Battles between industries, profits and jobs over safety, health and environmental concerns are nothing new in America.
From as far back as the 1920’s, lead-based products were suspected of health issues. Yet, the industry fought tooth-and-nail, lobbying to prevent restrictions, bans and warning labels from being placed on paint cans. While blaming parents for being uneducated and failing to stop their children from putting toys coated with lead-based paints in their mouths, the industry also claimed that children had a disease that caused them to suck on unnatural objects which caused them to get lead poisoning.
For decades the industry spent an insane amount of money advertising the safety of their products in publications such as National Geographic, Good Housekeeping and the Saturday Evening Post, going as far as making coloring books for children spreading the lie that lead paint was safe. Anyone who spoke up against their interest would be called fear mongers. The industry even threatened lawsuits against a popular show at the time called “Highway Patrol” for depicting a product as dangerous.
In the 1950’s, several health departments tried to enact regulations for the sake of protecting the public, yet the industry, through their lobbyists, were able to get legislators and governors to lift the restrictions. Knowing what we know today regarding lead-based paints, one has to wonder how those political figures felt protecting an industry that left a legacy of illness and death.
It took decades of countless dollars spent to defend and fight against the industry before a disclosure law in 1996 was enacted. Laws and regulations have always been reactive and not proactive. Yet, in its wake, 94 plus years after the fact, thousands of lives had needlessly been affected and lost because industries, profits and jobs were always placed before safety, health and environmental concerns.
My concern is that history continues to repeat itself — over and over again — to the detriment of the land, resources and people that the government, through its officials, are responsible for protecting. They have failed miserably while even creating laws to protect industries for economical reasons.
If the fallout from an industry started some 90 plus years ago can still be felt today, one has to wonder what will happen in the battle here on Kauai, or Hawaii for that matter, regarding the use of pesticides. The similarities are too close to ignore, yet the passage of time will only tell if the people wearing red or those wearing blue were correct.
Whatever the case may be, everyone here today will have been long gone, and the legacy we leave for future generations will depend on the decisions we make now. The sad thing is that we have all the science and technology to defend both sides of the issue but lack the wisdom and knowledge of the ancient Hawaiians. Their concept to malama aina, to work in harmony with nature was for the sake of generations not yet born and not for personal profit and gain. Hawaiians lived on an island with finite resources for centuries and learned what worked and what didn’t work. Modern agriculture has been here for but a mere fraction of that time and has not yet gained the wisdom of the ages.
Regardless of which side of the pesticide issue one stands on, the bottom line is what is morally just. It’s easy for people to find facts and supportive evidence that works to ones own interest. It’s easy to find a way to discredit or supposedly debunk claims on each side. However, what matters most is moral responsibility. The true test of moral citizenship is when you uphold what is morally right even when it is a personal, political or economical inconvenience.
Dominic Acain is a resident of Kekaha.