Throughout recorded, or more specifically televised, history there are few instances captured that have as profoundly displayed the sudden realization of a people of their power as the day in Romania, December 21st, 1989, when the long oppressed citizens gathered at the presidential palace in protest and the dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, stepped out on his balcony intending to calm and condemn them. Condescendingly Ceauşescu gestured for them to hush, but instead the crowd hissed their disgust back at him.
And in that instant, as the camera zoomed in on the tiny man on the balcony, Ceauşescu cringed, showed his fear and ducked hurriedly inside. There is a stunned moment as the crowd, so long crushed and brutalized by the Ceauşescu regime, suddenly and profoundly realized their strength and the dictator was overthrown by morning. In an instant the people overthrew the totalitarian oligarchy which had left them to suffer for its own whims. His power after all was given to him and could just as decidedly be taken away.
Here’s why I bring this up. What has got to be the absolutely most pathetic moment in a presidency marked by an unprecedentedly long parade of pathetic moments surely had to be this past Dec. 15th, when thousands of activists in Bali at the 13th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change gathered to protest US anti-environmental policies and CNN showed a photo of a banner that simply read “Please.” As in “Please, you arrogant selfish-to-the-point-of-destroying-us-all US consumers who account for only 6% of the world’s population but squander 50% of everybody’s resources could you please stop insisting on your right waste everything you want so all of us, yourself included, can live out the century? Please?”
I mean when Kevin Conrad, the representatives from Papua-New Guinea, a country where only 60 yrs ago many of citizens had so little technological awareness that when they first saw planes in WWII they thought that they were gods, when those people can correctly call our president backward and ignorant of the realities of global warming then it was definitely time to wake up. Conrad put it simply: “We seek your leadership, but if you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way.”” Luckily America’s representative at the conference, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, had her own Ceauşescu-esque deer-in-the-headlights moment and realized that if you don’t occasionally indulge the peasants they will quite justifiably overthrow and eat you. And so she agreed to not support mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, but did agree to continue to talk about it.
See what I mean? Pathetic.
Of course Republicans have two major challenges when it comes to even considering environmental restraint. Typically you can’t depend on them to stop thinking about their wallet till they get bitten in the ass. Every since Reagan famously proclaimed the real polluters in North America were those damned trees, GOP leaders have been dramatically wrongheaded on environmental issues. For example they claim to appreciate the raw majesty of our American wilderness as if they invented the term “outdoor” and then champion plowing up ANWR to collect the spare barrel or two available there saying it is to make America strong. They then turn a blind eye when, despite posting new record profits of $9.4 billion last quarter, Exxon has gone back to court to attempt to get out of paying the 5 billion dollar settlement they owe Alaskan natives for their 1989 oil spill that devastated Prince Williams Sound.
Pass a bill that allows increases in logging and clear-cutting of old growth primordial timber and call it the “Healthy Forests Initiative.” Arrange for your favorite campaign donors to increase their pollution allowances and call it “the Clear Skies Act.” Shove through a reworking of environmental protections in West Virginia to allow the coal industry to blast the tops of mountains off and shove them into the forests and rivers below thus destroying dozens of small towns, thousands of acres of virgin wilderness and hundreds of rivers and say it improves the quality of life.
But for whom? Meanwhile the peasants are revolting.
Small wonder. Earlier in the week long Bali debate which featured ten thousand delegates from more than 180 nations someone drew attention to a carefully thought-out study that proposed measures to reduce carbon emissions world-wide from 25-40%. When the word got back to Bush he scowled like someone who just found a turd in their refried beans and spit his pronouncement that the two-year multi-national research project was quote “totally unrealistic” and “unhelpful.” This comes when just the week before our own nation’s top scientists explained that if the world does not reduce all greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 all hope will be lost.
Of course, even though oil prices have spiraled up into the nosebleed seats and are hovering in the $100 a barrel range, the real problem is not that the world is running out of oil, but that there is still too much oil. Some estimates note that there are potentially still several—count ‘em—trillion barrels of petroleum in the earth’s crust. At three bucks a gallon there is little possibility oil companies and the politicians they own will make any serious changes to stop global warming till we’re all using gondolas to navigate Manhattan.
And who are the politicians they own? Well, you can start with Condoleezza Rice, a former top executive at Chevron, one of the few companies that refused to divest itself from the military junta in Burma because they’re making so much on their oil fields there. What does it matter if a few thousand monks are sacrificed every now and then to keep the rabble in line and the oil pumps flowing. After all, oil is thicker than blood.
Or how about good old Tricky Dick Cheney himself, former head of Halliburton and it former subsidiary KBR, under investigation now not only for screwing the American public to the tune of multiple billions in corrupt bloated no-bid contracts; but now also for concealing the fact that its male employees out and out gang-raped one of its female employees and told her she’d be fired if she talked.
And then there’s Bush himself who, like his dad and grandpa before him spent much of his life in the energy industry and made many of his millions there. Bush was drilling dry holes with the Bin Ladens and other Saudis back in his Harkin and Arbusto Oil days and was laying around with Ken Lay before the rest of us understood what a dirty joke that really was.
With leadership like that it is small wonder we have done so little to save Sudan and spent hundreds of billions in Iraq. We didn’t save the country’s 7000 year old cultural heritage, killed over a million of them, devastated millions more, but the first building we secured with troops was the oil ministry. We spent years crafting a PR campaign to get the country behind attacking Iran; but when the truth finally gets told it turns out that they don’t have nukes after all. But they do have oil.
Of course if we’d really wanted an environmental president we would have had to go the other direction back in 2000 in such a clear way that the even the republican vote-stuffers and Poppy Bush’s pals on the Supreme Court couldn’t have twisted the results. For as everybody knows by now, Al Gore has indeed won Nobel Peace Prize, making him 4th American elected president to win this prize.
Unlike Bush who was busy sneering about the presidential palace over the latest affront that the peasants were complaining about--the CIA destroying evidence of their torture practices--Al Gore was in Bali, after having appeared in Norway to collect his Noble Peace Prize. He said if we didn’t show the resolve now, our grandchildren, the few who survived, will bitterly ask us why we didn’t do something, why didn’t we care. That is of course unless America meets with its own Cleacesque moment first. So far the peasants are still saying please.