Fast as Lightning!
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan & Wheeling, West Virginia
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I'm not sure what is targeted to go into this thread and what is not. I'll probably violate the OPs intention with the following, and if so apologize.
The Oil Spill issue brought to mind the issues of industrial spills and leaks and contamination in general. Having been a teacher, and a government volunteer as chairman of the Kalamazoo Country Solid Waste Planning Commission, and as a brother to family members working on the "dirty real world" side of industrial processes (Bayer, Columbia Southern, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Chemicals, ORMET, Barium Reduction, etc), I've noticed a couple of things perhaps of interest and even use in discussions such as these.
1). You can object to these laws and governmental organizations which the US has set up to attempt to mitigate chemical assaults on ourselves and our environment, but nothing is clearer than the THREAT of some punishment under these laws makes businesses warier and more prone to spend some money trying to obey them. Even if one imagined that all owners and CEOs cared about the environment, major breakdowns within the heavy chemicals and mass extraction industries would happen anyway. Human beings get really cavalier on the job --- even if they KNOW that if something bad happened they'd get fired, they zone out on that anyway. If there are laws with teeth in them, this irresponsible human character trait is at least moderated somewhat. Push comes down from the Top to not have this happen. Admittedly, you cannot build a system which is human fool proof (other than, if you're lucky, a nuclear power plant, and look at the overkill strengths and back-ups you have to go to there.) So spills and other pollutions are going to happen. The bigger the system the more likely the spill will be catastrophic to something. The more transport necessary, the more likely again, at several points in the system. Choosing to live in a heavy-industrial heavy-on-transport economy says we are accepting that bad accidents are going to happen, and that some people and some things are going to be killed by them. ... and other than having an obsessive genius at every human work station, the best we can do is to create incentives-with-bite to shake up the alertness and discipline of ordinary workers. Any argument that government regulations need not exist, and need not be so punishing, can only be made by persons deciding that the loss of life at some portion is acceptable to feed the lifestyle we desire.
2). Bitching however is still rampant. My tenure on the KCSWMPC taught me some lessons there. It was interesting to see who the people were who were objecting to perceived threats and who were not. The people who were not objecting to perceived threats were the people who felt that not building something like a landfill would cost them money --- either because they were "in the business" somehow, or wanting to reduce their waste disposal fees, so just felt that this didn't affect them. None of these people could be labeled "environmentalists" in any definition, and almost all could be labeled "personal-economy-oriented." There were no statements ever about values which involved broader based concerns.
The bitchers presented a mixed group. Some of these were easily labeled "environmentalists" and they made all sorts of "impractical" arguments which were viewed as economics-unfriendly. But there were others of a distinctly separate stripe. These were the NIMBYs ("Not-In-MY-Backyard") folks, who were, frankly indistinguishable from the people on the opposite side, except that THIS was THEIR backyard we're talking about.
What's the point? The "environmentalists" fight against things that they perceive are dangerous whether the fight involves their personal backyard or not. The "non-environmentalists" fight on one side or the other depending on how they see themselves directly affected. I've seen this dichotomy play out everywhere across the decision-making spectrum (when I have had enough experience and data to make such an analysis.) I do think that there might be two radically different kinds of citizens: persons who generally at least try to act in accordance with caring about things and people well beyond themselves, and those that care about people (and some things) but only if they "know" them. It seems that this dichotomy splits the discussions (and the country) "effectively" into nearly inoperative halves, from which one side eventually "wins" nearly every time because there is more money and organization behind it.
One last thing: whereas the so-called "environmental" side does win some skirmishes, it inexorably loses. This is because on almost every issue, you only have to lose once (a Park, a forest, an ecology, a neighborhood, a life) and that war is over forever. Does that mean we should be more "conservative" in creating our protections (in any English-language use of that word which is actually helpful in this discussion) or is it more "democratic" to say that we've all decided to live in this "free" country, so let The Devil Take the Hindmost; it is acceptable loss "for what we get out of it."