Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green To Me

Reviewed by Josh

Jeffrey St. Clair, Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green To Me (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press 2004).

Politics leaves its boot-print on almost every aspect of our lives. From our schools to health care, jobs, and the environment, it seems we can never win when up against the powers that be. Casting our votes for the evil of two lessers, as dutiful citizens do every election cycle, surely leaves us with a lesser by the end of the day. So you would think “hope” should be brushed away as naïve optimism, clung to only by the most stubborn of idealists.

If this is how you feel, you have yet to pick up this latest book by Jeffrey St. Clair, where he masterfully shatters the myth that all hope should be abandoned. St. Clair understands America’s environmental plight like no other living writer. He recognizes that neither major political body in the US sides with those who seek to protect our diminishing natural landscapes. He dutifully dissects the “Big Green” cabal, with the likes of the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, which claim to be the voices of nature, but instead drool at the feet of their foundation backers in order to guard their six-figure salaries.

However, despite his telling insights, St. Clair still has faith in a more just relationship between Earth and its human inhabitants.

In order to arrive at such a balance, we must first understand what we are up against, and St. Clair skillfully bulls-eyes our opposition. He exposes the effects compromise has unleashed on the environment, undermining grassroots accomplishments along the way. He brilliantly explains the maneuvers of South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle, where the Senator slipped crass language into a bill in the summer of 2002 that allowed logging on First American’s holy land in the Black Hills.  Daschle's legal jargon, backed by the Sierra Club and other Big Green organizations, permitted this injustice to persist without environmental restraints or the risk of lawsuits.

Because of such betrayals from the so-called “defenders of nature,” St. Clair despises institutional environmentalism. He contends that organizations like the Sierra Club spend more time raising money than working to save our natural resources. Executive directors for these green giants, he points out, are hired more for their fundraising capabilities than for any passion for nature a sort of twisted oxymoron, as being “green” no longer means what it once did.

Unsparing in his critiques, St. Clair blasts Bill Clinton for backing out of the Kyoto Agreement in 1998. “There’s no debate that the Earth’s climate is warming dangerously and inexorably. No scientist whose pockets aren’t bulging with corporate cash disputes the cause: burning of fossil fuels,” charges St. Clair. He also tears into George W. Bush for his Healthy Forests Initiative, under which, as St. Clair puts it, “In the name of fire prevention, Bush wants to allow the timber industry to log off more than 2.5 million acres of federal forest… it’s nothing more than a giveaway to big timber that comes at a high price to the taxpayer and the forest ecosystems.”

The essays collected in this book span St. Clair’s writings from the late 1990s to early 2003. He presciently portrayed the criminal acts of Enron before the titan’s misconduct graced the front pages of US newspapers. He also warned of the practices behind the spread of Mad Cow disease, depicting the grotesque slaughterhouse practices in Pasco, Washington: “According to workers, meat at the plant is routinely contaminated with cattle feces because workers on the processing line are not given enough time to wash their hands [and] meat falls to the floor, which is often littered with meat byproducts and entrails.”

This book is an adventure into the making of the “New West,” whose makeup St. Clair understands brilliantly. His influences range from Henry David Thoreau to the late Edward Abbey, but his style is all his own. He may certainly be the Seymour Hersh of environmental journalism, but unlike Hersh, his due has yet to come. Perhaps St. Clair is ahead of his time. May we will all catch up soon.

Indeed, St. Clair believes there is still time left.  This book is a landmark for its untold stories of battles that are fought below the radar of the mainstream press. “There’s a war going on just outside your window,” exclaims St. Clair. This remarkable collection of essays will encourage you to do more than sit and watch it play out on the nightly news, because “hope” relies on our willingness to participate directly.

“Remember: the map is not the territory,” St. Clair writes. “So burn the maps and get lost in the territory, while you’ve still got a chance.”

Reviewed by Josh Frank Left Turn Magazine New York, N.Y.