Memorial Day: Fear and Greed, Part 2

EPA tried to simplify things a few decades ago with a "Solid Waste Hierarchy".  The first was "recycle, then incinerate, then landfill".   That drew an environmentalist backlash, and the "new hierarchy" in 1990 Earth Day was "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".  Neither hierarchy anticipated the international trade issues and controversies.

Reuse and repair beats recycling.  Ghettos and barrios are the best places for that work... Just as auto and engine repair is no longer done in Manhattan.  But that collides with a social fairness "tab" we have open, and in the late 1990s "Environmental Justice" became EPA's forray into social issues.

Definitions from wikipedia 2012.05.27
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines EJ as follows:
Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation [sic]. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.[5]
In other words, this environmental outcome concerned the human perception of environmental risk... people who were poor had the same vote on EPA attention as the rich people.  A clean and safe environment was seen as a human right, a protection of people.

The attention of government regulatory staff was to be divided equally, to protect us all.  This shifted the radius or loci of EPA from protecting high property values to protecting humans equally.

In this paradigm, the value of protecting the environment is utilitarian.  How many people are in contact with the environment being protected?

This is not a song for the woods, or rain forests.  It's only the giving that makes you what you are.

As an environmental regulator in the early 90s, I had also been concerned that the Agency was disproportionately directed at higher property values.  The reason for my concern (alarm) was that EPA had, between 1960 and 2000, forced the closure of all seven of USA's secondary copper smelters.  That's right, the virgin smelters refining mined copper churn and spout... they are located near mountains and mines, far away from high property values.  But the recycling smelters, which are located closer to scrap, were the losers.  They have far less pollution or carbon, but they were closer to people (the urban mines).  And EPA closed them.  All of them.  Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) had triumphed over environmental sustainability.  Perhaps, I thought, the Environmental Justice issue was a way to correct that.

I was way outside the box.  Here I was thinking that the protection of a rare species of bat, and its habitat, benefited us all equally, and the job for the Department of Education was to make sure that children knew about the bats, the cougars, and the salmon that we were protecting.  I have never been in direct contact with a wild salmon, or a polar bear, but I saw their protection as something that benefitted me, and the kid in the ghetto, equally.

The rain forest, unfortunately, would not be the winner.  Does a rare species have a value in and of itself?  Or does an equal vote of people give the species that value?   If people in inner cities only know pigeons, do pigeons become more important than tigers?  Or does EPA actually really only matter when the effluents affect people themselves - the cancer rates in the inner city?

The ultimate irony I would label as "trickle down" environmentalism.  The most wealthy and educated class is exposed to Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, and The Silent Spring.   Without immediate threats to their own wealth and health, they were able to care about coral reefs and rain forests, and that concern was reflected in more and more spending on "environmental protection".

But the value of the "exotic", the faraway, the places of rain-forests, would emerge to play a role in the past decade.  The exoticism of the "third worlds" seemed a perfect fit for "environmental justice", and Obama's EPA was ready for the job.

In Part III, I'll describe how this tie up and misdirection is exploited, hard core, for serious money, by people who do not give a damn about bats, tigers, ghettos, or anything but money.  Kids pictures, grey market protection, and shredding investments have had a feeding frenzy on the poorest people and the rain forests alike, going for the jugular vein of the recycling heirarchy.

No comments: