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#106 - What We Must Do -- Part 10 No Dumping Allowed, 04-Dec-1988

During the past year, our readers have been sending suggestions for
"what we must do" to take control over the toxics crisis. For the most
part, our readers are not legislative lobbyists or armchair
environmentalists; they are grass roots activists struggling in the
trenches to protect their children, their homes, and their health from
brutal assaults by individuals and corporations who are, directly or
indirectly, trying to kill or maim them. If this sounds overly dramatic
to you, you are probably reading this from the sidelines.

In our series, "What we must do," we set out to explore the nature of
the problem(s) our readers face. We have seen that the poisoners are
not merely ignorant, well-meaning bumblers: the poisoning of America
has not occurred by accident, and it has not occurred out of ignorance.
It has been deliberate. We have also seen that the polluters are
continuing to grow in strength and numbers, that the quantity of
pollution is continuing to grow exponentially at a steady 6% to 10% per
year, thus doubling every 7 to 11 years. We have seen that government
has largely abandoned its role as protector of the people. In general,
modern government acts as a wholly owned subsidiary of the polluters,
licensing the poisoning, and running interference for the poisoners. We
have seen, in short, that though we are winning many local battles, we
are losing the war.

We have seen that the earth is being damaged on a massive scale, that
the number of animals and humans being poisoned is continuing to grow,
and that leaders of the older environmental movement (as distinct from
the movement for environmental justice) have allowed themselves to get
caught up in no-win debates such as cost-benefit analysis and risk
assessment. In their well-meaning but misguided desire to be viewed as
"reasonable" in terms defined by our adversaries, the leaders of the
environmental movement have fallen into snares laid by industry lawyers
and technocrats. Industry has been allowed to frame the debate in
narrow, technical terms. No wonder they're winning.

It is time for new departures, new ways of thinking. As the burgeoning
"movement for environmental justice" begins to see itself as a
coherent, connected whole, it is right and good to establish new goals,
new visions of where we want to be 10 years from now. Do we want to be
hunkered in conference rooms debating what constitutes "best available
control technology" with engineers employed by some poisoner? Do we
want to be arguing with an army of lawyers whether it's OK to kill one
in a million of us at random, versus killing one in a hundred thousand?
If we force some government agency to give us the lip service of one
more public hearing before they issue the next license to the next
poisoner, is this what we will call "progress" and "success?" We think
not.

From our readers, and from other friends of the movement for
environmental justice, here is a series of ideas that can stoke the
engines of change, and may--if we will adopt them--make a difference:

We must establish our right to a clean environment. Who gave the
polluters all the rights anyway? We can transform the environmental
justice movement into a civil rights movement. The principle of "no
dumping" must be established. This has been advocated most eloquently
by Dr. John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus at University of
California, Berkeley, and former Associate Director of the Livermore
National Laboratory. Dr. Gofman says, "The no-dumping principle simply
means no one has any right to dump anything into the world's common
supply of air and water.... The point is that the no-dumping principle
and highly industrial societies can become compatible, if the will
exists to do it. Of course it cannot happen overnight, which is all the
more reason to adopt the principle immediately. Then you apply it
gradually. It's both practical and fair to be gradual in the transition
to new rules, because current operations began in good faith under the
old rules. But there is all the difference in the world between
adopting a good principle gradually, versus denying the principle,
which is what we do today. Today people are claiming polluters have a
right to kill some people, at random, for the economic benefit of some
others. Only the exact number is debated. [For example, see RHWN #41
and #95.--P.M.] It's called the 'risk-benefit' doctrine. I call it
premeditated random murder," says Dr. Gofman.

Dr. Gofman says, "The key to stopping every type of pollution begins
with convincing people to agree on a really simple principle of human
rights, whose fairness is self-evident. It can be stated in one
sentence:

"All peaceable people (that excludes criminals) are entitled to hold
themselves and their property free from coercion, intrusion, and fraud,
provided they secure the identical right for each other. This
definition of human rights clearly prohibits people who own property
from letting it intrude on anyone else's body or property, which
includes the common air and water.

"We've all known the headache of owning some pieces of unwanted
property, say a derelict car or an old mattress. But we clearly have no
right to dump them in someone else's driveway or in the public forest,
although neither is even toxic.

"Unwanted medical, chemical and radioactive wastes also belong to
someone. They are the property of whoever owns their source, until
title has been transferred to some willing recipient. So the owners of
waste are obliged to do whatever it takes, regardless of cost, to keep
their property from intruding into either common or private property.

"It is not the obligation of other humans to prove that the dumping
would be lethal or even a hazard at all. There is just no right to let
your property intrude on others, and you'd better consider that before
you make it or buy it."

Dr. Gofman has put his finger on two important principles: first, we
have an inherent right to clean air and water, the polluters do not
have a right to dump on us. Second, the burden of proof is not on us to
show that exotic chemicals are harmful. It doesn't matter whether
exotic chemicals are harmful or not--no one has a right to dump them
into our air or water. Period. We can say, "I don't want to be dumped
on, and that's that." We don't have to prove that 1,1,1-tri-whatever is
bad for us; it's sufficient that we don't want our children and
ourselves exposed to it. Who gave the polluters all the rights in the
first place? We must take back America from the polluters, starting
with first principles: no dumping allowed.

(To be continued next week.)

Dr. Gofman heads the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility (CNR), P.O.
Box 11207, San Francisco, CA 94101; CNR has no phone. Donations to CNR
are tax deductible. Dr. Gofman is the author of what we think are the
best books on the effects of radioactivity on humans, including
RADIATION AND HUMAN HEALTH (1981), X-RAYS: HEALTH EFFECTS OF COMMON
EXAMS (1985) and RADIATION-INDUCED CANCER FROM LOW-DOSE EXPOSURE: AN
INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS (1989). To see where the "no dumping" principle
could take us, read Theodore Taylor and Charles Humpstone, THE
RESTORATION OF THE EARTH (NY: Harper & Row, 1973).

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: what we must do; regulation; philosophy; principles;
radiation; landfilling; accidents;