David Mandl on Sat, 6 Mar 1999 00:13:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Environmental Bad Guys (fwd)

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In the dominant celebrity culture, explanations of societal phenomena
that focus on institutions, laws and processes tend not to resonate
with the public.

Increasingly, it seems, events and trends are understood and reported
as the products of individuals: Bill Gates creates the computer
revolution, Boris Yeltsin leads Russia to a purported democracy,
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, flanked by Federal Reserve Chair Alan
Greenspan and Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers guide the
world economy through turbulent times to a prosperous future.

Well, say reporters James Ridgeway and Jeffrey St. Clair, let's apply
the personification-of-social-developments approach even-handedly.

In A Pocket Guide to Environmental Bad Guys (New York: Thunder's Mouth
Press), Ridgeway and St. Clair name names of the worst polluters,
deforesters and despoilers of the wild, and the top lobbyists they
employ to pass laws, gut regulations, broker deals and win tax breaks
to legitimize their poisoning and destruction of the environment. (For
more on the book, see www.essential.org/orgs/ecobadguys.)

"You can focus on institutions and laws until you're blue in the
face," Ridgeway says, but no one will pay attention.

"While there has been a plethora of books on how the environment is
getting better," he says, in fact things are getting worse. And the
way to grab people's attention is not by waving statistical trends on
deforestation or global warming or any of a myriad of other
environmental ills. People respond when they can put a human face on

There's another reason to identify the "bad guys," Ridgeway says.
"You need to know your enemy," Ridgeway explains. "How they operate,
what they eat, what their styles" of doing business are.

So who do Ridgeway and St. Clair identify as the bad guys? Here's a

* John Bryson, CEO of Edison International. Ridgeway and St. Clair
list Bryson's "most imaginative sideline" as co-founding the Natural
Resources Defense Council. Edison's subsidiary Mission Energy is
building dirty coal-fired plants in Indonesia.

* Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Maxxam, who just managed to ransom the
Headwaters redwood grove in northern California for nearly half a
billion dollars. Faced with threats that Maxxam saws would chew the
entire forest, the Clinton administration agreed to pay $480 million
to acquire Headwaters -- even though the government estimated the
market value at less than $100 million and even though companies owned
by Hurwitz owe the government nearly $2 billion for the collapse of a
savings and loan.

* Jim Bob Moffett, head of Freeport McMoran, the mining giant that
operates the world's largest gold and copper mine in Indonesia. Local
indigenous communities charge the company has polluted local rivers,
killing fish and forests, and that the Indonesian military has
committed brutal human rights abuses to crush anti-Freeport
protests. Moffett's "quotable quote," according to Environmental Bad
Guys, refers to Freeport pollution at the Indonesian mine: "[It's]
equivalent to me pissing in the Arafura Sea."

* Ira Rennert, who is now building the largest residence in the United
States, on Long Island, and controls 95 percent of Renco Group, which
in turn owns Magnesium Corp. of America, "the largest source of air
pollution in America."

* Donald Pearlman, a former high official in the Reagan Energy and
Interior Departments, who "is by far the energy industry's most
effective lobbyist in fighting climate control rules."

Identifying the bad guys is Ridgeway and St. Clair's entry point, but
it is not the entirety of their handy Pocket Guide. In addition to
peeling away corporate greenwashing to reveal how dirty Big Business
really is, they highlight the critical work being done by thousands of
grassroots groups in the United States to put the bad guys in their

Ridgeway and St. Clair have subtitled Environmental Bad Guys "(and a
Few Ideas on How to Stop Them)." The most important of these ideas,
Ridgeway explains, is that hope for saving the environment lies not
with "the large environmental groups which sit in Washington, and
don't represent anybody or anything," but with the smaller groups that
have maintained their edge, practice a combative politics and are
directly confronting corporate power.

It turns out that while highlighting individual bad guys may be a key
to focusing the public on environmental degradation, the key to
blocking them is not to rely on individual celebrities, but garnering
public support.  Prominent environmental good guys -- people like
David Brower, founder of the Earth Island Institute and Friends of the
Earth, and Lois Gibbs, made famous at Love Canal and now heading the
Center for Health, Environment and Justice -- have made their mark not
as backroom lobbyists, but as effective organizers and crusaders for
environmental justice.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate
Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington,
D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell
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