Righting our wrongs is the perfect solution to pollution. When dealing one-to-one, we practice this second principle of non- aggression naturally. If we accidentally dump trash on George's lawn, we clean it up. George is unlikely to hold a grudge if we fix what we have broken.
If we refuse to clean up our mess, George will probably allow us to experience the fruits of our actions in other ways. He may arrange to have the trash picked up and take us to court if we don't pay the bill. Perhaps he will dump trash on our lawn.
Unless we are willing to right our wrongs, we will forfeit harmonious relationships with our neighbors. We gain nothing by dumping trash in George's lawn if we are the ones who will have to clean it up. Therefore, we have no reason to pollute in the first place. Righting our wrongs is the best deterrent of all!
Unfortunately, the "pollution solution" is seldom used. If we listen to a conversation between our mayor and an industrial polluter, we find out why.
"Mr. Mayor, it's true we dump chemicals in the river, but that's a small price to pay for the many jobs we provide in your district. If we had to take these 'toxic wastes' as you call them and dispose of them 'properly,' it'd cost a lot of money. We'd have to lay off people or move our business to a more accommodating community. Either way, you'd be mighty unpopular. Your opponent won't be, though. She wants to see her constituents employed. That's more important to everyone than a few dead fish."
The mayor sighs in defeat. The chemicals are killing the fish. Local residents have complained, but they are unlikely to do anything about it. They might be able to convince a judge to stop the polluter, but the lawsuit would be expensive. The entire city would benefit from a clean river, but few citizens would voluntarily contribute to such a suit if the polluter would not be required to pay these clean-up costs. Since no one really owns the river, few are willing to pay to protect it. The company has a lot to lose if it can't use the river for dumping. The company will certainly back the mayor's opponent if he doesn't cooperate.
"I appreciate your perspective," the mayor explains to the polluter. "People's jobs are more important than a few fish." He hopes he has done the right thing. He can't help thinking that there must be a better way.
The mayor is right. There is a better way. The British have been using it for decades. Individuals were permitted to homestead many of the British waterways. When a polluter kills their fish, the owners have every incentive to take the polluter to court and they do! The owners of Britain's rivers have successfully sued hundreds of polluters, individual ly and collectively, for the past century. (1) The owners are willing to pay the court costs to protect their valuable property. When we encourage homesteading, we put the environment in the hands of those who profit by caring for it. Ownership is rewarded by long-term planning. When private ownership is forbidden, our government "managers" profit only when they allow the environment to be exploited. Short-term planning is encouraged.
Sovereign Immunity Creates Love Canal
The Love Canal incident illustrates the different incentives of private ownership and public management. Until 1953, Hooker Electrochemical Company and several federal agencies dumped toxic wastes into a clay trench (2) under conditions that would probably meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval even today. (3) As the population of Niagara Falls grew, the local school board tried to persuade Hooker to sell this cheap, undeveloped land to the city for a new school. The company felt that it was unwise to build on such a site and refused to sell. The school board simply threatened to take it over with the guns of government through "eminent domain." Eminent domain allows a government agency to force a person at gunpoint, if necessary to give up his or her land if the project is "for the common good."
Hooker finally gave in to aggression- through- government. The school board bought the property for $1. Hooker brought the board members tothe canal site to see the stored chemicals (2) in an effort to convince them to avoid building underground facilities of any kind.
In spite of these warnings, the city began construction of sanitary and storm sewers in 1957. In 1958, children playing in the area came into contact with the exposed chemicals and developed skin irritation. Hooker again warned the board to stop excavation and to cover the exposed area. The school board did not heed the warnings. By 1978 reports of chemicaleptiicity began surfacing. The EPA filed suit, not against the school board, but against Hooker Chemical! Taxpayers paid $30 million to relocate residents. (4) Thankfully, extensive testing of the residents found no significant long-term differences between their health and the health of the general population. (5,6)
The Love Canal incident is a classic case of the role of aggression in polluting our environment. The officers of Hooker Chemical took respon sibility for their toxic waste by disposing of it carefully. They did not want to harm others. Hooker did not want to turn the property over to the school board for fear that the new owners would not be as careful. Thecom pany's fears were well-founded. The school board was protected by sovereign immunity, which holds government officials blameless for whatever damage they cause. Public officials are no different from you or I_they work for incentives. Anyone who is held responsible for mistakes or miscalculations will strive to avoid making them. The school board members knew they would not be personally liable for poisoning the public. Instead, they were under pressure to find cheap land for the school. If they excavated Love Canal and nothing went wrong, they'd be heroes; if the chemicals caused problems, Hooker would take the heat. The board had everything to gain and nothing to lose. How different things would have been if school board members could have been prosecuted for the damage they had caused!
The Fox in the Hen House
Sovereign immunity is probably responsible for more pollution in this country than any other single cause. For example, in 1984, a Utah court ruled that negligence in nuclear testing was responsible for health problems in 10 out of 24 cases brought before the court. The court of appeals, however, claimed that sovereign immunity applied; therefore, the victims received nothing. (7) In 1988, the Department of Energy indicated that 17 weapons plants were leaking radioactive and toxic chemicals that would cost $100 billion and 50 years to clean up! The Departments of Energy and Defense refused to comply with EPA orders to do so. (8,9) Meanwhile, taxpayers are expected to "Superfund" toxic waste cleanup. (6)
Sovereign immunity violates the second principle of non-aggression. It allows government officials to do what individuals cannot. We would not claim sovereign immunity if we dumped trash on George's lawn nor could we expect to enjoy a prosperous and peaceful neighborhood. Somehow we think our country can be bountiful and harmonious even if our gov ernment officials can poison the property or body of our neighbors without having to undo the harm they have done. We go along with this sleight of hand because we think that we benefit when our government hurts others in seeking the common good. As usual, our aggression backfires.
Our lawmakers have extended the concept of sovereign immunity to include favored private monopolies. For example, in 1957, a study by the Atomic Energy Commission predicted that a major accident at a nuclear power plant could cause up to $7 billion in property damage and several thousand deaths. The marketplace ecosystem protected the consumer from such events naturally: no company would insure the nuclear installa tions, so power companies were hesitant to proceed. Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act to limit the liability of the power plants to $560 million. In the event of an accident, the insurance companies would have to pay only $60 million; the other $500 million would be paid through the further aggression of taxation!10 If the damage were more extensive, the victims would just have to suffer.
Sovereign immunity is a way of hiding the true cost of aggression- through-government. If our taxes reflected the cost of cleaning up pollution caused by the defense industry, we might not be so eager to give it free rein. If we had to compensate those whose loved ones died from nuclear testing, we might demand that such testing stop. If the price tag for insuring nuclear power plants were reflected in our electric bills, we might prefer alternative fuel. If we saw the true cost of our aggression, we might not choose to support it.
Our aggression boomerangs back to us. When polluters are not required to restore what they have harmed, they have no incentive to stop. As our earth becomes more and more polluted, we reap as we sow.
Likewise, private corporations are not always required to undo the damage they have done. As a result, the aggression of taxation is used to Superfund the cleanup. (6) If polluters don't restore the earth, we will be forced to.
Cancer from Chemicals?
We all want an environment safe from toxic chemicals that could cause cancer. Unfortunately for our peace of mind, half of all chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are carcinogenic when tested at high doses in animals. Plants make natural, carcinogenic insecticides to protect them from attack. Americans eat approximately 1,500 mg per day of these natural pesticides. The FDA estimates we consume 0.15 mg per day of the synthetics. (11)
Fortunately, these levels are well below established acceptable daily intakes. (12) Our liver is easily able to destroy small amounts of cancer- causing agents. When rats are given large quantities of potential carcino gens, this protective mechanism is overwhelmed. Many compounds that are quite safe may appear to be carcinogenic in such tests.
One such chemical, ethylene dibromide (EDB) was banned by the EPA in 1984. Although EDB can cause cancer when given to animals in large amounts, 50 years of human experience did not show increased cancer incidence among manufacturing personnel who are exposed to many thousand times more EDB than consumers over long periods. EDB had been used as a grain pesticide, preventing the growth of molds that produce aflatoxin, the most carcinogenic substance known. Naturally, farmers didn't want their grain contaminated with a potent cancer-causing substance, so they turned to the only other effective substitutes for EDB: a mixture of methyl bromide, phosphine, and carbon tetrachloride/carbon disulfide. Carbon tetrachloride and methyl bromide are both potent carcinogens in animals; phosphine and methyl bromide must be handled by specially skilled workers because they are so dangerous to work with. (13) By using the aggression of prohibitive licensing, the EPA left us to choose between moldy grain with highly toxic natural carcinogens or more dangerous mold-controlling pesticides!
One of these bans affected our overseas neighbors dramatically. By 1946, the insecticide DDT had been recognized as one of the most important disease-preventing agents known to humans. Used extensively in the tropics, it irradiated the insects that carried malaria, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, typhus, and encephalitis. Crop yields were increased as the larva that devoured them were destroyed. Human side effects from DDT were rare even though thousands of individuals had their skin and clothing dusted with 10% DDT powder or lived in dwellings that were sprayed repeatedly. Some individuals didn't use the pesticide as directed and applied vast quantities to land and water. Claims that the bird population was being harmed, that DDT remained too long in the environment, and that it might cause cancer led Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to abandon its spraying in 1964. The incidence of malaria, down to 17 cases per year, rose to pre-DDT levels (2.5 million cases) by 1969 as a result. (14) Morepeople died from withdrawing DDT than were harmed by it.
In some cases, banning additives and useful chemicals might actually increase our risk of dying from cancer. Pesticides make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable, thereby increasing consumption, which is one of the best ways to fight cancer according to the National Research Council. (15) Even the EPA admits that cancer from pesticides is less likely than being killed in an auto accident. (16) Is banning pesticides more sensible than banning automobiles? Obviously, people must choose for themselves the extent to which they are willing to risk their lives and honor the choices of their neighbors. Pesticides can be largely avoided by buying organic produce; automobile accidents can be avoided by walking instead of driving.
Pesticides are relatively harmless when compared to the natural carcinogens from tobacco smoke. These deadly carcinogens are believed to be responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths. (17) Lung cancer in the United States is on the rise; other types of cancers may actually be on the decline when the statistics are adjusted for the increasing age of the American public. (18) Convincing people not to smoke would seem to be the best way to lower the incidence of cancer in the United States. Instead, our EPA focuses on asbestos.
Although asbestos can promote lung cancer during manufacturing, it appears to be quite safe when placed in buildings and left undisturbed. When it is removed, however, the fibers break, releasing the asbestos. As a result, workers removing the asbestos at the mandate of the EPA are at risk. Because of release during removal, asbestos levels in schools and other public buildings are higher after removal. (19) Money that could have gone to educate people about the dangers of smoking is instead used to in crease the risk of cancer from asbestos! If lives are endangered, sovereign immunity will protect the guilty.
Congress has great incentive to promote such programs, especially if the dangers will not be evident for many years. Imagine the conversation that takes place between your local congresswoman and a lobbyist from the asbestos removal companies.
"Ms. Congresswoman, if you don't vote for asbestos removal, we'll let your constituents know that you don't care about their safety. We'll give our support to your opponent in the next election. He cares about those schoolchildren who are exposed to all that asbestos."
"I'm concerned about those children too!" exclaims the congresswoman defensively. "That's why I'll vote against it. The scientific evidence showsthat asbestos levels are higher after removal than before. The workers who remove the asbestos will be at greater risk as well."
"That may very well be," admits the lobbyist, "but you know politics. What are you going to do when your constituents ask what you've done to help protect them from pollution? You'll say you didn't need to do any thing; they'll wonder why they should pay you to do nothing."
"I will have done something! I'll have voted against the environmental hazard of asbestos removal!" exclaimed the congresswoman.
"Voters will remember that when somebody starts suing the asbestos manufacturers because he or she got cancer. Even if that person is a crackpot, the publicity will give you a bad time. If people are harmed from asbestos removal, however, no one will blame you you have sovereign immunity! If you wish to be re-elected, you must vote for this bill."
"I don't want to get re-elected if I have to kill people to do it!" the congresswoman says angrily.
"That's just as well," returns the lobbyist sadly, "because if you don't vote for this bill, you probably won't be reelected. We need conscientious people like you in the legislature. Sometimes compromise is necessary. Vote for this bill and keep up the good work that you were elected to do!"
Eventually the congresswoman will vote for the asbestos removal bill or lose her seat to someone more willing to do so. As voters, we control this situation. When we do not insist that polluters right their wrongs, they will continue to pollute.
The Easy Way Out
Accidents do happen. If we inadvertently spilled acid on George's arm, we'd probably offer to pay for his hospital bills. We'd also make sure that whatever caused the accidentdidn't happen again. If a company puts something in the air, water, or soil that makes people ill, it needs to restore, as much as possible, those it has harmed.
Today, some polluters simply claim bankruptcy. Victims are left to suffer, while the polluters just start over. We could do things differently. Those responsible for the decision to pollute could compensate a victim through time payments or could be sent to a work prison if they did not voluntarily make amends. Victims who were insured against such injury would get immediate payment from their insurance companies, whichwould, in turn, collect from polluters.
Naturally, many companies would want to insure themselves against poor decisions by their corporate officers. The premium for such insurance would probably depend on the company's record for environmental pollution as well as the reputation of the individual manager. To protect its interests, the insurance company would examine its clients' policies concerning pollution and suggest changes that would lower their risk and their premiums. Companies with the potential to pollute would be effectively regulated by the marketplace ecosystem, free from aggression. The high cost of paying for cleanup simply would be so great that few would dare to pollute. No tax dollars would be required to fund this effective program. The practice of non-aggression is economical and effective.
If a particular food additive or pesticide has adverse effects that didn't show up in animal testing, publicity will enable consumers to boycott the product. In 1990, a news program questioning the safety of Alar caused a dramatic drop in apple sales virtually overnight. (15)
However, if such charges are false, those who propagate them could be sued for fraud. Manufacturers and farmers who had used Alar lost hundreds of thousands of dollars whenconsumers refused to buy Alar- treated apples. Evidence for the safety of Alar, including a study by the National Cancer Institute, was presumably ignored by those putting the "exposť" together. (15) Businesses need not fear irresponsible journalism if they too are required to right their wrongs.
Pesticide manufacturers, like pharmaceutical firms, know that killing the customer is bad for business. However, independent testing is always highly desirable. Consumers might wish to avoid foods grown with new pesticides until these chemicals had been given a seal of approval from a trusted evaluation center. Such testing agencies would be similar to those described for pharmaceuticals in Chapter 6 (Protecting Ourselves to Death).
Pollution or environmental damage often comes from a small number of vendors who can be easily confronted with the fruits of their actions. In some cases, however, almost everyone contributes to the pollution, such as automobile exhaust. How can we be protected from this type of pollution in a country practicing non-aggression?
Air pollution is a local problem. Rural areas dissipate car exhaust rapidly, while enclosed locations, such as the Los Angeles area, trap it. Concerned citizens in such places might take the local road companies to court, since pollution emanates from roads. Currently, governments control most of the roads and would claim sovereign immunity.
Without the aggression of taxation, all roads would be private. Since people would not be eager to face toll booths at every interconnection, road companies would undoubtedly devise a system of annual fees or electronic monitoring. For example, your annual license payment might give you access to all roads in your area. The road companies would divide your payment in proportion to the number of miles each firm maintained. Instead of annual payments, you might be given anelectronic monitor that registered the number of miles you drive on each road. Every month you would be billed accordingly.
When residents of a particular locale sued the road companies, they would have to undo whatever damage they had done and prevent future pollution. They would raise their rates to compensate the victims. Since 10% of the cars cause 50% of the pollution because they are not regularly tuned, (20) rates might be lower for those who passed an emissions test. When polluters have to pay for the damage they do, most will decide against it. The few who continue to pollute will have to pay dearly for the privilege of doing so.
The solution to pollution is to require those who damage the property, body, or reputation of another to restore it. Making aggressors right their wrongs teaches that pollution doesn't pay.
For polluters to undo the damage they have done, they must first be caught and sentenced. As we learned earlier, criminals of all kinds are brought to justice infrequently in today's world. In the next few chapters, we'll learn why.
You can't eat a meal that doesn't have carcinogens... Human blood wouldn't pass the Toxic Substances Initiative if it got into a stream.
- Dr. Bruce Ames, inventor of the Ames test for carcinogenicity
DDT has had a tremendous impact on the health of the world... Few drugs can claim to have done so much for mankind in so short a period of time as DDT did.
- George Claus and Karen Bolander, ECOLOGICAL SANITY
We should rename the EPA the Tobacco Protection Agency, because it focuses public attention away from the biggest risk of all to some of the very smallest.
- Rosalyn Yalow, Nobel Prize winner, Medicine