09.30.2009 0

Lisa Heinzerling: Bringing Good Things to Death

  • On: 10/30/2009 09:26:31
  • In: Appointments
  • by Victor Morawski

    Are their cases of environmental pollution that are so egregious that the polluters should be punished as murderers?

    Absolutely, says Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Heinzerling. And she is willing to wipe out half of the world’s population to prove her point. Given her way, she would turn into murderers every manufacturer in America who had any inkling of an idea ahead of time that their actions had even the remotest statistical chance of causing a pollution-related death. And she is determined to give her view the force of law.

    For example, she strongly opposes allowing any cost-benefit analyses into the evaluation of environmental risk because, for her, doing so amounts to “a pre-killing weighing of the choice to kill.” In such analyses, “economic costs of pollution-reducing strategies are balanced against the value” in dollars of those whom they will kill. Such deliberation for her, “makes the killing worse, not better, from a legal and moral perspective.”

    To make her point, she uses an example of an imaginary reality TV show where, every week, some unlucky contestant is not only voted off the show but is executed. She claims that we would not allow this killing even if the show were a huge monetary success. And neither should we allow companies, on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, to “set themselves on a course of conduct that they know will result in human death.”

    Her analogy is flawed for a number of reasons. On the show, we know that someone will be killed by our actions. In the real world, what is actually known by a company when it decides not to install the expensive new scrubbers is simply that it may result in the death of one extra person per million. Or, of course, it may not.

    Any time I put the key in the ignition and drive away I realize that there is some real statistical probability greater than zero that my actions will result in the death of an innocent person. Even if I am obeying all laws, a child who is not paying attention to traffic may rush out in front of my car. In these types of cases, motorists are often absolved both legally and morally of any wrongdoing.

    But, wait a minute, I did know when I left the house that morning that there was some remote statistical chance that my actions might result in someone else’s death, and yet I drove away in spite of this. By Lisa Heinzerling’s unorthodox reasoning, I would instead be guilty of murder.

    Another disingenuous feature of her reality show analogy is that while, in the show, we specifically set out to kill someone, in the real world corporations are normally not out to harm, much less kill. Her response to this is that unintentionally causing a death in pursuit of some other end — like profit — is still a “knowing killing.” And she full well acknowledges that this extreme view “makes killers out of the people who produce the things—electricity, oil, chemicals—that bring good things to life.”

    And so, if, in the final analysis, we end up destroying the very commodities that “bring good things to life” – and, in fact, save millions of lives a year – well, to Ms Heinzerling’s way of thinking, that’s just too bad. In short, she is absolutely determined to save individual lives – even if she has to wipe out mankind to do it.

    But to the medieval philosophers who first formulated views of just conduct in war, it was all-important that a good end was aimed at—this was what morally justified any killings of non-combatants that came about as the result of collateral damage. One was not targeting them. One was aiming at the good end of targeting combatants in a just war. Heinzerling seems utterly unable to appreciate this crucial distinction.

    Victor Morawski, professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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