Center for Environmental Health, the toxics shell game, and places to intervene in the system

I’ve been traveling a lot the last 8 weeks (here and here) and getting ready for my upcoming Esalen workshop, so except for tweets I have not been writing much!

A shout-out to Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health and its Executive Director Michael Green for their great work at getting toxic substances out of our products and our neighborhoods for over 15 years. Michael recently published a great article in Huffington Post on the problem of the toxics shell game. The problem is as follows: ban a known toxic substance, and frequently the replacement will be a chemical that’s less well-known, not yet regulated, and harmful in a whole new set of ways.

The solution? More comprehensive regulation of all chemicals, like the Safe Chemicals Act, and requirements for better transparency.

All of this reminds me of systems thinker Dana Meadows’ classic essay, Places to Intervene in a System. She lists out a series of leverage points from least effective to most powerful. At the bottom of her list in effectiveness is just changing the numbers…. parts per million of allowable lead, percentage of the budget in this or that category, et cetera.

At the top of the list are: changing the rules of the system, and more importantly, changing the mindsets and paradigms that created the system  in the first place. This is ideas like comprehensive legislation around chemicals (where we refuse to play the toxic shell game in the first place); or the concept of the benefit corporation  and the great work of the B-Lab (which posit the idea that a business should have purpose and responsibility to society that equals or trumps increasing short-term shareholder wealth).

We need more ideas like these, and we need them fast.


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