Binge and Purge

Conservative, anti-environmental activists such as Michele Bachmann like to portray the EPA and other environmental regulatory bodies as proof of America’s increasingly hostile, dystopian government when in practice the very opposite is true.

Part V of The Season of Our Disconnect

Jon Huntsman, President Barack Obama’s former ambassador to China, broke away from the field of Republican presidential candidates in bellicose fashion this week. He chose to take on his opponents by slaying a sacred cow in today’s GOP by thumbing his nose at unconventional wisdom with the most scandalous pronouncement thus far in the campaign. If you are sensitive to radical ideas and harsh language, I urge you to stop reading now.

In a tweet to his followers, Jon Huntsman said: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Crazy, indeed.  What’s next? Dinosaurs roamed the Earth?

Huntsman is reacting to the growing anti-environmental platform in American politics, a curious development in an even more curious nascent silly season. Sorry, Planet Earth. Due to the ongoing recession it is increasingly evident that the Earth-friendly platform will not be making an appearance this time around as our current president seems to favor the corporate interests of companies like Monsanto and Cargil; the opposition candidates… well… quite frankly it looks as though they just flat-out hate you.

For example, the winner of the ridiculously un-scientific Iowa Straw Poll, Michele Bachmann, has promised to shutter the Environmental Protection Agency on her first day in the White House. Rick Perry won’t close the EPA, but he’ll make gall-derned sure he castrates it like a bull calf to keep it from killing our jobs. Rick Santorum has said that because humans exhale carbon dioxide, regulating carbon emissions is therefore ludicrous. (No, I’m not making any of this up.) Most of the people running for president on the GOP ticket seem to believe that even though we are still the wealthiest nation on God’s greenish/brown Earth that environmental standards are holding us back. That maybe—just maybe—if we allowed ourselves to revert to pollution standards from the height of the Industrial Revolution, we would be better off. 

Mind you, although we haven’t lost our standing as the No. 1 economy on the planet, we do rank second behind China in carbon emissions. This loss of status has somehow translated into a sort of clarion call for deregulation activists who equate progress with the relaxation of environmental standards. Never mind the fact that on many days one would have trouble seeing clearly through the window of a building in Linfen, China, or that the Beijing government instituted “emergency air-quality measures” in the days leading up to the Summer Olympics.

Our narrow view on environmentalism has left everyone already suffocating from American ignorance and Chinese malfeasance nonplussed and defenseless. In his book Harmony, A New Way of Looking at the World, Prince Charles talks about his experience at the UN Conference in Copenhagen and the “all-out assault on the evidence base” of climate change, calling it “a deliberate attempt to dampen the justified concerns about the climate change threat.”

Presidential candidates who call for dismantling the EPA to help America reclaim its hegemony in destroying the atmosphere are nothing more than hucksters handing out licenses to operate toxic apothecaries stocked with volatile organic compounds. Conservative, anti-environmental activists such as Michele Bachmann like to portray the EPA and other environmental regulatory bodies as proof of America’s increasingly hostile, dystopian government when in practice the very opposite is true.

Ironically, common ground regarding the environment can be found in yet another profound area of intensely partisan disagreement: universal health care. It is in this debate that one can find room for both ardent anti-climate change deniers like Rick Perry and fervent environmental activists like Al Gore, whom Perry once supported. It’s far easier to agree that noxious emissions and pollutants increase the risk of disease and that a sick population is an expensive one to treat. Therefore, isn’t universal disease-prevention by regulating pollution a more efficient way for the market to deliver robust health care? Hell, there’s even room for Ron Paul under this tent.

Whether or not our society wakes up to the fact that we are indeed killing the planet and sacrificing human health along the way, there is an inevitable truth greater than all of us. Those who are most attuned to changes in weather patterns, the degradation of the world’s food supply, the rise of chronic health problems, and the rapid disappearance of clean water understand that humans will ultimately pay the price for our sins, not the Earth.

This is not the first time the Earth has been in such a precarious position. Moreover, there is mounting evidence of how she handles crises. We binge, she purges. The most succinct explanation of this phenomenon is from the great orator and environmentalist Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation. Rather than paraphrase, I’ll leave you with his sentiment:

“What if we choose to eradicate ourselves from this Earth, by whatever means? The Earth goes nowhere. And in time, it will regenerate, and all the lakes will be pristine. The rivers, the waters, the mountains, everything will be green again. It’ll be peaceful. There may not be people, but the Earth will regenerate. And you know why? Because the Earth has all the time in the world and we don’t.”

– Oren Lyons

Iroquois Lacrosse Team Takes Flight

On the surface it didn’t appear to be such a big deal. But in Indian country, everything comes at a price. If the team had capitulated and agreed to accept U.S. passports to travel abroad they would have established yet another dangerous precedent in U.S./Indian relations. Acquiescing to this solution would essentially have ceded the issue of sovereign recognition on a very significant level.

Percy Abrams from Iroquois Nationals Shows His Passport

Twenty-three men waited five days. For five days they stood ready to do battle on a field for their nation, but were at risk of being denied the right to do so. They are warriors who engage in a time-honored tradition of championship lacrosse, a game that was invented by their ancestors. Ironically they were being stonewalled by the two nations who conspired four centuries ago to beat their people into submission. Just how high and how far did the debate reach? It took Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to wave her magic wand and allow this team to board an airplane with the guarantee they would be allowed to return.

The 23 men comprise a team known as the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, an internationally renowned unit led by octogenarian Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation and himself one of the greatest leaders and orators of the last century. Their attempt to board a plane for England was rebuffed by both British and American officials who initially refused to acknowledge the Haudenosaunee-issued passports residents of the Six Nations Confederacy—Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Cayuga—have been using for years.

The American solution was, as always, simple. When the British Consulate refused to accept the Iroquois passports without a guarantee the U.S. would let the team actually return after the tournament, the U.S. State Department rushed to their aid and offered U.S. passports to the team members and crew. As usual this is where the breakdown in communication occurs in U.S. and Indian relations. First off, the Iroquois Confederacy is within the geographic territories of both the United States and Canada. Moreover, each tribe within the confederacy is a sovereign nation. Consider them uber-states within America for comparison purposes.

To date the confederacy has been able to cope with the issue of international travel because most countries outside of the U.S. recognize the sovereign status of Indian nations and the informal U.S. policy has thus far been to let sleeping dogs lie. But homeland security and big brother have made the issue of the Haudenosaunee passport more opaque and left U.S. officials with a conundrum.

On the surface it didn’t appear to be such a big deal. But in Indian country, everything comes at a price. If the team had capitulated and agreed to accept U.S. passports to travel abroad they would have established yet another dangerous precedent in U.S./Indian relations. Acquiescing to this solution would essentially have ceded the issue of sovereign recognition on a very significant level. And while it may seem innocuous, I can assure you it is not. Every step closer to acknowledging that tribal lands are nothing more than bizarre extensions of U.S. territory is a step closer to losing the fundamental rights of indigenous nations. This is more than a lacrosse tournament.

For Indians, the State Department’s American passport solution was yet another extreme example of hubris and ignorance.

The tournament itself touts participating nations from around the globe, including the Iroquois Nation. Imagine how insulting it must be to be denied passage on an airplane because some bureaucrat at the airport check-in counter fell asleep in history class and wound up creating an international incident. The Obama administration has paid generous sums of lip service to tribes in the United States yet has proven to be callous and ill-informed in practice. True students of democracy would know that the Haudenosaunee compact that binds the six nations of the Iroquois together was so thoughtful and long-ranging in its conception that it was used as inspiration by our own founding fathers who framed the Constitution.

Of course, none of that matters to the 23 men who will be airborne as these words are being printed on the page. Throughout 400 years of poverty, humiliation and genocide, they have played this game that is as important to their nations as baseball is to America and soccer is to every other country on the planet.

On the field these warriors are one with their ancestors. Off the field they live in a cold, expendable reality. By the time this paper hits the stands they will have emerged from their international excursion and presented themselves on the field of battle, jetlagged and weary, without the benefit of practice. For today, Indian country can be thankful Mrs. Clinton granted them this one ceremonial leaf of dignity to cover the wound that has remained open and bleeding for too long.