Chemistry, consumers, and corporations
I object to the implication that consumers are responsible for the pollution portrayed in the books and movies cited in C&EN’s Nov. 18, 2019, editorial (page 2). Consumers have shown a tremendous ability to refrain from using products that they believe to be harmful, either to themselves or the environment. If anything, they have proved to be too cautious, in some cases refusing to use products that are deemed safe by multiple authoritative sources (for example, vaccines, genetically modified organisms, etc.). Many of us are willing to pay extra for organic produce and cage-free chickens and eggs.
The problem in the cases cited is not that the consumers are not “equipped to critically consider the benefits of drugs, fuels, and household goods against their environmental impacts.” It is that the companies hid from the consumers (and the government) what those impacts were, even (in most cases) when they themselves knew perfectly well that they were poisoning their customers. The practice continues to this day. Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, details the shenanigans of some of the early practitioners of this strategy, which was further perfected by big tobacco and big oil. In 2019 we had the e-cigarette industry telling us that its products are perfectly safe, and further, its has absolutely no interest in hooking young users—its entire focus is on helping regular cigarette users quit. Yeah, right, that’s why there is bubble-gum-flavored vaping liquid. Corporations have shown over and over again that they have no qualms about harming or even killing their workers, neighbors, and customers, as long as it increases the bottom line.