The Survival of the Species is a Hoax: Why a Clean Environment is a Human Right

 One of my favorite verses in the foundational Hindu text, the Upanishads, recounts the very origins of the living being as an organic outgrowth of the space that surrounds us. With beautiful simplicity the lines read, “in the beginning came space. From space came air. From air, fire. From fire, water. From water came solid earth. From earth came living plants. From plants food and seed; and from seed and food came a living being, man.”

 What a travesty it would be if there were some aberration in this mythological continuum linking man with nature, if the solid earth never emerged from the water or the plants never sprouted from the earth. It’s nearly impossible to imagine what would become of our philosophies of nature if these mythological precursors never attempted to bridge the divide between man and his environment. I emphasize the phrase “nearly impossible to imagine” because this myth which aimed to articulate the connection between man and nature, is being subverted by another myth right before our eyes, one that is far more venomous than the idea that man emerged from a seed. Tragically, this new, more venomous myth has been hammered into the consciousness of the American public to point that it is often presented as legitimate, and in extreme cases as inviolable fact. It’s the fiction that despite the rising sea levels, violent weather patterns, forest fires, and a withering ozone, global warming is a hoax or as the GOP likes to say “it’s Liberal hoax”. This rejectionist policy on the part of the GOP, with the silent complicity of spineless Democrats, has been the defining feature in not only global warming legislation but environmental legislation altogether.

As necessary when examining the ethos of any empire, it’s imperative to dig into the historical record, using the buried truths of our forgotten past to illuminate the darkness of our immediate future. Take for instance a situation that unfolded in Quitovac, Mexico, a small region in the federative district of Sonora, populated by the indigenous O’odham peoples. In this land, primarily used for O’odham ceremonies and cultural celebrations, Mexico’s Centro de Gestion Integral de Residuos in conjunction with the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency hatched a plan to “to circumvent [an] international law which required toxic materials from factories to be returned to the country of origin of the raw materials for disposal”. US officials bypassed this law in order to dump highly volatile toxins in the region and turn the cultural epicenter of the O’odham people into an infinite garbage can.

 During this period, from 2005 to 2006, the Mexican government sanctioned the dumping “45,000 tons of asbestos, organocholorides and industrial waste sludge” eliciting much outrage from the people of the region who rightfully claimed that such actions would “expose children to deadly toxins, contaminate underground well water, [and] desecrate the ceremonial grounds at Quitovac”. While these crimes may have been reported in the mainstream press, they made sure to omit one significant fact. The fact that these crimes were not only committed without the EPA intervening but the EPA actually approved of it! When these crimes were presented for review by the organization EPA official,  Emily Pimentel, described the effects of the pollution as having “no significant impact”. This total disregard for elementary principles of human rights stands in glaring contrast to the mission statement of the organization to “protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—upon which life depends.” Maybe this statement should be revised with a slight qualification that reads “except for indigenous people”. 

 Indeed, these are all inconvenient facts which hardliner Republicans could deploy to discredit the organization but the GOP doesn’t bring up these facts simply because these faults of the EPA conform with their interests. “Only a weak Environmental Protection Agency is a good one” they would say. God-forbid the EPA renounces its corrupt past and actually begins to implement reforms to enrich the environment. This would not fit into the narrow framework of “market solutions” or “fiscal responsibility”. And this sentiment of environmental neglect and profiteering is reflected in our international and domestic policy, a veritable spit in the face of every climate scientist who has ever invested their time in investigating the fragility of our ecosystem.  

Today, clean air, clean drinking water, and arable land, is not a human right. Today, these are political bargaining chips, talking points for so-called “debates” between climate scientists and ignorant politicians. To find the creme de la creme of ignorance look no further than Representative John Shimkus who commented that “the earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. A man will not destroy this Earth . This earth will not be destroyed by a flood”.  This theological assessment of global warming struck a cord with me, not because it was profound in what it’s message entailed but more profound in what it did not entail. Shimkus said “the earth will only end when God declares it’s time to be over” but I have a far deeper question. The earth may end on God’s watch but when will humanity end? Shimkus failed to see that the annihilation of humanity doesn’t necessarily entail the annihilation of the earth. For all we know the earth could go on orbiting the sun as the bacterial vestiges of our species–a species that has gone astray– blow around in the atmosphere, lingering like the human remains that will blanket the bottom of lakes after they’ve flooded our houses. Our neglect of the environment is not only killing the earth, it may well motivate the earth to kill us. Beneath the sloganeering of global warming as a “Liberal hoax” slumbers a more sinister hoax, the survival of the human species.

 Of course, I’m indulging in some hyperbole but how hyperbolic is it when the US stands out in a pool of 192 nations in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocols, a foundational document of environmental policy that aims to bring about a  “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”? Is it hyperbole when Democracy Now reports that “House Republicans have killed the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming and introduced at least three different bills aimed at blocking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act”? This conforms perfectly with the Republican agenda that the EPA is for dumping tons of shit on indigenous people and not cleaning up the air. These developments should motivate us to speak out when corporations and governments commit such atrocities with total impunity. Alas, the writer of the Upanishads could not have predicted the mutilation that the ecosystem would suffer at the hands of the empire state. I’m contemplating a revision of those favored verses which would read as follows:

In the beginning came space. From space came polluted air. From polluted air, forest fires. From forest fires, oil contaminated water. From oil contaminated water came the littered earth. From the littered earth came wilting plants. From wilted plants, genetically modified food and seed; and from genetically modified seed and food came a dying being, man


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