Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bemoaning the Petrochemical Industry aka Biting the Hand that Feeds You

In response to a June letter that appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard titled “Hydrofracking will worse harm caused by petro-chemical industry: Your letters” can be found here.

Dear Editor:

The ancient Greeks personified the human brain into two systems of thought, Apollo and Dionysus.  The two were a dichotomy, not rivaling, but intertwined. Apollo represented reason and Dionysus, emotion.  Through decades of research, Psychologists Paul Slovic and Daniel Kahneman (winner of a Nobel Peace prize), found that the ancient Greek thought process rang true.

They found that while the two systems are in conflict, they have the ability to work together to understand and perceive risk.  Reason, is slower of the two to process risk. It examines evidence, it calculates and considers. A reason-based decision is easy to explain as it is well thought out. The second system however, emotion, works quickly and is more rudimentary. Not so easy to explain emotion based decisions. People just feel that something is not right. Both systems are essential for our survival. However, according to the psychologist’s research, emotion based decision are normally irrational. The decisions rely on examples that are simple and easily recalled.

Don Hassig blog entry offers a good example. It offers a complete loss of perspective.

While the petro-chemical industry does present a limited, measurable (for the most part) and highly regulated risk - is also largely responsible for the modern conveniences the author enjoys. Without the petro-chemical industry he would not be typing away at the plastic keys on his computer, or wearing the clothes on his back. Petrochemicals are in the tires he uses to get around (bicycle or car), and even the soles of his shoes are touched by petrochemicals. The truth is that we as a society are living longer and healthier than previous generations; this is in part due to petrochemicals in our lives that create modern medical devices and medications.

Mr. Hassig and I can agree on one thing. Risks should be carefully understood and analyzed. Where we disagree is on what happens after the risk analysis.  In his reasoning, anything that creates risk should be eliminated. This is an impossible order. In the world that we have created, we need our conveniences. What modern society does is to create a balance between the risks and benefits by well-crafted and implemented regulations where risks can be minimized and benefits maximized.

While I applaud Mr.Hassig for being an advocate to eliminate cancer, I ask him to look in own backyard for reasons why he should not be condemning the petrochemical industry. He overlooks the fact that the industry has contributed significantly to the creation of the drugs that are utilized to treat and in some cases cure cancer. He may argue in retort that this exercise may be circular as POPs increases cancer risk, however, research clearly shows us that unintentional exposure to POP is considered a minimal cancer risk; age, genetics and life style choices take the lion’s share. We should focus our efforts on curbing the intentional carcinogen exposures associated with lifestyle choices.

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