Dilute, Divide and Divert

The dew is heavy on the grass this morning and the creek is swollen from recent rain as the sun begins to peek over the mountain. The bees  are already busy carrying nectar from the poplars in full bloom. There is a sprayer full of a special mixture of neem oil and peppermint soap waiting by the shop door, and some young fruit trees waiting to be relieved of hungry aphids.

But that can wait until this coffee cup is emptied of its most excellent contents. Life is too short to drink bad coffee, or to drink any coffee in a hurry.

We’re about to venture forth, briefly, into the surreal domain of politics this morning, and before doing so we like to fortify our spirit with reminders of what is real and what is important.

What is important to us this morning is the sanctity and safety of this little mountain cove, the clean water in the stream rushing by the garden, the bees, able to gather their nectar and pollen without being poisoned and most of all, the ability of the beloved woman still sleeping soundly in bed to go forth into the world without being sickened by the pollutants and contaminants of “better living through chemistry.”

Our best protection from the toxic byproducts of the ongoing monetization of the human condition is in the choices we make. We don’t eat processed food. We don’t buy plastic that smells like burnt motor oil. And to pay it forward we don’t throw batteries into the trash can or flush paint thinner down the toilet. There are so many choices we make on a daily basis that can improve our chances in a toxic world.

But many people have considerably fewer choices than we do. In the monetized world, good health often depends on being able to afford it. Quality and the lack of contamination costs more. Many people drink tap water because they can’t afford expensive water filters. They eat processed food because organic produce is too expensive. They live in places where the air is filthy because they can’t afford to move.

If you haven’t detected any politics yet in this conversation, you’re about to. One of the primary (and one of the few legitimate) purposes of government is to provide for the common defense. We have, as a people, argued for generations about what that means. We continue to argue about it.

Since the Environmental Protection Agency was established by executive order of Richard Nixon in 1970, the EPA has endeavored to defend Americans from unsafe and unscrupulous practices that poison and degrade the environment. It has both succeeded and failed in that effort. As an expansion of executive power, it’s failures have arguably been directly attributable to politics. Like all of the agencies that have come under the control of burgeoning executive power, the EPA can be and it has been wielded as a political tool.

President Trump campaigned on the goal of releasing American business from the shackles of over-regulation. The EPA is, of all the agencies that exist in our behemoth bureaucracy, the one most despised by business. Either from lack of science or lack of ingenuity, a paradigm has long existed in many businesses that manufacturing healthy and safe products must be governed by profitability. This paradigm assumes that profitability depends on expediting the manufacture of products as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and therefore any rules and regulations which interfere with that are costly and to be avoided.

But Americans are more health conscious than they were when the EPA was established. It would be politically unwise to simply dismantle the organization. So what the Trump Administration is doing is instead dismantling the science which is at the root of the rules and regulations issued by the EPA.

The back story is long and involved and quite the story of political cunning. If you are interested, search the publications of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding the EPA’s new “transparency” policy. In short, the “science” that will support the agency charged with protecting the environment will now be more like “tobacco science.”

The story of this maneuver is an opportunity for outrage. But here is where politics becomes most useful. We have already heard the condemnation from the left. “Those republicans are at it again!” (We have forgotten that the EPA, itself, was created by a republican.) “Trump is no friend of the environment!”

This is quite possibly true, but neither was President Obama a steadfast friend of the environment. Have we forgotten the 1500 offshore drilling permits issued by his administration, or the over 300 fracking plans excluded from environmental review? There are many more such examples if we look at the record through the lens of science instead of the political lens.

But herein lies the problem. Our objectivity has been so warped by the logical fallacies of political thinking that we can’t even agree on the weather without consulting our party’s talking points. Truth is now subject to political philosophy, and as far as the environment is concerned, when the latest degradation is revealed, we get trapped by attempting to understand the issue in political terms, diluting, dividing and diverting our outrage.

Long time readers, or anyone who remembers the republican/democrat bailout of the big banks, will remind us that “dilute, divide and divert” works for economic as well as environmental degradation.



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