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A Just and Talented Government for Our Hazardous Age

Photograph Source: R6, State & Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection – 1955. Fort tri-motor spraying DDT – Public Domain

In 1979, I joined the US Environmental Protection Agency where I served as an analyst until 2004. Those twenty-five years gave me a privileged opportunity to observe the workings of the government from within.

I applauded EPA for banning DDT in 1972, about two years after President Richard Nixon brought the EPA into being.

DDT was not an obscure chemical. It was the muddled manufactured icon of modernity and cleanliness and health. The US military used it against malaria and any possible disease the troops brought home from the battlefields of World War II.

In addition to its war assets, DDT soon became the golden bullet of farmers and public health officials in fighting insects and vectors of disease. In fact, the advertising industry made DDT so attractive and harm-free, that children played surrounded by its fumes.

Underneath the external clouds of victory and safety, another DDT emerged: an extremely dangerous chemical that was responsible for vast harm to wildlife and human health. It threatened America’s bald eagle, other animals, wild and domesticated, and humans with a variety of diseases, including cancer.

However, EPA’s banning of DDT shocked official society. Armies of industry lobbyists attacked EPA, spreading lies and propaganda about the “benefits” of the poison and the “bad” science EPA employed in discovering the true nature of this deleterious and long-lasting compound.

Punishing EPA for doing good

EPA was already in an unstoppable decline and fall in 1979, my first year with the government. I could sense the hostility of the chemical industry, the contempt its agents had for the scientists of EPA. Democrat Congressmen and their staff pretended they supported EPA.

I knew a couple of these Congressmen and their senior assistants. We talked about the country’s environmental crises and the EPA. I would suggest issues for hearings and even provided written evidence for investigating the criminal acts of agribusiness.

Nothing of substance ever happened.

The deleterious influence of the industry 

I spent all those years with the EPA seeing one humiliation after another: shutting down of a large industry lab specializing in fraudulent testing in support of industry studies, but leaving intact the “right” of companies to test their own products. This guaranteed the lab fraud would go on; industry men threatening EPA scientists during the Reagan administration; industry influence on Congress and the White House bringing the end of EPA laboratories and, during the George W. Bush administration, the destruction of a fantastic collection of documents held by the EPA library. Those scientific studies done over decades and funded by the EPA, documented toxic industry effects on public and environmental health and life.

This kind of government is one of a failed state, one in which democracy, if it exists at all, serves state propaganda  and the delusion of the ruling class.

Reforms

A return to democracy and protection from the ceaseless streams of pollution is possible, provided we reform our government. Political and industry influence, the revolving door, and political appointees should become a thing of the past.

The president is the head of the armed forces, but he should never have the right to put his cronies to administer the vast federal government, including choosing judges for the Supreme Court and the federal courts.

The government legacy of the 18th century

The founders of the American republic wrote their sketchy and inadequate Constitution in late eighteenth century. That was the era of Enlightenment. But next to the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality, monarchical politics supported slavery on a mass scale. The new American government organized genocide against the conquered native Americans. It borrowed a European legal system that mirrored land oligarchy, not democracy.

In addition, the extreme violence of that age eliminated for the most part any practical notion that wildlife and nature deserved state protection, much less respect from the population at large. Hunting was a respected habit and tradition.

The founders of America could never have foreseen climate change, though they should have foreseen tyrants becoming presidents.

With the looming cataclysmic consequences of climate change and with the corona virus plague taste of what we are likely to face in the near future, we would be fools not to improve our government, our link to national security and being a society striving for civilization.

Organizing a new government

The United States needs schools devoted to educating and training people wishing to serve us in the federal government. Any vacancy in the Supreme Court, federal courts, or the agencies and departments of the government should be filled by persons with the required knowledge and ethical standards of service the public good. Exams should decide the successful candidates for all positions in the federal government.

The president or other politicians and the industry would be prohibited by law to interfere in the selection process of staffing the federal government from the heads of agencies, assistants to the president, to the lowest clerks.

Without the subversion of the political and industry influence, we would have an EPA enforcing the country’s laws in protecting public and environmental health. We would be a healthier society with a healthier natural world. Climate change would have been prevented.

If the Supreme Court had competent and ethical judges, it would have never intervened in presidential elections and given the presidency to George W. Bush, thus preventing the destruction of the Middle East. An ethical and non-partisan Supreme Court would also not have diminished the Consumer Financial Bureau, protecting the average American from the predatory practices of banks and other money lending institutions.

21st century government

In other words, the twenty-first century demands a government competent and just to govern a large and complex society as well as  handle the life and death decisions our past foolishness and negligence are bringing to the surface.

Foremost among these anthropogenic crises is climate change. An ethical and political influence-free government will be key to mobilizing talent and courage to fight this monster.

More articles by:

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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