Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Steven Higgs: America's Worst Generation

The boomers are to blame. Any honest book about them would have to be titled America's Worst Generation.

For environmentalists, whose warnings and arguments have been ignored, maligned and ridiculed since the Reagan Revolution dawned three decades ago, the Gulf of Oil disaster evokes a wicked brew of emotions and attitudes.

On the one hand, we feel the pain and horror of the unfolding environmental disaster as acutely as those who occupy the bioregion. We radicals have spent our entire lives fighting to protect the wildlife and natural features of the Gulf and every other coast, shoreline, riverbed or stream bank, wherever they've been threatened, which is everywhere. Despite the ennui that comes from witnessing first-hand decades of unrelenting ecological degradation, we still feel the pinch every time a special place is lost.

We can't help but revel in the never-ending spew of vitriol and venom aimed at BP, one of the planet's most contemptible corporate polluters. We delight in watching the arrogance and hypocrisy of the drill-baby-drills and political pimps -- like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, John Cornin from Texas and Lamar Alexander from Tennessee -- exposed with such laser-clear light.

And seriously, who can't muster a little chuckle watching the nightly images of those who have built careers emasculating the federal government whining because the feds aren't there to save their asses? Democrats and Republicans, they need to burn-baby-burn at the polls every November until they are all gone. And then they should be prosecuted for crimes against democracy and the environment.

Naturally, we're not surprised that President Barack Obama again has been caught clueless. He did put Ken Salazar in charge of the Department of the Interior, with responsibility for regulating oil rigs like the Deepwater Horizon. Days before the platform exploded and the gushing and lying and despoliation commenced, the president declared deep-water drilling safe.

And he still wants to drill. He thinks nukes are clean energy, for god sake. The guy is clueless.

We do empathize with those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed, even if the Karma at work is elementary. (Lie with bugs, you're going to get bit, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama.) Most of us became radical environmentalists because similar fates befell people or places we love.

But on the other hand, the blame game that consumes the mainstream media's attention is downright infuriating.

BP is no more responsible for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and leak than a 14-year-old kid is for skipping classes when her parents don't care. BP and other oil companies tap oil wells a mile below the sea's surface with inadequate disaster plans because they are allowed to. They're guilty. But they're not to blame.

Barack Obama inherited the government that Ronald Reagan envisioned when his revolution took root -- emasculated, ineffective, incapable of acting. He can't save the environment or the people in the Gulf. He bears no blame for it, no matter how dense he is.


If blame for this catastrophe must be assigned, the far-and-away largest chunk goes to the baby-boom generation.

The boomers came of age during the Great Society and were among the most educated and enlightened generations in history. They engaged politically in their youth and learned how to make democracy serve the best interests of its citizens. They opposed and eventually stopped an immoral war, helped drive the Civil Rights and Women's Rights agendas and ushered in eras of unprecedented creativity, freedom and expression.

They also understood Silent Spring and grasped the significance when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland in 1969. Richard Nixon didn't sign the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or the National Environmental Policy Act because he cared about the environment. He did so because the public, driven by the boomers' agenda, left him no political choice.

But when Ronald Reagan asked in 1980 if they were better off than they had been four years before, the boomers reacted as if he were swinging a bright, shiny object before their eyes, a la a Twilight Zone episode. They forgot where they had been, what they had learned, and what they stood for. They internalized the fundamental principle of Ronald Reagan, that selfishness and greed are laudable human values.

They turned off, tuned out and dropped off the face of the political planet.

They devolved from citizens to consumers and spent the next three decades gorging themselves on fossil fuels. Climate change be damned. More gas. More oil. More petroleum. They drove out of the cities, built bigger houses, bought bigger vehicles (an SUV for every kid!) and didn't give a damn about anything or anyone other than themselves.

Through their political detachment, they enabled the liars and thieves who have engineered as great a transfer of wealth from the many to the few as the world has ever witnessed. They turned blind eyes to the blatant plutocratic corruption that plagues the political system at every level. Enough of them voted for George W. Bush that Big Oil was able to steal two presidential elections and lay the framework for the Gulf of Oil disaster.

As pitifully as the truth about the environment has been presented to them by what passes for the "news" media in our age, Earth Day-raised boomers didn't have to put themselves out to get the facts. Driven by the hubris of human beings like BP's Tony Hayword and Texan John Cornin, their environment, indeed their own bodies, are soaked with poisons, the most dangerous of which are derived from oil. It ain’t quantum physics. It’ common sense.

The facts are now, and always have been, readily available for those boomers who cared enough to be informed. Hell, all they had to do was look at their children and grandchildren to realize something is wrong at the most elemental levels of life. As former New York Times environmental reporter Philip Shabecoff and his wife Alice detail in their book Poisoned for Profit, one in every three American children today has a chronic and usually incurable illness or condition -- a developmental disability like autism or ADHD, a birth defect like cleft palette, lead poisoning, asthma or cancer. If obesity is added to the list, it's almost half -- 45 percent.

Have the boomers really not noticed?

No, environmental reality couldn't have been more clear. But in their self-indulgent, Reaganite mindsets, the boomers ignored, maligned and ridiculed the truth. They punted. And four decades after Silent Spring and Cuyahoga, their children's bodies are brimming with pesticides, and the Gulf is on fire.
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