Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PEER goes after Air Force for Guam Environmental Crimes

A recent post on reported on serious environmental infractions on Guam by the US Air Force. PEER -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- issued a "whistleblower disclosure" on the part of Nancy Mitton, Natural Resources Specialist at Guam's Andersen Air Force Base. Ms. Mitton has evidently been trying, for years, to draw attention to problems caused, or permitted, by the Air Force. Problems like rampant poaching, lack of protection of endangered species, paving beaches, and stripping vegetation from the habitats of nesting turtles. She finally gave up going through regular channels and took her grievances public.

I'm not in the least surprised that any of this is going on (her most common allegation is of 'abuse of authority'). But it struck me in reading her announcement that it is GREAT that Commondreams is paying attention to Guam's environment. 

Now how do we get them to start paying attention to Guam's people?

This isn't an entirely facetious question. For while Ms. Mitton's exclusive focus on the environment could -- from a local, Chamorro perspective -- be infuriating (she makes no distinction between the local 'poacher', who is probably hunting on his family's ancestral lands, and the Air Force officer who is blythely paving beaches), it also offers the opportunity for some much-needed publicity, and maybe even some useful coalition-building.

Here's the current situation: the military holds most of the power, the Chamorus have almost no international recognition, and their environment is in dire straits. Given this sorry state of affairs, my personal feeling is that it would be politically astute for local people to jump on the environmental bandwagon. Yes, the environmental protection laws are made by people who know nothing about Chamoru custom or culture. Yes, the people enforcing those laws are usually just as ignorant. But protecting the environment serves everyone's long-term interests -- especially the Chamorus', because when the military is long gone, the Chamorus will still be there. And if there aren't any turtle or fruitbats or coconut crabs left, it's going to hurt them more than anyone. 

So, as an interim first step, I think it would be smart for Chamoru Nasion et al to build a coalition with the environmental folks. What they lack in cultural understanding (and probably in understanding of the Treaty of Paris and other relevant political facts), they make up for in U.S. government clout AND scientific knowledge related to species survival. (And hey, the EPA is finally getting some teeth again under the new administration! Woohoo!) Plus, if the locals work WITH the environmentalists, and help them, it's an opportunity to educate them, and maybe even to get them on board to help further the cause of Chamoru self-determination. You never know. It sure beats having your beaches paved.

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