It is easy for me to slip into despair when I read about the latest environmental protections that are being removed by EPA usurper-in-chief, Scott Pruitt. These are so egregious as to be almost laughable, like a plot outline for an overly absurd dystopian novel. One of the latest is that mining companies no longer need to set aside money to cover potential damages from their activities. They will not be held to account for toxic tailings, sludge pond overflows, and other messes.
I confess I did not have the heart (or stomach) to delve further into the topic, to determine what, if any, contingencies were substituted for the simple effect of holding corporate polluters responsible for their actions.
We are so much better than this. We have these regulations in place for good reasons, often made necessary by historical disasters that resulted in loss of property, livelihood, or even life.
There is a long and growing list of these now-shredded protection regulations. Disbanding a panel that helped cities respond to climate threats. Giving away millions of acres of protected federal lands—stolen during the genocide against the people who were here before white Europeans came. Allowing fracking companies to dump spoils into the Gulf of Mexico. (Articles are here, here, and here.) Maybe Pruitt and his cronies are brainstorming new names for the EPA. Environmental Polluters Association. Economic Pirates, All.
Here’s a thought: maybe this is a necessary unravelling that will lead us to another way of being.
This is a time of rocks being overturned—and there are so many rocks. All the rocks. Sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, all the –isms and phobias, sexual harassment and assault, exploitation and forced hierarchy and epic greed, narcissism and selfishness. Rocks are being turned over to expose these and other slimes to the disinfecting light of day.
Until now, we lived in a world where we needed rules and regulations to force people to do the right thing. In the absence of regulations, mining companies consider the living world as an “externality.” Anything beyond workers’ meager salaries is an external cost. The health of communities and future generations are not included in their balance sheets. This mindset required the discipline of regulations. This was an important role of government, to consider and ensure the good of the people as a whole. (It has been pointed out that, nowhere in our Constitution are the rights of our fellow non-human beings provided for. But that’s a topic for another day.)
Absent the voluntary consideration of the bigger picture and absent the regulations that compel it, we assume the world will devolve back to a pre-regulation state of rivers afire and silent springs. But what if this un-regulation binge is clearing space for something else? Something better? By now, so many of us have woken up to our kinship with the living world now, and more every day are considering the possibility that we belong here as part of the vast, intricate, miraculous tapestry of Life.
We are falling back in love with the earth. And we wouldn’t dream of allowing such degradation and destruction to go on in these places that we love. We don’t need regulations to tell us to protect the places we love. When you love your home and your family, you defend them.
We will join with those who already know what is right and good. Who are already standing up and sitting in. Who are defending the sacred and resisting the exploiters. Regulations be damned.
Regulations made us lazy. We relied on Big Brother to keep watch, to stand up on our behalf to the bullies and polluters. And, for a while, however imperfectly, that worked.
Now we are being called to a more active role.
The pioneering green architect, William McDonough, said thirty years ago that regulation is a sign of design failure. If your thinking and your approach and actions are aligned with Life, you do not need regulations.
Regulations are also a sign of moral failure, a failure of values. A friend suggests that we are, at this moment, lost. We don’t talk about values any more. We don’t agree on a set of values.
Maybe if we cut out the noise and bickering, if we sit down and respectfully talk, we will discover we have more shared values than we think. Is this wishful thinking?
“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” ~ Helen Keller
In this both/and time on the threshold between stories, I choose to see this possibility: that the dismantling of regulations—as blatant and outrageous as it is—may be a catalyst for a richer, deeper relationship with the living world. A more mature and responsible relationship, one that names and honors the sources of our material and spiritual nourishment. One that gives back in the form of thanksgiving, respect and ceremony.