Due to the internet's "research" into the bombings at the Boston Marathon this week which was full of misinformation, jumping to conclusions and worldwide trending of the names of the falsely accused, I was reminded of a bit of research that I did, for the movie "Religulous," on a quote which is often attributed to former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
Here's the thing, James Watt didn't say that. But the internet says that he did. And when I was asked to verify it, I actually had to do something that no blogger has ever done: go to the library.
What Watt did say, on February 5, 1981 at the Oversight hearing before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs in the House of Representatives, was “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to have the resources needed for future generations.”
In mentioning "before the Lord returns" while testifying to congress about the need for environmental responsibility, he's implying that we should keep the end times in mind when estimating the fuel needs of our great, great grandchildren. 'Cause, the rapture isn't powered by coal, it's powered by prayer. Or Kirk Cameron. Or something.
The quote above is only in Congressional transcripts, which I found in the stacks at UCLA, no where else on the internet until now. I know, hold your excitement.
It's frustrating, that if you use the internet for research, you'll find the same misquotes cut and pasted onto every blog and book and reputable periodical in town. I'm looking at you, Washington Post. So, I did a little, go-to-the-library looking into it. Actually, go-to-two-libraries looking into it.
And below I've charted out how Watt’s statement was swapped around and how he makes himself sound better by changing one word in his 2005 Washington Post article, therefore misquoting himself. And it’s not like he can say it’s a typo because he sent the changed transcript to a blogger as well.
In the Washington Post article Watt's writes “leave the resources” rather than “have the resources” which is what is in the published transcripts from the House of Representatives. I’d say that swapping in "leave" for "have" conveniently makes it sound better environmentally. As if he wants to "leave" the trees instead of clear-cutting. If you read into it, by saying “have” it sounds more like he wants to cut them down but don’t use all the wood at this time.
Am I giving the stenographer the benefit of a doubt? Yes. Yes, I am.
As stated above, the popular misquote is: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." It was first found in a book published in 1990, which I found in the Santa Monica Public Library, Setting the Captives Free by Austin Miles (1990, pg. 229). Miles is unable to substantiate this quote. Grist picked up the quote in 2004 and then Bill Moyers’ quotes it from Grist in a speech that same year. Both Grist and Moyers have since apologized for the misquote. Watt is also upset at Barbara R. Rossing, who wrote The Rapture Exposed, because she cherry picks his actual quote, and truly by cutting it off she does put him in a worse light. As a side note, Watt was brought up on contempt of Congress charges for failure to supply subpoenaed documents on the very topic he was briefing them on. You know, honor thy constituency and all that.
In 2004 Grist Magazine published “Odds are it was in 1981, when President Reagan's first secretary of the interior, James Watt, told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. 'God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back,' Watt said in public testimony that helped get him fired.” “The Godly Must Be Crazy,” Grist Magazine, by Glenn Scherer, Oct 27, 2004 "Odds are"? Seriously? Is that all you have to do as a journalist? I mean, couldn't you do a little bit of journalism down at the law library? It's free. Maybe it's the parking charges. That's probably it. Or traffic. That's another possibility.
Bill Moyers stated that he’s quoting from Grist in his acceptance remarks, on December 1, 2004, for the Global Environmental Citizen Award at Harvard University: "James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate if a recent Gallup poll is accurate." Yeah, ABC-NBC-PBS-Bill Moyers.
The following is Barbara Rossing's partial actual quote which upsets Watt in his Washington Post Article "Watt told U.S. senators that we are living at the brink of the end-times and implied that this justifies clear cutting the nation's forest and other unsustainable environmental policies. When he was asked about preserving the environment for future generations, Watt told his Senate confirmation hearing, 'I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.' Watt's 'use it or lose it' view of the world's resources is a perspective shared by the Rapture proponents." (The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing (of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago), 2004, pg 7)
Then Powerlineblog received the transcript from Watt which includes the “leave the resources” line, showing my point that Watt is repeating this word change that he made in the Washington Post. The blog also asserts that Grist added “testimony before Congress.” Well, Powerlineblog, that detail Grist got right. He was briefing the House of Representatives which IS Congress. And Watt himself does not refute this so this is probably a blogger looking for something that’s not there as the real quote was said before Congress so let's add that on to the misquote pile.
Here is the portion of Watt’s Washington Post Article wherein he changes one word in his quote and is annoyed that it gets cut off by Rossing "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns; whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations." (“The Religious Left’s Lies” The Washington Post, May 21, 2005, by James Watt)
And finally, the part that you've all been waiting for... THE CONGRESSIONAL TRANSCRIPT - Transcribed by me from the actual transcript after sitting on the floor for two days in the basement of the UCLA Law Library reading through volumes of records attempting to find the quote as I could only find the year and month in which he testified. So besides not having the quote, no one had the exact date online either.
Here's the title, it's short and catchy "Oversight hearing before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Seventh Congress, First Session on Briefing by the Secretary of the Interior, Hearing" held February 5, 1981, Serial No. 97-1, Subject: 290300 -- Energy Planning & Policy-- Environment, Health, & Safety ;290400 -- Energy Planning & Policy-- Energy Resources; ;ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY;RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT;US DOI-- PLANNING; GOVERNMENT POLICIES;HEARINGS, Published: 1981 Jan 01, Pgs. 37-38. The UCLA Law Library Call Number is Y4.In8/14:97-1
This transcript should really be turned into an animation, especially the part at the end.
“Mr. Weaver [D. Ore.]: Do you want to see on lands under your management, the sustained yield policies continued?
Secretary Watt: Absolutely.
Mr. Weaver: I am very pleased to hear that. Then I will make one final statement... I believe very strongly that we should not, for example, use up all the oil that took nature 1 billion years to make in one century.
We ought to leave a few drops of it for our children, their children. They are going to need it... I wonder if you agree, also, in the general statement that we should leave some of our resources--I am now talking about scenic areas or preservation, but scenic resources for our children? That we should not just gobble them up all at once?
Secretary Watt: Absolutely. That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations.
I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to have the resources needed for future generations.
Mr. Weaver: Mr. Chairman, I want to conclude, if I might, seeing the Secretary brought up the Lord, with a story.
The Chairman: The conversation will be in order.
Mr. Weaver: In my district, Mr. Chairman, there are some who do not like wilderness. They do not like it at all. I would try to plead with them. I go around my district and say do you not believe--I would plead with their religious sensibilities--that we should leave some of our land the way we received it from the Creator?
I have said this frequently throughout my district. I got a letter from a constituent... He said, 'Mr. Weaver, if the Lord wanted to leave his forest lands, some of them in the way that we got them from him," he said, "why did He send His only son down to Earth as a carpenter?'
Mr. Weaver: That stumped us. That stumped us until one of my aides, an absolute genius, said that the Lord Jesus before he determined his true mission spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
So when blog after blog copies and pastes the same piece of information and tweets and retweets and then CNN reports on it, it becomes "a fact." We're living in a time where content wins over correct. There are no more scoops. The internet already broke the story. In more ways than one.
I don't believe that you've read this all the way to the end, so I put this sentence here.