By Adam Engel
Jeffrey St. Clair’s BORN UNDER A BAD SKY (”BAD SKY”) is a very different book from the more theoretical/philosophical/anthropological analyses of Mumford’s MYTH OF THE MACHINE, Richard Heinberg’s THE PARTY’S OVER, and Derrick Jensen’s ENDGAME, but it belongs on the same shelf, and like those other modern “wake-up” calls, should be read aloud in the streets –immediately. What the astronomers and laboratory physicists were to Einstein and Bohr, St. Clair is to “theoretical” environmentalists like James Lovelock and Kirkpatrick Sale, and even Sitting Bull and Black Elk, who warned long ago about the inevitable burn-out of “The American way of Life.” BAD SKY is an example of on-the-ground, muckraking journalism that proves not only that the warnings of what the likes of Bush and Company slandered as “the environmental fringe” were right on target, but that “The American Way of Life” is indeed “non-negotiable,” for Nature does not “negotiate” with terrorists. From the view-point of all flora and fauna in this once abundant land, including humans, that is exactly what the corporations and government agencies that aid and abet them are: terrorists.
Other words for these people (a corporation is a person, according to “our” law, if not Nature’s, no?) might be “parasites,” “free-loaders,” “bums.” The bill is long overdue, and we, not “our corporate sponsors” or “our government” will be paying it for generations.
The consequences of our energy-addiction and the technology-trumps-life system of the corporate/government “dealers” who supply us with our “junk” are everywhere.
For instance, the Beef Industry is not only a source of high cholesterol and a “Treblinka for animals,” as I.B. Singer described the modern industrial slaughterhouse; it’s also a colossal consumer of water.
“In the Southwest, if you want to divine the truth, follow the water. Sooner or later you’ll end up at a cow. More than 80 percent of the water diverted from the Colorado River goes for agricultural irrigation. And that means cattle. The water goes largely to multi-millionaire ranchers and ranches owned by transnational corporations and banks. The water no longer goes to the rural Hispanics, Apache, Hopi, and Navajo, who had developed a truly sustainable grazing and small agriculture based on the ancient system of acequias and other indigenous irrigation systems,” St. Clair writes in BAD SKY.
Just how did the U.S. “make the dessert bloom” with cities and industries that never belonged there in the first place? Why, by diverting water from rivers with huge, government-sponsored dams. Public works. That’s good, no? No, according to St. Clair. When water is diverted from its natural course to provide energy, often via Nuclear Power plants, the result, besides a transitory burst of power for toasters and TVs, is horrendous pollution, nuclear waste, water made toxic after “processing” by power plants, and the dead, stagnant water within the dams themselves.
Then of course we have the Timber Industry, which would, if it could (and due to government “oversight” basically can or will) shred every tree in the West until none are left standing (but those last few trees will yield quite a profit). As St. Clair points out, it’s not about a limited number of lumberjacks losing jobs over a few spotted owls, but rather vast multinational corporate forces and we, their consumer/constituents, disrupting and destroying complex eco-systems in the name of “progress” and profit. Disturbing indigenous eco-systems causes unpredictable consequences for the global “environment” of which even we humans are a part. “The Environment” is not something “out there,” yet another enemy we can fight with slogans like “The War against Pollution,” or what-have-you. We are part of the environment, and the environment is in us. Or are we composed of petroleum-based plastics too?
If, according to Chaos Theory, one butterfly flapping its wings in South America contributes to weather patterns in North America, what does the destruction of thousands of birds, bears, wolves, deer, trees, and entire ecosystems, however small or large, have in store for us? This is, ultimately, the theme of BORN UNDER A BAD SKY: the consequences of our chaos as detailed by St. Clair’s lucid writing, on-site experience, and meticulous reading and research. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” corporatist, “free-marketeers” like to say. Jeffrey St. Clair proves how right they are in these dispatches from Hell – our beloved “Homeland.”
For this reviewer, reading BORN UNDER A BAD SKY was much like watching the movie, “A Clockwork Orange.” The reader wants to turn away, but is too fascinated with the almost surreal horror of it all, so he/she will go one, must go on, even, if necessary, “with eyes wide shut” (to borrow from another Kubrick film). All Americans should read this book, particularly those who still believe that buying and recycling curvaceous pints of Poland Spring water, made with “30-percent less plastic” (so you’ll buy 50-percent more with a “clean conscience”) is, as the bottles advertise, “eco-friendly.” BAD SKY forces the reader to wonder not only how anything made of plastic can be “eco-friendly,” but just WHY we must — to be on the “safe” side — buy bottled water in the first place.
BORN UNDER A BAD SKY is divided into three sections:
“Way out West” relates, in excruciating detail, the devastation wrought upon the natural world, our (or rather, the Indians’) inheritance. Such acts of ecocide (and homicide) include nuclear tests done by “our” government in the 1950s and 1960s that exposed thousands, perhaps millions of Southwesterners to dangerous, “down-wind” radiation.
“Politicians and Other Strangers” examines certain bizarre myths, such as that of an environmentally friendly Al Gore. As the reader will discover, case after case, corporate deal after corporate deal, Gore is anything but “Green.” Other such myths include the “benevolence” of such Big Business-friendly government agencies such as the EPA, FDA, Department of Agriculture, FEMA, the Bureau of Land Management and countless others defending corporate/government/military interests with our tax dollars.
“The Beautiful and the Dammed” tells of two trips by the author down the Green and Colorado rivers in the dammed-off Glen Canyon region. Passing along a “preserved” (that is, dry) area of the Canyon, St. Clair and his companions encounter both beauty and horror in desolation wrought by dammed areas, some scheduled to be flooded but “saved” at the expense of other areas via political wheeling and dealing. The “heart of darkness” the author finds during this trip down the river is not the so-called “savage wildness of Nature,” but rather, the allegedly rational, systematic forces that destroyed it, and our own “hearts” in the process.
The scope of BORN UNDER A BAD SKY is wide, and St. Clair’s insight into the systemic destruction of our land, air, water and future is deep. But the devils are in the details….