Do you want to breathe? Or do you want to eat?
Do you want to preserve the planet that sustains human life? Or do you want jobs?
Do you want everyone in your community to be healthy, productive contributing members of society? Or underpaid, stressed-out workers unable to focus beyond their immediate needs?
We face significant choices and the well-being of humanity depends on our deciding wisely, creatively and with compassionate hearts.
Yet many challenging, complex questions are presented as simple choices: Yes or No. True or False. For or Against. Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down.
These are false dilemmas, trying to force a choice between two options, when, in fact, there are many more.
If you can see only two choices, then you don’t understand the problem fully, one wise teacher observed.
In a classic routine, comedian Jack Benny, the uncompromising penny-pincher, confronts a gun-toting robber demanding, “Your money or your life.”
Benny pauses, then slowly replies, “Give me a minute … I’m thinking.”
Peninsula residents have been offered a false dilemma by Nippon and Port Townsend Paper proposing to burn wood to generate electricity. Both major employers threaten to shut down, throwing people out of work if they can’t burn biomass.
On one side, jobs. The other — what, exactly?
Biomass opponents cite increased release of dioxins, carcinogens so serious that there’s no safe exposure level; other toxic compounds poisoning the air we breathe and the water we share with fish, forests, farms and vineyards; and massive increases in climate-destroying carbon dioxide.
Dr. Bill Sammons, a pediatrician specializing in behavioral and developmental pediatrics, recently informed peninsula audiences about the health risks and economic problems of biomass energy production.
“People once thought this was clean energy,” he said. But it is dirty, expensive power with serious health hazards.
Only in the last four to six years have researchers understood that ultrafine particles increase asthma, heart disease, cancers, multiple allergies and lung damage.
After smokers quit, their lungs return to normal within a few years. But ultrafine particles damage children’s lungs permanently, he said. And no scrubbers, filters or other technology can filter them out.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, now links dioxin to cancers, insulin-dependent diabetes and nerve and heart disease among people exposed directly or indirectly and to birth defects in children. Dioxin’s cancer potency is the highest of any chemical so far evaluated.
Current permit levels do not protect us, Sammons said.
When biomass advocates claim they’re in compliance with rules and guidelines, they’re absolutely correct. Our permitting processes do not protect human health.
While legislators can design ordinances that meet safety levels, corporations withdraw requests rather than comply. Such careful permitting has stopped more than 20 biomass generators across the country.
Chip Ward, co-founder of Families Against Incinerator Risk and HEAL Utah, wrote, “The fact is: We won’t free ourselves from a dysfunctional and unfair economic order until we begin to see ourselves as communities, not commodities. That is one clear message from Zuccotti Park.”
Ward added, “When there’s money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable.” Jobs migrate to cheaper overseas labor and workers who become ill from the foul air or poisonous chemicals they encountered on the job are tossed aside.
Polluters routinely walk away from what they’ve poisoned, leaving taxpayers to clean up their messes. “Externalizing” cleanup costs to increase profits is so common that most of us have a “superfund site” in our backyard.
Count Mother Nature among the disenfranchised, exploited and struggling.
Say goodbye to simple answers.
Diana Somerville writes about creating more sustainable communities and our personal connection with the environment. A Clallam County resident, she’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Reach her at www.DianaSomerville.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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