Book Review

The War Against the Greens

The War Against the Greens:
 The "Wise Use" Movement, the New Right,
and Anti-Environmental Violence.
 By David Helvarg
 Sierra Books, 1994
 502 pages, $25.00

The chief theorist of the anti-environmental regulation Wise Use movement Ron Arnold once told Canadian timber industry officials that what they needed to fight the environmentalist agenda effectively was their own grassroots campaign. In Arnold's view, the only way to defeat a social movement in North America's activist society is with another social movement. The second given, as the resource industry propagandist explained, is that the public (and its media surrogates) naturally suspect big business. However, no such stigma applies to grassroots organizations which "can do things the industry can't," he said. "They can form coalitions to build real political clout. They can be an effective convincing advocate for your industry ... [They] can evoke powerful archetypes such as the sanctity of the family, the virtues of the close-knit community, the natural wisdom of the rural dweller, and many others you can think of."

 Simply put, Arnold advised multinational resource extractors that in an all- enveloping mediascape the way to achieve their corporate ends is by simulating democratic action.

Readers interested in the vital task of distinguishing the simulated reality from the genuine democratic article are indebted to investigative reporter David Helvarg, whose The War Against The Greens reveals how earnestly major resource companies and a supporting claque of right-wing populist media personalities have heeded Arnold's cri aux barricades. His exposé is a dissection - admirable in the breadth and depth of its reportage - of organized anti-environmentalism today.

What draws ordinary folks into environmental and anti-enviro movements alike is the perceived threat to individuals' health and way of life. It is no coincidence that the Wise Use movement (the banner under which anti-enviros agitate for abolition of environmental laws and agencies and de-regulation of timber, oil, gas, minerals and range land) originated over public land use policies affecting financially stressed small-scale farms, ranches and mines. However, what Helvarg unmasks are the deceptions of Wise Use's leaders, who purport to head a broad-based popular social movement with millions of members.

Helvarg puts the actual number at fewer than 100,000. But those limited numbers, when marshaled by Arnoldian ideology (Arnold claims he blended Lenin's organizing theories with the "collective-behavior analysis of a couple of professors in the social movements field") and the support of powerful vested interests add up to a militant new force on the political Right. The result is a peculiarly U.S. hybrid of industrial boosterism which contributes to anti-environmentalism's decidedly sinister cast.

 The War Against The Greens catalogues disturbing terroristic acts perpetrated against green activists. The family and dog of Diane Wilson, the shrimper protesting the expansion of Taiwanese plastics giant Formosa near Seadrift, Texas, were descended on and shot at by a marauding helicopter. Pat Costner, a toxics researcher, had her rural Arkansas home torched weeks before her major Greenpeace report on hazardous waste incinerators was published. None of these or other violent acts (including bombings, rape and assault) ever were linked to Wise Use, but they underscore why the presence of anti-enviros often inspires fear rather than a sense of justice denied.

 This is not necessarily a libel on every Wise Use and property rights member who believes new environmental regulations and fees for grazing or mineral exploitation on public lands unfairly threaten his or her livelihood. But when underwritten by corporate sponsors and orchestrated by professional ideologues, as this book starkly illustrates, rank-and-file protest can smack more of puppetry than populism.

The anti-enviro movement takes its name from Wise Use Agenda, a book published in 1988 by Arnold and former Youth Against McGovern leader and New Right fund raiser Alan Gottlieb, through the latter's Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

Wise Use's primary membership in the West consists of workers and middle managers of logging and mining companies - those most immediately susceptible to equating environmental protection with job loss. It also attracts those whose traditional access to public lands at far below cost - specifically, ranchers, corporate farmers and miners - is threatened by federal environmental policies designed to account fully for the significant long-term costs to society of such resource exploitation.

In the East, in contested areas such as Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and the Adirondacks, the anti-enviro movement is decidedly more upscale, appealing primarily to developers and land owners threatened by regulations governing endangered species and wild and scenic rivers.

 In Helvarg's view, what unifies anti-enviros both east and west of the Mississippi is that at "its core [Wise Use] is not about differing conservation philosophies or ecological world views, religion, or politics, but about basic economic interests."

 Achieving sustainability inevitably disrupts a waste-based primary resource-based economy that is grossly subsidized. Logically, those with high stakes in virgin materials production will fight environmentalists' attempts to impose full cost accounting for the ecological impact of their extraction and processing activities. Industries long accustomed to passing along to society responsibility for managing their toxic by-products accept doing so as a natural right.

Not surprisingly, Helvarg finds that the mining industry is an animating force behind Wise Use. For in an economy serious about kicking the waste habit and moving itself towards sustainability, the whole panorama of subsidies favoring primary material producers and consumers would recede, to be replaced by supports for widespread secondary materials use. And in such a set-up, mine owners surely rank among those with something to lose.

In the United States, the mining industry still operates under the 1872 Mining Act, which was written to attract prospectors to the frontier. As Helvarg notes, this 1872 law is a "legacy of the nineteenth-century Indian wars that allows mining companies to Špatent,' or take title to, federal lands and mine the hard-rock minerals they find there without paying fees." The resulting archaic fee structure is estimated to cost the public treasury $1 billion annually in foregone revenues. Yet, the full amount of subsidies to mining multinationals is far greater.

 In 1980, mining trade associations convinced Congress to pass the Bevill Amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act, temporarily exempting their wastes from regulation. A 1987 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, "Unfinished Business: A Comparative Assessment of Environmental Problems," rated problems related to mining wastes after global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion in terms of ecological risk. Yet, fifteen years after passage of Bevill, there still are no federal programs governing most mining wastes.

The Bevill exemption and the longevity of the 1872 Mining Act belie Wise Use propaganda about strictures imposed by runaway environmentalism, especially given that a 1985 EPA report to Congress estimated mining alone generated almost as much hazardous waste as all non-mining industries combined. (Sixty-one million metric tons compared to 64 million metric tons of nonmining waste.) Added to the public lands rip- off, the economic benefits of being exempted from hazardous waste management laws means the industry is mining the public treasury of astonishing sums of money.

 For the mining industry, funding an angry, pseudo-grassroots front is a cheap alternative to figuring out how to stop contaminating the earth with toxic, heavy metal sludges. Not surprisingly then, Helvarg finds mining executives among those choreographing "grassroots" support for the 1872 Mining Act in John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel/Casino in the gold mining capital of Reno, Nevada. At the Nugget Hotel, Helvarg introduces readers to another Wise Use champion, former Beverly Hills insurance salesman Chuck Cushman. Cushman is reputed to be "the most active anti-enviro field organizer in the United States."

 Cushman operates at the counter-movement's heart, a nexus consisting of Wise Use's founding fathers, Arnold and Gotlieb, the agro-business lobby Farm Bureau, East Coast property rights activists and a chain of "public interest" law firms like the New England Legal Foundation and the Pacific Legal Foundation, which cut its teeth defending DDT spraying in national forests. Today, according to Helvarg, Wise Use advocates draw on the support of two dozen conservative nonprofit law firms. The firms are sumptuously endowed by the right-wing Coors, Olin, Scaife and Bradley Foundations and corporations such as Exxon, Ford, Union Carbide and Phillips Petroleum.

 Even anti-enviro groups which distance themselves from the ideological extremism of Arnold, Gotlieb and Cushman may have dubious claims to grassroots status themselves. The largest anti-enviro group, People for the West, for instance, disavows any association with Wise Use. But Helvarg notes that almost its entire 1992 budget of $ 1.7 million was ponied up by mining companies fighting 1872 mining law reform.

 More surprisingly, perhaps, the grassroots game today is played not merely by multinationals but also by fanatical groups. Lyndon LaRouchites promote so-called anti- environmental "counter-science" through such magazines as 21st Century Science. Funding also comes from South African gold mining companies, Japanese manufacturers of dirt bikes and other off-road recreational vehicles and, as Helvarg puts it, "a Korean billionaire who thinks he's God." Disturbing evidence is provided of intertwining tentacles between elements of the anti-enviro leadership and Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Drawing on other reporters' revelations, Helvarg makes the point that Reverend Moon's cult (whose American Freedom Coalition played a key role in early Wise Use organizing) may be seen as a front for a neo-colonialist cheap resource grab by ultra- nationalist Asian tycoons. From this perspective, the cult's presence on the anti-enviro scene is no theological mystery. It represents a devious strategy by the Unification Church's extremist Korean and Japanese founders to remove environmental limits on their exploitation of the timber, fish, coal, beef and oil resources of the United States.

Against such an array of forces, both corporate and cult alike, legitimate grassroots environmental activism, no matter what the political beliefs of its participants, can be seen as a defense of not only natural and biological resources but also a defense of democratic traditions and practices.