Somebody’s Poisoned the Water Hole

Do you remember BPA? The chemical that was in the baby bottles from which my children drank from the time they were a few weeks/months old? It was in the bottles that attached to my breast pump (and almost certainly the pump itself). I was recently reading “Slow Death by Rubber Duck“, and I came across a whole chapter on BPA. Action on BPA was surprisingly quick. As the science came in, showing hormone mimicking effects in concentrations as low as 2 parts in a trillion (that’s with a “T”, not a “B”), stores acted quickly to remove BPA water bottles from the shelves before they were required to. The Canadian government subsequently banned the substance in baby bottles.

Versed in the ways of organic gardening, chicken-raising, and turning dandelions into food and tea, I generally pride myself on Making Good Choices. I ditched the polycarbonate in favour of stainless some time ago. So, I found myself thinking, “Oh. This one I’ve got licked.” The fact that BPA is the lining of most canned goods is no problem. We hardly use them at all any more. I was feeling pretty good about how careful I’ve been with my children’s health, precautionary-principle and all. Then I read that BPA is in most inks, as for example, in the cash register tapes at the grocery store. As a result, the levels are high in recycled paper, which I’ve been paying a premium on for the last ten years.

That was the point at which I put my head down on the desk.

Sometimes I think that I should really stop educating myself, because I’m already nearly paralysed by indecision trying to make the best choices for the environment, the community, my budget, and (as a side question) actually solve whatever problem I’m working on at the moment. I reluctantly acknowledge the limits to Agency when I encounter the fact that my breast milk just might be classified as a toxic material despite years of making my best efforts.

Let’s give the world the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that we didn’t know any better. Poisoning the world and everything in it was not the goal of the actions of the last 50 years. It was the era of Better Living Through Chemistry. We were naive. Plastics were the future. The body and all things natural were to be distrusted. The artificial actually was considered an improvement.

No. I can forgive what has gone before. The thing that I can’t get my head around is the fact that, even as we learn better, having now been allowed to poison the water hole for several generations, people expect to be allowed to continue.

Collectively, we know that it’s a bad idea to pour millions of pounds of poison into our lakes and air every year, but we’ve gotten used to it, so we make excuses to keep doing it. We even frame it as a right, and suggest that, instead of making people clean it up, we should compensate them for making them stop poisoning the water hole!!! Coal mining? Pesticides? Tailings ponds? Manure lagoons? Zoonotic disease? Antibiotic resistance? Global warming? Just part of the cost of doing business, ma’am. Nothing we can do about it. We have no choice. Economic necessity.

So, when even the former president of the World Bank says “It’s time“, what are we to do? If we are ever going to respond responsibly, we need to shift away from the position of entitlement that is prominent in so much of the debate. The developed world, having made a right proper mess of things, is now used to things being convenient, cheap, comfortable, and readily accessible. We have air conditioning, air travel, all manner of strange packaged foods, and entertainment to fill the hours that we blessedly don’t need to spend getting water, food, and otherwise keeping ourselves alive. We are only willing to do the right thing if it doesn’t impact our Way of Life.

I saw a comment (1) on a blog yesterday that said “My environmental choices are none of your business” (emphasis in the original). I’m going to say right here: Yes, actually, they are my business. Because we’ve all been poisoning the water hole. But people started calling our attention to the problem decades ago, and I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to figure out how not to. If you’ve spent the last twenty years defending your right to continue doing it, petitioning the government for inaction, or obstructing science in the name of profit, that most decidedly is my business. I’m not demanding perfection; we don’t even really know what it looks like (2). How about this for starters: I’ll try not to judge you for doing things that I haven’t allowed myself in a decade, and you stop telling me that there’s nothing we can do about it all anyway?

1. Which I know is not a source of news – call it my measure of the – er -zeitgeist… sorry. I’ll get you a reference if you want, but you probably aren’t surprised by the sentiment.
2. Although I have a terrified suspicion that it might involve raising your own dairy animals and going places on horses

2 responses to “Somebody’s Poisoned the Water Hole”

  1. That one word spells it all: Entitlement.

    The past 130 years has been an unsustainable gluttonous orgy of consumption, resource extraction and environmental distruction the world (and those who survive the next half millennium or more of climate change) will likely not see again. It can’t afford to.

    And yet for the vast majority of us, mass marketing, media mind control, sitcoms, and unbridled consumerism has been the norm. It has been in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the classrooms we are taught in, and has been our unquestioned “right” as “civilised” [sic] middle class Westerners.

    I had a somewhat telling exchange the other day with the septuagenarian parents and in-laws of a couple who live in an apt downstairs from me. They were admiring my prolific garden and the mother said, “I never realized broccoli [crowns] grew like that!” It’s a sad commentary on how far removed so many are from the processes of growth, tending, feeding and photosynthesis which bring us the food we grow.

    I am so blessed to live in a small town that has woods and forest within walking distance, and has an abundance of local farms, a thriving farmer’s market, and a strong sense of community that is anticipating and planning for what lies ahead. I’m definitely staying here for now!

  2. On the other side, I’ve talked to plenty of folks (mostly older, it might be noted) who’ve said that we’re going to have to “go back to the old ways” of doing things. The number of people who are aware that our current lifestyles are unsustainable is growing.

    Unfortunately, part of the society we find ourselves in involves ignoring our elders, who have lived through times of hardship, and may in fact have a few things to teach us yet.