The environmental regulatory movement should be, were it human, reaching a level of maturity that would reflect maturity and experience. If one marks its age by the publication of Rachael Carson’s “Silent Spring” it is roughly 50 years old. Yet collectively, taking into account the nongovernmental organizations, government regulators, and all, it still behaves much like an extremely spoiled teenager. When the voices of environmentalism are raised in unison, it is often loud, noisy, and without any reasoning whatsoever. They act as if absolutely no materials that they choose to define as unnatural or inambient (my word) should be allowed, hang the costs.
The truth is, humankind has always and continues to tolerate living on the edge and willfully using unsafe materials. Tobacco, drugs (prescription and “recreational”), and alcohol are all freely used by society, with often disastrous consequences. People ride motorcycles, jump out of airplanes, and do other sometimes unsafe acts. Granted, many of these things are done voluntarily and breathing in the air from the polluter next door or 500 miles away may be involuntary, but the point is, danger is all around us.
To change the discourse and put the environmental movement on a sane, mature course, the conversation has to be turned upside down while we continue the current monitoring and regulation that is in place. We turn the conversation upside down by starting with humans, plants, and animals and comprehensively and scientifically determine what inambient conditions, separately or taken together, harm these living things irreparably. This is a tough chore, and it must be done with scientific rigor and without a political agenda. It will take a while and it will be very, very difficult to keep it from being political. But we must try.
We must do this to determine rational goals. We must stop freaking out and screaming regulation just because someone happens to create a new instrument that can measure a potential pollutant to the parts per gazillionth.
The environmental community, as a whole, again, continues to act like very spoiled teenagers—the adults in the room must change the discourse and disastrous direction we are heading.