by Bill Moyers
Published on Friday, October 7, 2005 by

Keynote Speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists Convention, Austin, Texas – October 1, 2005

Thank you for inviting me here today and for counting me as a colleague.

I don’t fit neatly into the job description of an environmental journalist although I have kept returning to the beat ever since my first documentary on the subject some 30 years ago. That was a story about how the new Republican governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, had set out to prove that the economy and the environment could share the center lane on the highway to the future.

Those were optimistic years for the emerging environmental movement. Rachel Carson had rattled the cage with Silent Spring and on the first Earth Day in 1970 twenty million Americans rose from the grassroots to speak for the planet. Even Richard Nixon couldn’t say no to so powerful a subpoena by public opinion, and he put his signature to some far-reaching measures for environmental protection.

I shared that optimism and believed journalism would help to fulfill it. I thought that when people saw a good example they would imitate it, that if Americans knew the facts and the possibilities they would act on them. After all, half a century ago, I had walked every day as a student across the campus of my alma mater, the University of Texas and could look up at the main tower and read the words: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I believed we were really on the way toward the third American Revolution. The first had won our independence as a nation. The second had finally opened the promise of civil rights to all Americans. Now the third American Revolution was to be the Green Revolution for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

Sometimes in a moment of reverie I imagine that it happened. I imagine that we had brought forth a new paradigm for nurturing and protecting our global life support system; that we had faced up to the greatest ecological challenge in human history and conquered it with clean renewable energy, efficient transportation and agriculture, and the non-toxic production and protection of our forests, oceans, grasslands and wetlands. I imagine us leading the world on a new path of sustainability.

Alas, it was only a reverie. The reality is otherwise. Rather than leading
the world in finding solutions to the global environmental crises, the United States is a recalcitrant naysayer and backslider. Our government and corporate elites have turned against America’s environmental visionaries – from Teddy Roosevelt to John Muir, from Rachel Carson to
David Brower, from Gaylord Nelson to Laurence Rockefeller. They have set out to eviscerate just about every significant gain of the past generation, and while they are at it they have managed to blame the environmental movement itself for the failure of the Green Revolution. If environmentalism isn’t dead, they say, it should be. And they will gladly lead the cortege to the grave.

Yes, I know: the environmental community has stumbled on many fronts. All of us in this room have heard and reported the charges: that the rhetoric is alarmist and the ideology polarizing; that command-and-control regulation produces bureaucratic bungles, slows economic growth, and delays technological advances that save lives; that what began as a grassroots movement has now become an entrenched green bureaucracy precariously hanging on in occupied Washington while passionate citizens across the country are starved for financial resources. There is some truth in these charges; all movements flounder and must periodically regroup.

Before we consider the case closed, however, let me urge you to take a hard look at the backlash. I didn’t reckon on the backlash. If the Green Revolution is a bloody pulp today, it is not just because the environmental movement mugged itself. It is because the corporate, political, and religious right ganged up on it in the back alleys of power. Big companies fund a relentless assault on green values and policies. Political ideologues launch countless campaigns to strip from government all its functions
except those that reward their rich benefactors. And homegrown ayatollahs are more set on savaging gay people than saving the green earth.

I especially failed to reckon with how ruthless the reactionaries would be. What they did to Rachel Carson when Silent Spring appeared in 1962 has been honed to a sharp edge aimed at the jugular of anyone who challenges

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