Over the weekend, Philadelphians were treated to the news of a chemical spill that threatened to contaminate local water supplies.
There was a water run in Philadelphia that left everyone scrambling to find and store as much of this life-sustaining fluid as possible. Some people began hoarding hundreds of gallons of water, preparing for a potential society collapsing event. Others were less concerned but still prepared a few gallons per person.
Friends from Philadelphia, and those from out of town reached out to me to ask how we were doing and share in the fear for our safety. We were receiving alerts from the city with updates about whether or not the water remained safe to use or not. As of last night, we’ve been informed that tests have not found any contamination in the water supply and that people can go back to normal.
A Fight for Survival
- We’ve seen this in Flint, Michigan.
- We’re still seeing this in East Palestine, Ohio.
- We’re seeing this in Jackson, Mississippi
And then we had a scare this week in Philadelphia.
Here’s the pattern:
First, an environmental crisis happens as a result of a company failing to take the necessary precautions required to protect the environment. This often happens as a byproduct of corporate negligence and greed, enabled by a lack of regulations.
Next, everyone in the local community must then spring into action to try and acquire the necessary resources for survival, pitted against one another in a fight for survival. These unexpected expenses and new time commitments become the responsibility of each individual.
- Those without a financial safety net must take on debt, or dip into what little reserves they have to acquire these necessary resources.
- Those who work longer hours may not have the flexibility to get away and acquire those resources before the shelves are empty.
In scenarios where the crisis goes on for long enough, non-profits and outside donations may provide some much needed resources. On occasion, the state may step in and provide some assistance, but response times may vary — especially depending on the lobbying efforts of the company responsible for the crisis.
Finally, the crisis either continues and ceases to be news, or ends and we move onto the next crisis. This crisis, that affects everyone, becomes a burden that is distributed individually, and a risk that is most heavily weighted toward those in the lowest economic class of society.
A Private Disaster
Each company is incentivized to procure cheaper materials, adhere to ever-faster schedules, and lobby for reduced safety regulations that impede maximum profitability. Companies that opt to use more expensive and higher quality materials, set the pacing for the benefit of safety, or adhere to or exceed required regulations, are ripe to get destroyed by less scrupulous competitors.
Further, if the penalties for creating environmental disasters are not placed squarely on the shoulders of the company, or if the penalties do not exceed the potential for profit, then companies will continue risking our health and safety. This inevitably means that the costs of a disaster become our costs, despite the origin of the crisis.
I wonder how much money was funneled out of the pockets of Philadelphia citizens into grocery stores, pharmacies, and every other purveyor of bottled water?
I wonder how many of the institutional investors with significant ownership in the companies responsible for chemical and oil spills, also have significant ownership in the companies that provide the bottled water, food, or other supplies citizens rush out to buy following a disaster?
I wonder if we will ever decide to implement emergency plans that place the burden of care into the hands of our government that we supposedly elected by the people and for the people?
But most of all, I wonder if the companies that cause these disasters will ever bear the burden of remediation for those affected, or whether we will continue to make every disaster caused by a private company into the individual responsibility of every family and person in the community.