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Toxic Waters
September 14, 2009 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Toxic Waters: A series about the worsening pollution in American waters and regulators' response.
posted by homunculus (26 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The lack of regulatory oversight in this and many other areas creates a distracting buzzing in the back of my brain which gets louder as the years pass. The free market and capitalism have never been good at regulating their own excretions until it is too late, and they often will go out of their way to hide misdeeds in order to avoid public backlash and the (altogether appropriate) Hand Of The Market from serving its function as invisible regulator. Even more disturbing to me are the number of municipalities and public utilities I see on the list of violators. We cannot trust the greedy to preserve our resources, and apparently we cannot even trust our collective self either.

If our government is impotent to serve a function in matters such as these, how can we create a system which does?
posted by hippybear at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interview with Charles Duhigg.
posted by homunculus at 9:14 AM on September 14, 2009


lack of regulatory oversight == the revolving door of government and industry (definition).

Hell, here you go, 26,400 hits for +"revolving door" +epa. But really, this is a serious government ethics problem, not just one department, and I don't know what the hell is going to be done about it.
posted by crapmatic at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2009


In too many parts of the country, people won't vote for someone who says "I'm going to protect your air and water", that's been too effectively tarred as "environmentalism". Because, y'know, not not wanting your kids to get leukemia is a hippie thing. And besides, it's jobs, isn't it. (Actually, it isn't. In addition its comprehensively horrific effects, mountaintop removal mining employs a tiny fraction of the workers needed for any other method.) Instead, they vote for the candidate who has real values: "I'm going to protect the sacred institution of marriage from the gay agenda." These are the guys who get campaign contributions from mining and agribusiness, for whom this perception works out very well indeed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:27 AM on September 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


We charge people a fee for using potable water, why not charge a fee for rendering water unusable? If we have a capitalist economy, any industrially useful resource that is unmetered is going to be destroyed, it is inevitable.
posted by idiopath at 9:46 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


If the waters weren't toxic, you'd have no need to purchase bottled water.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


In too many parts of the country, people won't vote for someone who says "I'm going to protect your air and water", that's been too effectively tarred as "environmentalism". Because, y'know, not not wanting your kids to get leukemia is a hippie thing.

Even here in Seattle, I often see parents playing with their kids right next to the toxic waste warning sign.

Do Not Enter The Water...Contains Hazardous Substances
posted by nomisxid at 9:58 AM on September 14, 2009


Beyond revolving doors are shifts in power and the inevitable efforts to off-set how the prior administration got things moving.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:13 AM on September 14, 2009


The free market and capitalism have never been good at regulating their own excretions until it is too late

To be fair, communism is pretty awful at it too.
posted by electroboy at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also keep in mind that no matter how well we regulate our businesses and consumers in this country, that doesn't do a thing to the activities of other countries. A great deal of our mercury pollution, as one example, is coming from China. Eventually, if that doesn't stop, we'll all just be a bunch of deformed drooling retards eating nine-eyed fish.
posted by jamstigator at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2009


Just as our economic models changed to account for the cost of labor, and we got closer to the "true price" of making something, future economic models will, hopefully, account for the cost of "leaving things as we found them." Prices could become dramatically more stable then.

If you have a salt lick, and animals can just extract salt with a swipe of the tongue, the cost appears low. After a hundred years mining that area, though, you run out of salt, and the price suddenly becomes much higher. Lumber is a more obvious example.

I don't think we will actually implement this; humans tend to treat anything where the obvious limit is not within eyesight as essentially infinite.
posted by adipocere at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also keep in mind that no matter how well we regulate our businesses and consumers in this country, that doesn't do a thing to the activities of other countries.

Here's how this argument usually goes:

UN + right-minded ppl everywhere: Pollution sucks! Let's stop doing it!
Each country: OK. You go first. USA, Australia, WTF is wrong with you people. Each of you is a walking ecological disaster.
USA, Australia: Us? China produces a majority of the world's XYZ chemical pollutant!
China: But there's a billion of us! Look at per capita!
Middle East oil countries (worst per capita polluters): (hehe)
USA, Australia: Stop having so many children! You too India!
China: Look, even if we halved our population, your would still be worse!
India: We only started participating in the free market in the mid 90s! You go first!
USA, Australia, others: Why do you have to make so many factories anyway! You can't even sustain them and your folks are getting asthma and going blind and your children deformed from the pollution.
India, Africa: Look, we tried to export our agricultural products, but your tariffs are fucked up.
EU: So what if each of our fucking COWS gets more income from the government than an average Indian farmer makes in a year. You can't outsource a strategic resource like food.
India, Brazil: fuck you [puts down foot at Doha]
USA: We generate less pollution per $GDP than any of you.
EU: except us.
Brazil: and us
India: and us
China: But we're still poor. We'll catch up.
USA: yeah only because you're rogering your own people with poor labour standards and pay
...
(and the bickering will continue until someone actually steps up and does the right thing)

I'm sure I've got some details wrong here, but this is really going to be endless. There is way too much economics and politics caught up in all this. I can't see a way out.
posted by vanar sena at 11:19 AM on September 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


There is way too much economics and politics caught up in all this. I can't see a way out.

The trick of the matter is, if we don't figure it out, it will be figured out for us by Mother Nature, manifest in ways we would rather not have to deal with, I'm pretty sure.
posted by hippybear at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2009


hippybear: The trick of the matter is, if we don't figure it out, it will be figured out for us by Mother Nature, manifest in ways we would rather not have to deal with, I'm pretty sure.

After the most miserable summer in history here in North India, a damp squib of a monsoon (meaning a longer summer and failed crops) and the worst power cuts and water shortages in living memory, yeah I'd be willing to believe that.
posted by vanar sena at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2009


Whenever I hear about environment issues, I always think about this story from Midlothian, TX. It's about a couple in a small town who discover just how much big business has corrupted their local government and try to fight back.

I found out about the story when Glenn Mitchell interviewed them. The part that I remember to this day is when they say they were typical Limbaugh listeners, and didn't consider themselves "tree-hugging hippies". Then they discovered TXI was poisoning their children and had a sudden epiphany about what "environmentalism" really means.

Also keep in mind that no matter how well we regulate our businesses and consumers in this country, that doesn't do a thing to the activities of other countries.

If only it were possible to use our trade policy to assign a cost to goods made in countries without our labor or environmental standards! As it is, apparently circumventing our own regulations is considered a comparative advantage, so China can export all the cheap goods and mercury poisoning we'd otherwise be missing out on.
posted by heathkit at 12:17 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


If our government is impotent to serve a function in matters such as these, how can we create a system which does?

Our government is not impotent to serve this function. The basis of the article is reporting from the Clean Water Act, a government measure. You wouldn't have any idea this crap was going on if government wasn't working. Lax enforcement of existing measures isn't a hard problem to fix, really. Throwing money at it would actually work.

One of the most insidious impacts of Republican control of government has been how effectively they sold the message that government doesn't work. I'm so surprised that more people don't understand that.
posted by napkin at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


One of the big problems is that energy costs don't take into account the external costs of pollution. Further complicating this is that it's really difficult to figure out the cost of pollution. Is it the cost of cleanup? Is it a payment to someone whose health is affected by PCBs or dioxins? Is it the cost of real estate lost to rising sea levels?

I was disappointed that cap and trade didn't make it through congress (although I hear it's not completely dead), because it seems like the first step towards making consumers and businesses more accountable for the true costs of their energy, and directing people towards better choices by giving them a financial incentive to choose conservation and efficiency.

Waiting for price increases from peak oil or peak coal or whatever will be far far too late to do anything about either global warming or chemical pollution.
posted by electroboy at 1:11 PM on September 14, 2009


An Essay By Mikhail Gorbachev.
posted by RoseyD at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2009


One of the most insidious impacts of Republican control of government has been how effectively they sold the message that government doesn't work. I'm so surprised that more people don't understand that.

I have definitely NOT bought into the lie that government is a useless idea which has no effective place in our society. I support a much larger government which regulates many more things to protect the citizenry from the casual harm inflicted by the greedy.

I DO look at the facts as presented, and note that while the governmental reporting mechanism seems to be working just fine, the enforcement of the laws already on the books is not being done.

I fail to see where, when presented with evidence of this sort, any conclusion other than "it talks a good talk but cannot perform when demands require it" can be drawn. If there is a better definition for impotent in this case, I would love to hear it.
posted by hippybear at 1:59 PM on September 14, 2009


"I'm sure I've got some details wrong here, but this is really going to be endless. There is way too much economics and politics caught up in all this. I can't see a way out."

Yeah, sometimes it does seem the best way to make people of one mind is to smash their heads together.
...of course I'm quoting The Hulk there, so grain of salt.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2009


If the waters weren't toxic, you'd have no need to purchase bottled water.

Yeah, because, you know, PepsiCo and CocaCola have sikrit watr soreses that perteck ya frum bad stuff.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2009


No, PepsiCo and CocaCola have expensive reverse-osmosis systems and heavy-duty filters to remove a lot of the bad stuff, even from municipal water sources. So can you, but it's a damn shame to think it would ever be needed.
posted by kcds at 6:17 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


After the most miserable summer in history here in North India, a damp squib of a monsoon (meaning a longer summer and failed crops) and the worst power cuts and water shortages in living memory, yeah I'd be willing to believe that.

Eyeballed your glaciers recently? It's frightening. When the tributaries start drying up, it's going to be a world of hurt.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:13 PM on September 14, 2009


Eyeballed your glaciers recently? It's frightening. When the tributaries start drying up, it's going to be a world of hurt.

I was up there a few months ago, and you're right, there is already a visible difference.
posted by vanar sena at 11:04 PM on September 14, 2009


...of course I'm quoting The Hulk there, so grain of salt.

Heh. Well I wouldn't discount him too quickly. He may not have been the sharpest knife, but dude knew one or two things about going green.
posted by vanar sena at 1:59 AM on September 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


No, PepsiCo and CocaCola have expensive reverse-osmosis systems and heavy-duty filters to remove a lot of the bad stuff, even from municipal water sources. So can you, but it's a damn shame to think it would ever be needed.
posted by kcds at 6:17 PM on September 14 [1 favorite +] [!]


Well, maybe but this article doesn't give me confidence.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2009


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