Freedom is a greatly treasured ideal and it is not uncommon for people to demand their rights. But we seldom hear of people fighting for and demanding their responsibilities. Yet freedom without responsibility can be a very dangerous thing. With freedom comes built-in responsibilities. Free market capitalism is often promoted by business corporations and the politicians whom they “own” and influence through their contributions and lobbying. The two major political parties are both business parties with the Republican Party being a wholly owned subsidiary.
Barbara Kingsolver has written that “global commerce is driven by a single conviction: the inalienable right to earn a profit, regardless of the human costs.” Free market capitalism to these corporations means the right to poison our air and water with their pollution. They believe that their right to poison the environment takes precedence over our right to good public health. Since they are amoral entities and their only motivation is profit, they have no inhibition from damaging our health with their pollutants. If you don’t believe this is true, don’t they do all they can to weaken and defeat legislation and regulations to protect the environment? They do not want to take responsibility for their wastes which pollute or air and water.
We have made the decision as a society that our right to clean indoor air trumps the right of smokers to smoke in public places. Why shouldn’t we air breathers have the same rights to breathe unpolluted air in the atmosphere which surrounds us? Why shouldn’t corporations be held to same standards that we apply to smokers? This doesn’t mean that businesses don’t have a right to make a profit, they just can’t dump their costs on the rest of us. In very simple terms, they should not be allowed to profit by poisoning us.
While our current environmental laws and regulations are inadequate to do the job, the laws, regulations, and agencies that protect our air and water are under constant attack from the political right. They put profit ahead of human and environmental health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even with all his shortcomings in protecting the environment, is under constant attack. As an example, our two local Congressmen, Representatives Marino and Barletta, just recently voted to weaken the EPA. These men and their fellow right wing travelers believe that corporation’s “right” to poison us and make us ill trumps our right to a clean environment and good health. While I’m sure they both would deny this accusation, their voting records clearly demonstrate the veracity of this charge. The EPA’s was created to protect public health, not promote corporate profits.
Business corporations have a right to make a profit, but the right to make a profit entails many responsibilities. They must be responsible that in making their profits they do not externalize their costs to us and the environment. We have the responsibility to protect our health and the health of our children and grandchildren by demanding that corporations are not free to dump their wastes on all us. We have the responsibility to demand that our government fulfill its duty of protecting us. While the polluters and their political handmaidens like Representatives Marino and Barletta always use the “jobs” argument, can they tell us how many jobs are equivalent to a sick child? Don’t they know that many jobs will be created by fashioning a cleaner world for all of us?