzles me.

Grist: Do you consider yourself a pessimist?

Moyers: I once asked a friend on Wall Street about the
market. "I'm optimistic," he said. "Then why do you
look so worried?" I asked. And he answered: "Because
I'm not sure my optimism is justified." I feel that
way. But I don't know how to be in the world except to
expect a confident future and then get up every
morning and try in some way to bring it about.

Grist: It sounds like for you the environment is a
very personal issue, an emotional issue.

Moyers: For me it comes down to our most cherished
values. To our ethics. You're asking, rightly,
questions about science and economics, but this is a
deeply moral issue. Economics and politics are a poor
excuse for the moral imperative that we need to follow
to save what is not our own so others that come after
us can have a life.

A couple years ago, I took my then eight-year-old
grandson to Central Park for a walk and we were on the
rocks there looking out on the park and the skyline of
the city and he said, "Pa, how old are you?" And I
said, "I'm 66." And he said, "What do you think the
world will look like when I'm as old as you are?" And
for the first time I could imagine a concrete future.
The future wasn't abstract anymore -- my grandson
would be a real person living in a real place, the
future. In some ways, what worries me the most is that
Laura and George Bush don't have any grandkids. The
president would see the world differently if he just
had grandkids.

Grist: Yes, it seems as though on some level Bush is
lacking some kind of emotional intelligence on these
matters -- as though he's sort of tone deaf to the

Moyers: We had Devra Davis, a scientist at Carnegie
Mellon, on the show recently. She described how Laura
and George Bush designed their ranch at Crawford to be
environmentally efficient, with solar paneling and
lots of new technology. She pointed out that they seem
to understand these issues somewhat on an individual
level, and yet they don't understand that the personal
is not enough. It takes policy to translate. There is
a disconnect between how they live privately and how
they act publicly.

Grist: What, on a public level, do you want to see

Moyers: The same thing that should happen with the war
against terrorists. Terrorists want to kill us, they
want to bring democracy down. The environment will
kill us, it will bring us down. Why not appoint an
emergency panel of Democrats and Republicans to
recommend a course on global warning? I really do
believe that if George Bush announced that saving the
environment was more urgent than everything at the
moment except the war on terrorism, if he were to call
a global conference at the White House on how we can
create a new vision and a new process for addressing
this, the world's greatest challenge -- then I believe
they'd change the Constitution to elect him to a third

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Posted by richard at September 2, 2003 10:15 PM