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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

We humans are not exactly what one could call a precautionary race, are we?

Just ask the bees, or the hapless denizens at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

In almost all realms of thought and policy-making, it seems to me that our most typical behavior mode is to think first, act first and ask questions later.

You may doubt that assertion, but consider the first use of an atomic bomb as a prime example. If you still doubt the assertion, I’d say you must have decided long ago that thinking is not your strong suit.

Anyway, I digress.

I would expect some bright reader to be asking himself, or herself right now, “What do bees, bottom dwellers in the Gulf and atom bombs have to do with one another?”

Glad you asked.

For some time now – nearly 20 years, actually – there’s been this idea rolling around the globe known as the “precautionary principle.” It’s actually been written into law in some states and in some forms, notably in the European Union’s regulations.

Basically, the principle holds that for any proposed action or policy, if there is an indication backed by reliable evidence that the action or policy could harm humans or the environment, that evidence is sufficient cause to hold off on the policy or action pending further study.

Of course, such a law in the U.S. would send a number of industries and companies into fits of frenzy, if not bankruptcy. DOW Chemical and Archer Daniels Midland come to mind, because such a law would require that they conduct comprehensive testing on their products to determine their potential toxicity for humans and other living things, and to forego production and sale of anything harmful to said entities. Not good for business, eh? Well, what good will all those bazillions of dollars do anyone if we all die off from some global ecological disaster when the toxic-chemical overload passes the tipping point?

Oh, I know, they say they test their products now. But do you really believe that?

I believe that, if forced, they do minimal testing on products as long as they are being watched closely, and that’s about it. I believe our air, water and foods are chock-full of compounds that have never been adequately tested for potential hazardous effects, that nobody fully understands, and that already have done immense harm.

Take a look at the honeybees if you don’t believe me. Or, rather, look at the pictures of bees in books and online, because in many parts of the world finding a bee is a tricky thing these days. The little buggers are dying off at an amazing and unexplained rate, and if they go extinct I hate to think about what’s going to happen to us, the human race. Imagine life without fruits, squash, any number of agricultural products that are utterly dependent on bees for pollination of their flowers and propagation of their species.

I read one report that estimated that up to 40 percent of the foods we eat depend on bees. And that doesn’t even take into account such things as the flowers that will die out for lack of attention, or the birds that will go hungry because they can’t catch bees to eat, or the bears whose lives will be forever lessened for a lack of honey. The list of beings who would lament the passing of the bees is long, indeed.

Then there are the fish in the seas, whose prospects have just gotten considerably more murky thanks to BP and the ruptured drilling rig in the Gulf.

Nobody knows what kind of damage this disaster will cause, exactly, although all guesses are in the dark and gloomy range.

And this is just one spill. Oceanographers have been telling us for decades that the amount of gunk and garbage we’ve spilled into the oceans is piling up and might one day spell big trouble. Well, BP has now sped up that timetable.

Which leads me to the “precautionary principle,” and the thought that it might be nice if the entire world adopted this sensible idea now, if it’s not already too late.

As for the fortunes of the corporations that have been making millions from poisoning our atmosphere, oceans, rivers and lands, well, I can’t seem to find a lot of sympathy in my heart for their plight.

Call me heartless, if you must.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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