Last week Alan Durning at Sightline wrote about how a lot of people distrust and don’t like The G-Word, that is, the government. I’ve thought about the G-word these last few days while thinking about the 25th memorial anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster and Saturday’s oil spill in Galveston Bay and this weekend’s terrible landslide between Arlington and Darrington along the Stillaguamish River.
When disasters strike, it’s the “G”-word that responds whether we like the “G”-word or not. And that’s a good thing. Sometimes the “G”-word does a great job, sometimes it doesn’t do such a great job in responding but that’s what we count on in emergencies and crises.
I sometimes think it might be hard for people who work for the “G”-word to go to work if they know that lots of people distrust them and don’t like them. But maybe they don’t think about that while they are inspecting meat and poultry, testing drinking water or investigating outbreaks of E-coli.
I think most of us like the “G”-word doing their jobs when it comes to our health and safety. We want them to do their jobs well and we get angry if they don’t.
John Stark at the Bellingham Herald wrote a story last week about how officials at the Whatcom County “G”-word were enforcing health and safety rules on a rental business ( Whatcom County, former tenants in dispute with land owner over run-down rentals ). What made the story interesting was the claims by the landlord that, while he was collecting rent, he was providing affordable places for low-income people to live, despite the lack of proper sanitation and electricity, and that “health and safety codes and zoning makes it hard for people like him to provide low-cost homes for people in need. ‘The rules and regulations are hurting the little guy,’ (he said).”
The word “slumlord” comes to mind and I’m sure he distrusts and hates the “G”-word for getting involved in his business and maybe he will find sympathetic allies and become a next poster child of those who proclaim the “G”-word is turning their world into the “nanny state.”
But those proclamations ring hollow when it comes to public health and safety because we want the “G”-word to do their work and to do it well. In fact, as with disasters, we want the “G”-word to prevent oil spills and landslides in all the ways it can and to respond well when disaster happens. That’s the “G”-word’s job.
As environmental activists, our job is not to defend the “G”-word; it’s our job to make sure the “G”-word does its job well. When we talk in terms of protecting public health and safety and preventing and responding to disasters, we’ll find a lot more folks agreeing with us.