Monday, March 13, 2017

Toward a Silent Spring, Healthcare Repeal, and the Future of the Environmental Protection Agency

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Rachel Carson and a 1970's environmental add.

Erik R. McGregor‎ photo and caption

#GetOrganizedBK rally and DIE-IN at Brooklyn Borough Hall in defense of the Affordable Care Act — with Benjamin Heim Shepard
Saturday, we walked out to Borough Hall and stumbled into a protest and die inn over the plan to gut the Affordable Care Act, doing away with healthcare for millions of Americans.  The plan is really about redistribution of wealth, noted opponents; nurses pointed out those on the receiving end of the policy change would face questions life and death. While supporters of healthcare for all suggest we all benefit by everyone having coverage.  Hospital visits go down. Less people get can cancer.  We prevent the spread of disease. HIV does not progress to AIDS with early treatment.  Housing prevents the spread of disease.  But to address these questions about health, we also have to address questions about recourses and the environment.   Environmental policy is health policy and vice versa.  Of course, supporters of the plan would have you believe otherwise.  So we find ourselves debating the very nature of social reality.

Its not the first time we've done so.  During the Bush years, we fought over the nature of math
with the administration suggesting their numbers added up as outside observers noted the data suggested otherwise.  Deficits grew, the stock market crashed, and environment suffered.

It was that kind of a weekend, we were out looking at schools, wondering about what kind of environment is the best for kids to grow. 

Later in the day, I  attended a couple of the book salons.

Reading Gramsci's Prison Notebooks we reflected on questions about organization, policy, philosophy and the world.

One of the participants noted the Bannon has talked about "deconstructing".  This is of course a key point in a Structuralist post modern philosophy that the Republicans have come to embrace for their own purposes, a part and parcel of the Faustian bargain they are now playing out. They've made a deal with the devil, in order to rule the world, linking resources and ideas in a destructive nationalist partnership with Russia, gutting environmental regulations and institutions of the post war order.

"There is an article in Jacobin which says if the Republicans have embraced moral relativism, then the democrats should become the party of the Enlightenment," noted Chris, one of the regulars.

Several in the group suggested the article was too reductive. But it gets to an important point. Enlightenment ideas about science and social reform matter.

The article by  makes a core point:

"Criticizing Enlightenment thought has become fashionable across the political spectrum. For the past several decades, more and more academics have called reason into question, especially the sort of rationalist worldview that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
This is especially true among left-leaning, postmodern, and post-structuralist thinkers....
This coincides with one of the Alt-Right’s primary tactics: adopting leftist rhetoric as cover for its racialist, nativist, and often misogynistic agendas."

Out of this tailspin of debate is a question about reality.

If everything is relative, then data and evidence, core principles of science, no longer matter.
If these principles no longer matter, then evidence practice no longer matters. Effective drug policy no longer matters.  Climate science no longer matters.  Science no longer matters.  We can believe whatever we want.  These arguments, of course, are part of why many of us are going to the March for Science on April 22nd in Washington DC.

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After all, climate denialists are now elected to positions of power in our government.
They are involved in plans to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency. Their
bill "H.R.861 - To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency" calls
for an end of the Agency by December 31st. Its a one sentence bill.

To make their case, they are saying data does not matter.  All reality is relative.
One can reject a generation of science because it does not fit a political ideology.

Yet, our bodies can't.

My second reading group on Saturday had read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  In it Carson
makes the point that human health is intimately connected with the environment's.  In it,
she highlights the science of pollutants, the danger of DDT to life on this planet. Doing so, she
highlights the concept of the ecology of the body.  Our bodies are permeable, she points out.
We are separate from water and the earth.  When poisons fill the earth, they also fill our bodies, writes Carson, who suffered from cancer and was consumed by it shortly after her book came out.  We are all vulnerable to pesticides, she explained.  We've put too many chemicals into our bodies, genetically modifying foods, polluting rivers, fracking the land.   The Kennedy Administration was moved by this compelling piece of citizen science, passing laws to protect the environment. We cleaned up rivers. The Hudson became swimmable.  Less than a decade later the EPA was born when
President Nixon signed an executive order on December 2, 1970.  Science and data matter.

The environmental movement was born. A generation of us were moved by public service adds
reminding us we can clean up the environment.

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Five decades later, another Republican President wants to do away with it.  And he may have
support to do so.  One can do away with the EPA, but nature has a way of responding. As Carson points out, we now stand where two roads diverge....

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