We delude ourselves with respect to the value of a human life. Those we love and embrace make us set that value to an incalculable infinity. Those that inspire our hatred and antipathy will tempt us as sorely as Lucifer to set that value somewhere in the vicinity of meat on a stick.
The Grey Pill on this one is that life is somewhere in between and gets estimated dependent upon metrication and observer. Let that measurement be taken in utter ignorance or glacial indifference, and that value can get low.
A scientist knows a chemical harms human life. That individual also stands to kill it in the Wall Street sense by selling products that emit this bad chemical. The products produced may well do great things. Did making automotive engines more efficient by adding lead to gasoline do more harm than good? At first, the average person honestly didn’t know for sure. The truth sometimes takes its own sweet time lacing up its spikes and taking the field.
Furthermore, bad things don’t always happen in low background levels. Every morning the Sun rises. Those of us dwelling above ground take a daily radiation bath. For a variety of reasons, this doesn’t microwave us on the spot. Spending every day of your life at the beach sans SPF-50 will tend to make you more likely to contract fatal melanoma. A gradual building dose of toxicity will make a deleterious substance become more dangerous with time and compounding.
Yet all I have discussed here is the biochemistry of harmful pollution. There are domains of knowledge beyond STEM, just as there are domains of philosophy beyond logic. Does an ongoing tolerance of pollution do more to us as human being than just damaging our physical capital? Does it cost us an arm and a leg in some other fashion as well?
I would argue the positive on this proposition for two distinct reasons. I would argue that pollution causes sensory ugliness which degrades human thought and behavior. Allow me to furthermore stipulate that tolerance for ethical laxity with respect to pollution gets invariably extended to human behavior. A society that will not police its physical garbage pays no attention to other dysgenic behaviors either. The place that becomes an aesthetic hell will degenerate rapidly into a moral one as well.
Recent American history shows us the paradox of this holds true. The first NEPA authoring the EPA to control a list of criterion pollutants profoundly improved the state of our national environment. Lead became a controlled substance and was rigorously replaced as a fuel additive and plumbing staple. Twenty or so years after this intelligent regulatory decision, American crime went significantly lower.
Lead remains vastly more abundant in our society than it was one century ago. An entire generation or two will continue to suffer a higher likelihood of cardiorespiratory illness and reduced mental capability due to lingering background levels of lead contamination in Amerika’s environment.
The tragic story of Leaded-Amerika demonstrates the folly of Managerial Ethics. The tendency to ignore externalities that hit others, but not the decider leads The Managerial Society to the banality of evil. Anything that triggers short-term payoff receives tolerance in accordance with just the right paperwork. Leaded gasoline and lead plumbing fixtures were both duly signed off on.
Amerika putting profitable chemistry over healthy biology caused remarkable suffering. Yet the story has a hopeful ending. Garret Hardin’s advice that we lower the extent to which we discount future outcomes in our decision making finally won the day. Once retardation and heart attacks manifested in synonymy with increasing lead concentrations, the results of our short-term focus manifested like The Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol. Maybe becoming wiser to this sort of thing could be the best we all could hope for the day after Earth Day.