Baby With the Bath Water

>> Thursday, July 8, 2010

I love my readers. Both The Mother and Rocketscienist (not me, a different one) gave me the perfect opportunity to expand my last post in the direction I wanted. The Mother by providing an example of what can go wrong by overreacting to a poorly thought out regulation and Rocketscienist by noting that we don't live in a binary world, even if we treat it like it is.

See, this was all triggered by a frustrating discussion I had with some tin whisker experts who began bemoaning the repercussions of RoHS ("Why won't they listen to the scientists?") and then turn and say all environmentalists are stupid and short-sighted, all regulation is wrong and then segway into the fact that global warming is "disproved." Global warming, you know, that environmental issue brought forward by scientists.

/slaps head

First off, there's nothing that makes an expert look stupid like bemoaning the fact he's not given credence and then dismissing other experts as hacks based on the same popular media they were just condemning. As I expostulated here. Hypocrisy only makes the hypocrite look bad (well, and gives all scientists, including themselves, a bad name. Sigh.)

But secondly, there's a logical fallacy in the attitude if there's one "bad" regulation, they must all be bad. Not that the notion that "all bad things" can be eliminated with legislation is more logical. Too often, people respond to something wrong as a condemnation of everything similar.

For instance, the regulation The Mother mentioned is a case in point. The CFC regulations have been working. Although the ozone will be affected for a long time, the CFC concentrations that led to the anomaly have been noticeably reduced. That's a good thing for the world as a whole and a significant population of people. Not excluding inhalers from this regulation (inhalers likely had minimal impact on the overall CFC release) was short-sighted. I have to mention, though, that there IS an exception made for medical inhalers and some other uses and even a stock of CFCs for that particular purpose. I'll also add that that was likely an afterthought.

The problem isn't that something should have been done (or not). The key is doing the job smartly (and I can't disagree that politics often drives regulations far more than data or anything resembling sense). But that doesn't mean regulation is a bad thing - that's implementation, not the concept.

What's more, the right thing to do on one topic doesn't dictate the right thing to do on another topic. I'm of the opinion that a ban on lead for all electrical components is, indeed, a bad idea. However, there are likely components where lead removal would have little or no consequences. And, if I did think the whole thing was whacked, it doesn't follow that ALL environmental regulation is garbage.

I'm not objective. My father died of asbestosis. My father worked for EPA, whose efforts have gone a long way to improving water quality, reducing pollution, and, yes, reducing the likelihood that the next generation will have to worry about dying of asbestosis. Ironically, he also died from environmental causes after wading, hip-deep, through every toxic muck from one end of this country to another trying to figure out how to clean it up. So I get irked when someone tells me all environmental regulation is nonsense. They died to help the rest of us. I know an awful lot about how bad it used to be that we, who haven't lived with rivers that can be lit on fire, can't appreciate.

I also know that anything can be taken too far (like, say, some of the folks at PETA).

The answer isn't one extreme or the other. It's not all in the middle or slanting to one side. There isn't one answer or one solution. It's not no government or too much government. It's not all or nothing. It's not yes or no. There is no one answer for all our problems.

There are, however, potential solutions for each problem (or linked problems collectively). It's making the right rules, not just blanket rules. It's listening to the experts, doing one's homework and doing one's best to do the right thing - even if you have to change gears or backtrack later as, as rocketscienist pointed out, you discover what you did had unforeseen repercussions.

But, as long as people are willing to make kneejerk judgments based on what political party they are or what they're told they should think, as long as they characterize any group of people with extreme names instead of addressing the specific issues (eco-terrorist, for example, or hmm, I can't think of a conservative one - maybe someone can help me out) instead of looking at the data and working toward a smart solution, the pendulum will keep swinging back and forth.

And crashing into us coming and going.

Not that I'm opinionated or anything. :)


  • Shakespeare

    Are you trying to tell me that there are gray areas? That it isn't all or nothing?

    Surely, you must be joking.

    (I know you aren't joking. And I won't call you Shirley.)

  • The Mother

    RIght rules, not blanket rules.

    What have you been smoking?

    I do not see an end to partisan pendulum swinging anytime soon. The Right is stuck on God and the Bible, the left on getting government running everything else in people's lives.

    Middle ground is impossible in that environment.

  • Stephanie Barr

    It HAS happened. The CFC rule, which has the exception regarding inhalers, is an example. Smog reduction in California is pronounced from what it was twenty years ago. In my sister's area, garbage has been reduced to the smallest component of household waste because of their aggressive compost/recycling program.

    Telling ourselves it's useless is a good way to make that a self-serving prophecy, but there's plenty of evidence it can be done. I've seen it. You probably have, too.

    It was regulation and schools requiring vaccines that have made such an impact on childhood disease, not doctors alone (though they're the ones making vaccines possible). It's regulation that has drastically improved water quality from what it was early last century. Regulations have made it so that most of the meat, eggs and dairy products people buy daily are far less dangerous than they were in the past.

    It can be done. And we can do it again.

  • Rocketscienist

    And it will be done. As silly as it sounds it all starts with an idea and then discussion that idea. Global warming is a favorite topic of discussion among people- that really isn't the issue. Waste is bad in any form- Conservation is good. When we discuss ways to reduce waste or pollution and the discussion somehow moves to global warming it is a distraction tactic. It happens all the time and it is a waste of time.

    As I mentioned in my blog I have started run/walking more. Now Manhattan is a walking city but other places I visit people are addicted to driving everywhere. When I ask directions to a place that is over a mile away I am greeted with a shocked look. This happened to me in the last month Houston Texas, Huntsville Alabama, and Seattle Washington. Walking a mile somewhere shouldn't shock people.

    It is my biggest issue is to focus and really listen to what people are saying. Too often in the past I spend more time waiting to talk again then really listening.

    Great post. Thanks!

  • Jeff King

    Yea listening is the key; I find I don't do it enough.

    It’s hard to have an open mind when you spend so much time forming the opposite opinion.
    If I remember to respect and listen to the opposition; then maybe I might be able to actually resolve the dispute rather than place a Band-Aid over it.

  • Relax Max

    HAS someone really said to you, "All environmental regulation is nonsense"? Or is that just another slight exaggeration to make a point? Heh. Put me on your "doubtful" list that you've ever actually heard that statement.

    Anyway, it doesn't do any good to pass good laws (and that sometimes happens) if there is no enforcement of the regulations. I don't think we have a lack of regulations in this country today, only a lack of enforcing them. Well, more than that, but starting with that.

    I wish you would write more about your father sometime. What little you have written is very inspiring and interesting.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Two people did just last week. And both were professional experts in scientific fields. I was as stunned by it as you are disbelieving. I had to hang up the telecon, I was so shaken.

    I did speak about my father here, but I'm not really talking about his work, there. Perhaps I should.

  • Rocketscienist

    Totally been stunned by some of the statements I have heard, especially on Telecons. If you knew me you would know how hard it is to make me speechless. I am going to quote a fellow rocket scientist's quote "the two most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity". It makes me weep when I find evident that this is true.

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