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Environmentalists Against Nature

by JOSHUA FRANK

(EDITORS’ NOTE: Earth Day is finally here, and it’s always nice to say thank you to those enviros out there that work day in and day out to protect our natural environment. So here’s a short excerpt from Josh Frank’s new book Left Out! — and a big thanks to the Sierra Club, for, well, not much!)

In the eve of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the Sierra Club fell short in forcefully opposing the imminent war. The organization’s leaders even threatened to fire any employees of the organization that dared to denounce the illegal offensive. These spineless enviros, most likely afraid of rocking the Democratic boat, must have known better, for the first Gulf War had devastating effects on the environment.

Over 700 oil wells were set ablaze by Iraqi soldiers when the US entered the conflict. Prior to this horrific atrocity, as CNN reported in 1999, “Iraq was responsible for intentionally releasing some 11 million barrels of oil into the Arabian Gulf from January to May 1991, oiling more than 800 miles of Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian coastline. The amount of oil released was categorized as 20 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and twice as large as the previous world record oil spill. The cost of cleanup has been estimated at more than $700 million.”

The Club should have recognized such a disaster was likely to ensue as the US invaded Iraq. Saddam loyalists promised to light oil fields afire, hoping to expose what they claimed were the US’s underlying motives for attacking their country — oil.

But the Iraqis weren’t the only ones to blame for such environmental devastation during the first Gulf War. The US drowned at least 80 crude oil ships to the bottom of the Persian Gulf, partly to uphold the UN’s economic sanctions against Iraq in the early 1990s.

After studying the ecological effects of the war, Green Cross International wrote in a 2000 report:

“The detrimental impacts of coastal development on marine resources will not end in 15 years, but instead will be felt much longer, if not forever. The coast has been developed increasingly since the War, without environmental impact assessments in most of the cases. Also, several huge projects are planned for the future (e.g., completion of the waterfront project, the bridge across Kuwait Bay, free trade zone on Bubiyan Island). Thorough examination needs to be undertaken to identify the risks posed to marine life by these coastal development projects … The environmental impact of air pollution fallout, fumes, and desert topsoil contamination from the oil lakes may have long-term health consequences through accumulation in the food chain or contamination of irrigation and drinking water. They represent a major long-term public health issue because they potentially affect the whole population of Kuwait. Research and monitoring efforts should be directed to further assess exposure levels and health outcomes. The role of ongoing environmental pollution from industrial sources (e.g. pollution from traffic and oil industries) and behavioral health co-factors (e.g., diet, smoking) also ought to be assessed.”

With all this information regarding the first Iraq war, and the Sierra Club still couldn’t say no to Bush’s war. But some vocal chapters of the Club did voice their opposition to the invasion. The San Francisco Bay and New Mexico chapters, for instance, protested after several Sierra Club activists paved the way in Glen Canyon Utah. “The present administration has declared its intention to achieve total military dominance of the world,” Patrick Diehl, vice-chair of the Glen Canyon Group told CounterPunch during the height of their dissent. “We believe that such ambitions will produce a state of perpetual war, undoing whatever protection of the environment … conservation groups may have so far achieved.”

In response Sierra Club president Ferenstein gave a tepid rebuttal in the Christian Science Monitor. “In order to reduce oil’s influence in geopolitical relations,” she wrote, “the US and other nations have to move away from an oil-dependent economy toward a future based on clean energy, greater efficiency and more renewable power. The Sierra Club has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Iraq, proceeding according to the UN resolutions, and we emphatically believe that long-term stability depends on the US reducing our oil dependence.”

Responding to these assertions Jeffrey St. Clair argued,

“Apparently, Ferenstein doesn’t understand that the UN Resolution gives the US and Britain the green light to whack Iraq with the slightest provocation, real or fabricated. And apparently war is okay with the Club as long as it’s the result of a consensus process (even if the UN consensus was brokered by bullying and bribery) — although how the environment suffers any less under this feel-good scenario remains a mystery.”

As the wound inflicted by insurgent Club members who opposed the war began to bleed, Ferenstein reluctantly declared the Sierra Club opposed the “United States’ military action against Iraq.” It was too little too late. The Club, after all, should have been on the front lines protesting Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq from the very start.

But by failing to take the Republicans and Democrats to task, the Club actually helped weaken Democratic opposition to the Republican’s atrocious policies. This weakness, in turn, allowed Bush to get away with virtually everything he pleased. Including the Iraq invasion.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. You can pre-order a copy at discounted rate at www.BrickBurner.org. Josh can be reached at: Joshua@BrickBurner.org.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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