Green States: Best of the worst
Peter Dykstra exposes five environmental ideas that are not all they're cracked up to be.
Fri, May 15, 2009 at 05:20 AM
I run into a lot of things that are too brief to write a column about but are well worth mentioning just the same. So here are a bunch of them, in all their disjointed glory. Enjoy.
How to make a law do exactly the opposite of what it intended: Reporter Christopher Hayes of The Nation found this one: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers a 50-cent-per-gallon tax credit for entrepreneurs who mix biomass or ethanol with conventionally taxed fossil fuels. For decades, the pulp and paper industry has been recycling its own waste -- a sludge known in the industry as “black liquor” -- for use as a perfectly good, burnable fuel. But black liquor alone doesn’t qualify for the tax break, so companies now mix it 50-50 with diesel fuel. In a one-month period, International Paper banked $71.6 million on the tax credit. That would work out to a billion dollars a year from the taxpayers as a reward for buying extra diesel to meet a law meant to encourage alternative fuels.
Best environmental public service announcement: Made in 1971, the iconic image of a buckskin-clad Native American paddling his canoe past grimy factories, then hauling it up on a trash-strewn shoreline as a single tear rolls down his cheek. The narrator’s voice might be familiar: It’s William Conrad, the portly star of the 1970s detective show Cannon. Conrad was also the narrator for the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons -- a fact you probably didn’t expect to learn in an environmental column. The iconic Indian is Iron Eyes Cody, who played iconic Indians in about 200 movies, including at least three where Ronald Reagan played a cowboy. His real name is Espera de Corti, and he is a full-blooded Sicilian.
Best Environmental PSA, fake division: JibJab, the folks who did those short animated satires of the past few political campaigns, have delivered their first environmental public service announcement.
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Least credible climate skeptic: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this one’s almost too easy. Or maybe of marginal taste. Or both. As a meteorologist at WBKO in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Chris Allen has been outspoken in his criticism of advocates of climate change. From his perch as a 20-year veteran in America’s 78th-largest media market, he’s been recognized as one of Sen. Jim Inhofe’s list of “prominent scientists” who don’t agree that we’re facing a climate problem. Here’s his official station bio. Here’s a sample of Chris’s blog on climate issues, where he cites his major beef about human-induced climate change is “that it takes God out of the picture.” And finally, here’s a link to how this prominent scientist played with a story about breast feeding, and issued multiple apologies. The video links on YouTube, Yahoo, TMZ and more have been taken down, but you can see how Chris has kept WBKO’s lawyers busy.
Best fake environmental wisdom: As the great leader of the Duwamish Tribe in what is now Washington State, Chief Seattle knew he had little choice in 1854 but to strike a treaty with the encroaching Whites. But not before schooling them on the value and meaning of the land his people occupied: “Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.” The Chief also spoke of seeing thousands of buffalo massacred, and of the White Man’s misplaced devotion to the Iron Horse.
The full speech, as it is remembered today, is here, and it’s unbelievably prophetic -- almost like someone 120 years into the future had written it: Which is pretty much what happened. Among other things, the first railroad in Chief Seattle’s part of the world didn’t get built till 1858 -- four years after his famous speech. And the wholesale slaughter of buffalo hadn’t really kicked in yet either. And there were never any buffalo within hundreds of miles of the land where Chief Seattle spent his entire life.
Nancy Zussy, Washington’s State Librarian, got to the bottom of the Chief Seattle myth about 15 years ago. It’s likely that Chief Seattle gave some kind of speech in giving up the tribe’s lands, and for all we know, it was poignant and prophetic. But it was never recorded, and there’s no record that the Chief would have spoken it in English, for he knew no English. The first known remembrance of Chief Seattle’s speech was in an 1887 newspaper article. In this version, the Chief spoke in flowery, Victorian-era prose. After kicking around for about 80 years, the Chief Seattle speech got a 1960s makeover from a poet named William Arrowsmith, who re-wrote the alleged speech to fit modern times. Then in the early 1970s, Chief Seattle went Hollywood via an English literature professor named Ted Perry. This is where the Chief met the buffalo and Iron Horse that didn’t exist on his land or in his lifetime.
According to Zussy, the most accurate version of what Chief Seattle might have said is here. And the most deliciously ironic aspect is this interview between Bill Moyers and the philosopher Joseph Campbell, who unskeptically swallows the Chief Seattle myth and spits it back out to a PBS audience. You may recall that the title of this hit 1988 PBS series was Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.