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Excerpt from Dreams

Precautionary Principle (p. 297)

From chapter "Proof"

Part of the problem is the notion of proof, especially within a culture based on systematic lies. I see two fundamental problems with “proof.” The first is that it is differentially, and stupidly, applied. Different levels of proof are required, depending on whether the thing to be proved serves the centralization of power, serves control, serves the material interests of those in power, or not.

Just today I saw an article in the newspaper that began, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that could result in scrutiny of how dozens of dangerous pesticides affect threatened and endangered species living around San Francisco Bay. If the EPA decides to settle the suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, it would require reviewing the health effects of 74 pesticides on 11 imperiled species by June 2014.”The pesticides included malathion, methyl bromide, permethrin, chlorpyrifos, and many others.

Now, malathion has been in use since 1956, routinely mixed with diesel fuel and fogged over entire cities. Methyl bromide is a soil sterilant (yes, that means what you think it does) that has been banned by most countries because it depletes the ozone layer. As of 2005 it was “banned” in the United States, with just a few “allowable exemptions” such as, to use the Environmental Protection [sic] Agency’s (EPA) language, “the Critical Use Exemption (CUE), designed for agricultural users with no technically or economically feasible alternatives.” What this means in practice is that it has been “banned,” but in no way has it been banned. The EPA tells us how a use is determined to be critical: “The specific use is critical because the lack of availability of methyl bromide for that use would result in a significant market disruption.” In other words, it would cost someone some money. In practice, this means that in 2009, 411 metric tons were used on cucurbits, 63 metric tons on eggplants, 1,336 metric tons on strawberries, 137 metric tons on ornamental plants, and so on, literally ad nauseam. Permethrin has been around since 1979. According to Wikipedia, “it kills indiscriminately.”It has been found in breast milk in South Africa, where it was in use. Chlorpyrifos was first sold in 1965. Among the many scandals associated with this poison: in 1995, the corporate creator of chlorpyrifos was fined $732,000 for failing to report more than two hundred (human) poisonings in the United States, and in 2007, their offices in India were raided for bribing officials into allowing it to be sold for household use in that country.

These are poisons. That is their purpose. No one ever had to prove these were safe—safe poisons?—before beginning mass production and widespread introduction into the natural world (including our own bodies). And now, because of a lawsuit, the proposed settlement by the EPA is to allow those who profit from the mass production of these poisons to continue to mass-produce them for another five years before they even have to “review the health effects.” And these “reviews” will, of course, be skewed to overrepresent the interests of the pesticide producers, so as to make sure there will be no “market disruptions.” And also, of course, after these reviews, those in power will guarantee a few “critical exceptions” that allow the continued mass production of these and other poisons, to be broadcast into the world at large.

This is absolutely routine. We could tell similar stories where proof of harm is not required, proof of harm is made impossible to ascertain, and the world is murdered while these phony debates are held. It happens with harm done by dams, it happens with harm done by plastics, it happens with harm done to endangered species, it happens with harm done by global warming, it happens with harm done by corporations, it happens with harm done by industrial civilization.

If members of this culture were in any way sane, if members of this culture were as wise and smart as they pretend to be, if members of this culture hadn’t long since ceased being human, they would have done what all sustainable cultures have done, which is put in place some approximation of the precautionary principle, which simply states that when you have uncertainty and the likelihood of harm, you take preventive or precautionary action.

What a concept.

Carolyn Raffensperger, a powerful proponent of the precautionary principle, told me, “On the most basic level, there’s nothing more to it.

“But,” she adds, “when you dig a little deeper, you find that something else is happening: the precautionary principle couples ethics with the questions of how and what we know. This is the opposite of how we currently approach environmental [or I would say any] decision-making, which with its mantra of ‘wait for certainty’ pretends to be devoid of all ethics, pretends to be neutral. It pretends that decimal points are more real than values, more real than love. This is, of course, nonsense. There’s currently nothing in the way we approach science— and business—that says we should prevent harm. It’s all about managing risk [actually, I think it’s about maximizing profits and maximizing control]. But that’s just crazy. Why should we think about prostate cancer or learning disabilities—both of which have imminently preventable causes—only by thinking about how many there are, and by making sure we’ve got all the causes in line before we act to stop the damage?”

I asked her, “What’s wrong with trying to find cause and effect?”

She said, “Nothing, except that we’ve separated things like emotion, values, and ethics from most of our decision-making. We think science can make all of our decisions. That’s bad enough. But who then makes these scientific decisions for us? Do you believe scientists at Monsanto or the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] have your best interests at heart? Or the interests of your community? If not, why should you surrender the responsibility for decisions that affect your health and the health of your loved ones and the health of your community—human and nonhuman—to these distant others? Even if those scientists did have your best interests at heart, decisions that affect you and your health need to be made by you and your community.

“Another problem is that cause and effect is so difficult to precisely define. When we’ve filled the world with toxic chemicals, when we are fraying the very latticework of life, science is not going to be as effective in proving cause and effect between this particular toxin and this particular effect, particularly if they’re separated, either over large periods of time or large areas of space. It’s just not reasonable—nor very smart—to expect that sort of precision before we act to protect ourselves.”

I said, “It seems to me that the precautionary principle is already in place. It’s just that what’s protected is different. It’s not that we mustn’t harm human beings or the environment, but that we mustn’t harm profits and the processes of production. If it’s possible something may harm people or the environment, cause and effect must be definitively established to an ever-more-stringent level of proof. If it’s possible something may cut profits, any lies to sustain a pretence of ‘proof’ will suffice.”

She responded, “Strange isn’t it? The precautionary principle in your formulation applies to this imaginary set of transactions we carry out with green paper. And admittedly that does guide much decision-making.”

Indeed, it is a guiding principle of this culture. Prior to the beginning of my book Endgame, I laid out the premises of that work. The twentieth and final premise reads, “Within this culture, economics— not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself—drives social decisions.” I then modified it to read, “Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.” Then I modified it again: “Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.” And again: “Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.” And finally, to this: “If you dig to the heart of it—if there is any heart left—you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.”

Having the precautionary principle in place would shut down the entire economy. There would, for example, certainly be no automobiles. There would be no computers. There would be no pesticides. There would be no large-scale agriculture. And the world wouldn’t be getting murdered.

Given the manifest insanity of this culture, and most especially given people’s extraordinary ability to rationalize any behavior up to and including the murder of the planet, we must be extremely careful about allowing members of this culture to define what must be proven (versus what is accepted as a given; for example, somehow we must prove that rivers are sentient—on the rivers’ own terms—instead of being forced to prove they are not sentient) and we must be even more careful in watching what means are used to “prove” or “disprove” something.


Have you ever felt love?

Did you need scientific proof of this? How would you have definitively and scientifically proved your love existed? If you could not prove it, would that mean your love didn’t exist? What would you trust: your own feelings, or science?


I have been to many doctors for my Crohn’s disease. Some have been good, and some, not so good.

Several years ago I was experiencing severe pain in my “lower right quadrant,” the area a few inches below and to the right of my belly button. I told my doctor at the time about this pain.

His look was as dismissive as his voice as he said, “That part of your intestines was removed long ago. You can’t have pain there.”

Who was I going to believe: my own body, or this expert?