GOP's Love of Pollution: A Reality Distortion Field
Steve Jobs was legendary for demanding accomplishments of his employees that seemed scientifically impossible to them. They characterized him as living in what they termed a “reality distortion field.” America’s GOP is currently mired in a reality distortion field of their own, but not with the productive upside that flourished at Apple.
Ignoring the reality that Americans are tired of costly, counterproductive wars, driven by disinformation and deceit, the GOP has launched war on the EPA. To attack the EPA as “job killing” is as much a con game as was attacking Iraq for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Justifying themselves as wanting to eliminate regulations of “mass job destruction”, this year the Republican controlled House has passed 168 measures that would weaken or gut core provisions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Regrettably, many conservative Democrats are playing along.
Almost by definition, conservatives always long for the good old days of decades past. In pushing to abolish the EPA, they apparently are nostalgic for those good old days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire—seven times, when Lake Erie was devoid of fish, and when the air over Los Angeles was more appropriately chewed rather than inhaled. But the idea that returning to the “glory” days of unrestrained pollution would bring us new jobs is as scientifically sound as advocating our health care return to leeches and bloodletting in the name of job creation. A reality distortion field to be sure.
For less extreme lawmakers, Republicans or Democrats, to say, “We have enough regulations already, we can’t afford further environmental cleanup” is as absurd as my saying to patients, “Your family has had enough medical care already, we can’t afford to diagnose or treat any new diseases you might get.”
Despite being excoriated by health organizations throughout the country, contrary to every economic and health study ever published, and even in defiance of the will of the majority of the people, conservative fossil fuel apologists remain undeterred. The evolution of diesel engine technology illustrates the economic folly of this “pollution is good for us” campaign.
30 years of research has established diesel exhaust as a human carcinogen. Per horse power generated, traditional diesel engines produced 100 times more pollution than gasoline engines. But increasingly stringent EPA emissions standards (1988-2010) for diesel exhaust have stimulated major technological advances in diesel engine technology and diesel fuel/lubricant composition, resulting in the emergence of what has been termed New Technology Diesel Exhaust (NTDE). NTDE exhibits marked improvements in emissions compared to pre-1988 diesel engines, with far less human toxicity. The technology developed to achieve more strict diesel emissions standards— electronic controls, ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, oxidation catalysts, and wall-flow diesel particulate filters—generated new American jobs, exportable technology and the economic boost of improving health for millions of people worldwide. Cleaning up coal power plants will have similar economic and jobs benefits.
Medical science has proven that the Clean Air Act saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year, has lengthened every American’s life expectancy 5 months over just the last 20 years and has provided economic benefits that average about 30 times the cost to industry of implementing pollution controls.
But science has also proven even more pervasive impacts from air pollution. Just like with smoking, every critical organ system is affected; the heart, lungs, brain and placenta. Particulate pollution can penetrate every cell in the body, even invading the nucleus of the cell causing chromosomal damage where, especially in children and the developing human embryo, and it can predispose a person to multiple chronic diseases decades later. Diseases now known to be caused and/or exacerbated by air pollution include sudden death from aberrant heart rhythms, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, bronchitis, permanent loss of lung function, Alzheimer’s, intellectual impairment, autism, pre-mature births, birth defects, diabetes, obesity, immune diseases and several types of cancer.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to continually re-assess the adequacy of existing standards and match them with new research. New medical science compels us to think of pollution completely differently than we did even a few years ago. In the same way there is no safe number of cigarettes a person can smoke, there is no safe level of air pollution a person can bring breathe. Even concentrations well below the EPA’s standards can provoke all the diseases mentioned above. Furthermore, because of air pollution’s impact on chromosomes, today’s air pollution even harms the health of future generations.
But for the loyal troops in the army of fossil fools—GOP leadership and every one of their presidential candidates—science and facts are eagerly discarded in their “reality distortion field.” They think keeping our heads firmly stuck in the sand of the 19th century is just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps even worse, the moral imperative of protecting our families’ health and that of future generations is just as easily discarded. By doing so, the party of “family values” has also wrapped themselves up in a “morality distortion field.”