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Corporate ownership and direct control of regulatory agencies do not end with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses kid gloves on U.S. corporations that pollute and the EPA is silent on pharmaceutical and medical toxins.
It’s clear that the way our national government is influenced by corporations is having an appalling effect on our health, and on the health of the plants, animals, fungi and myriad wee beasties with whom we share the planet.
The sad reality is that we’re distracted by mass media influenced by their sponsors to keep us focused on the wrong problems.
Whether global climate change is an issue that will directly impact the vast majority of humans or not, it is clear that the environmental toxins that issue forth from point-source and distributed products are a greater threat to human and planetary well-being, yet they receive only a tiny percentage of coverage by mass media.
One can speculate on why.
If we break the primary causes of death down in the U.S., we see that medical errors account for the third leading cause of death. What’s being done? Nothing substantial, otherwise this fact would stop being true.
Similarly, each of us contributes (some more than others) to the toxic soup, and thus we are all collectively responsible for the fates of ourselves and others impacted by our waste streams.
This does not mean that we need powerful governments that dictate what we consume; it means that every person should participate in the reformation of existing agencies and policies to effect the desired end.
Polluting corporations should pitch in to mitigate the costs of their toxins, as well.
Historically, environmental concerns were largely non-extant before WWII. In the 19th century, a few powerful individuals like U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt set aside massive tracts of land to preserve nature for our collective enjoyment.
Rachel Carson’s powerful “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, leading to the environmentalism movement of the 1970s. This placed environmental concerns against corporate bottom line interests, which is only one possible configuration.
This morphed into conservationism in the 1980s, with a cadre of academic professors leading the charge to preserve lands, waters and endangered species to try to keep them pristine, for nature’s sake. Still, conserving pieces does not protect them from glyphosate in the rain.
The pendulum then swung back with conservationists on the defensive to defend the economic value of pristine ecosystems. The half-swung pendulum landed on “ecosystem services” and “sustainability” as primary modes of thought and goals for a while.
“Sustainability” would have us capped at a population level below the carrying capacity of the planet along with a reduction in consumerism.
But sustainability is a stalemate, locking “consumerism-lite” in perpetual motion, and doing nothing to actively undo the harms of corporatism (See “The Complicity of Corporate Sustainability.”)
Given that we are not omniscient, experience only shows us that stable systems can slowly grind components of nature down to dust, even in the name of “sustainability.”
Eventually, exceptions to rules eat away at key components in a manner in which those components, once lost, can never be regained: rare and endangered species, heirloom lineages of crops, individual families, stable indigents, loss of the rarest cultures & languages, loss of knowledge of ways of living close to nature.
Now, in the 2020s there are a few choice thinkers who are focusing primarily on “smart growth,” with the thought of designing future human dwellings, cities and modes of transportation that are supposed to, by virtue of their design features, minimize our impact on environmental degradation.
However, like so many designed solutions, unanticipated consequences are accompanied by externalized costs. Take, for example, the fact that the state of California has announced a ban on gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, an effective mandate for consumers to purchase only electric vehicles (EV).
There are about 2 million car sales per year in California; this means at least 2 million batteries capable of powering personal cars will have to be built (just for California). There’s a problem with this plan: the rare earth minerals required for EV batteries.
I join Amnesty International in their condemnation of child labor used to extract rare earth minerals, especially cobalt, used in the production of batteries for cellphones, laptops and EVs.
According to their report:
“Children told Amnesty International they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads to earn between one and two dollars a day.
“In 2014 approximately 40,000 children worked in mines across southern DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF.”
I still have a cellphone, though.
In the 2020s, our concern should be focused on ecotoxicity (environmental toxicity) as well as establishing regenerative paradigms that supplant “sustainability.” The goal of regenerative paradigms is to encourage and support the thriving of the things and processes that might be lost under “sustainability.”
There are reasons enough to reduce our toxicity footprints; we are surrounded by them. Pregnant women, children, animals, plants, fungi & wee beasties are all particularly susceptible to our downstream toxic wastes.
The ecosystem effects of humans are manifold and have included:
- Acidification of lakes and oceans (e.g., Puget Sound)
- Air pollution effects on plants (vehicle exhaust fumes, smog)
- Effects of herbicides/pesticides on soil (microbiome/microrhizome)
- Effects of water pollution on native species (cancers and tumors on fish)
- Death of phytoplankton
- Fertilizers & algal blooms
- Reproductive toxins & amphibians
- Acid mine drainage
- Oil spills
- Invasive species via globalization
- Species extinctions
- Specific toxins (e.g., DDT, PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls )
We have before us challenges, sources of issues and solutions:
- Population growth (Garret Hardin)
- Technological “advances”
- Expanding industrialization
- Chronic, low-dose exposures
- Limited liability
- Regulatory capture
- Externalization of costs
How, with mass casualties daily, can we turn this fleet of ships around?
Perhaps finding ways of gaming our way of life just slightly in favor of nature and her ecosystems could bring about massive regeneration — perhaps too much so. What does this mean?
We in the West like to boil solutions down to money. Through utility functions, we think we can tax our way to a solution (gas taxes, carbon taxes), but the funds are never used to effect solutions that are impactful or productive.
There must be a 1:1 correspondence between a negative action, the correction or adjustment and the correction or adjustment should benefit nature in a way that fosters ecosystem health. Such a program should be voluntary, without mandates from governments, nor enforced by social pressures of any kind.
Each participant should know that their small sacrifice is a gift to others and the future of the planet. Some people will do more than their part, others less.
For example, if you purchase an EV, you might be offered the chance to match — or better — the car seller’s per-unit donation to a pension and healthcare fund for miners.
Since their health and well-being are also dependent on the health and well-being of the environment around them, one-half of the joint donation would be for pension and healthcare, and the rest used to enhance the health of ecosystems in Congo (or wherever the rare earth metals came from).
These programs must be transparent, without intermediaries taking shares, or seizing or hoarding cash, and they would abate the source of the problem in an alignment that heals the earth, gives the people meaningful vocation and enhances their health & well-being.
According to Unicef, the DRC suffers from deforestation, poaching (or rare and endangered species), river pollution and unsanitary conditions. The DRC has one of the ten highest deforestation rates in the world.
How can deforestation be abated in the DRC? It’s caused primarily by local subsistence activities by poor farmers and villagers who rely on forest lands for agriculture and fuelwood collection.
Thus, the funds from the transaction donation should fund educational programs that foster regenerative farming practices to enhance the soil of existing farms, along with programs to educate on the high value of agricultural cooperatives (also subsidized).
An industry of the local production of solar ovens via small loans to local businesses could offset the need for fuelwood collection. And, of course, regenerative approaches to encouraging the regrowth of rainforests.
This program would be effective because the economic expenditures in California would drive the subsidization — all on a volunteer basis — without any involvement of government taxation, funds consolidation, or repurposing of funds away from their intended use.
There are programs for reforestation in Congo underway, such as We Can International, which relies on public donations to drive rainforest tree planting by 500 women. The organization’s goals are to change the energy industry via the divestment of fossil fuels under the flag of climate change.
But planting trees and protesting Chase Bank won’t close the cycle of good because it is not linked to revenues from the undesired consumption habits.
Knowing that my cellphone purchase or use is leading to reforestation and helping to underwrite the regenerative healthcare of people who worked to make it a reality provides a sense of balance and longevity to a regenerative cycle of good.
Politically divisive and ill-defined concepts of “social justice,” “climate justice” and “equity” are not necessary here, either.
If we understand that nature works in cycles, and emulate the process in solution sets, we have a better chance of finding solution sets that regenerate and help people and ecosystems thrive.
Originally published on James Lyons-Weiler’s Popular Rationalism Substack page.