The EPA May Self-Eviscerate, But We Can Be Environmental: The Child and The Schoolmaster

A recent headline read The Chemical Industry Scores a Big Win at the EPA. It turns out it’s just too hard for the EPA to analyze whether certain chemicals are toxic. The lucky chemicals that drew a get-out-of-jail-free card include perchloroethylene, which is used in dry cleaning.

This news makes me want to rant about the Trump administration and the Republicans in general and their absolute disregard for our precious environment, not to mention our human health. So I turn to the 17th century for a way to frame my thinking.

In this story, I want to show the particular idiocy of a vain remonstrance.

A young child allowed himself to fall in the water while playing on the banks of the Seine. With heaven’s permission and God’s will, of course, a nearby willow’s ample branches saved the child.

Thus held, as I’ve said, by the willow’s branches, a schoolmaster happens to pass the spot.

The child cries out: Help! I’m going to die!

The pedant, turns at the cries and, even though ill timed, takes it upon himself to scold the child in a very grave tone.

Ah, the little baboon! Look where his horsing around has put him! And really, to have responsibility for such a little terror! The poor unhappy parents who have to take care of the scoundrel! Do they have it bad or what? I feel sorry for them! 

Having said his piece, the schoolmaster pulls the child to safety on the river’s edge. 

I include more people in this category than you might think. All the talk-talk-talkers, all the constant critics, all the pedants can recognize themselves in this narrative I propose. The three together constitute a very large populace. The Creator has blessed this gang of losers.

In all affairs, they do nothing but dream up ways to exercise their tongues.

Eh! My friend, save me from danger. They will do it … after their harangue.  

Our health, the health of all the other species around us, and the earth itself are barely hanging on to the warming willow branches. The animal world is crying out for our help, if only we could hear them. Artists Allora & Calzadilla imagine their pleas in this stunning piece of video art: The Great Silence.

Meanwhile we criticize the government’s failures. To be sure, the EPA is slowly draining its own lifeblood, while Trump and his cronies cheer on the gory mess. But we can do more than harangue.

Just because gargantuan gas guzzling cars are available, we don’t have to drive them. Just because summer is upon us, doesn’t mean we must cool ourselves down into the 60s (which, by the way, is also sexist, since the summer chill setting on most office air conditioning is optimized for male comfort). A 50% off sale doesn’t force us to buy more stuff we don’t need. When a store offers us a plastic bag and there’s insufficient political will to ban plastic bags, we are not required to take it. Ditto for plastic straws. Sure, the oceans’ garbage gyres seem far, far away and it’s only the occasional whale that washes ashore, assassinated by accumulated plastic waste—but that’s current EPA-style thinking, right?—which we’ve been complaining about.

Every day, we have the possibility of making more environmentally friendly choices. If the EPA isn’t willing to test the toxicity of dry cleaning chemicals, we can choose to take our business to a green dry cleaner.

We have the capacity to be so much more than talkers. Yes, ranting feels good. But let’s be productive about our rants. Let’s wail and gnash our teeth with our close friends. Then, once we have that off our chests, let’s get down to the work of fixing. We won’t be perfect, but that’s never a reason not to try.

Extend a hand and help pull the earth and our own health prospects out of the river before they drown.

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