I had several candidates for Outrage of the Week, including some things I've already mentioned here. But this one seems to me to be so morally offensive, to display such callousness, to be so indifferent to consequences, that I had to talk about it.
It has been known for some time that there are clear patterns of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the placement of environmentally hazardous sites. Hazardous waste sites, polluting industries, and other such unhealthy and unwelcome uses are disproportionately located in depressed nonwhite and poor communities.
The question has been: Are these sites there because these depressed communities are nonwhite or poor (or both) or did those communities become depressed because the nearby placement of the hazardous or polluting sites drove anyone who could leave to do so, leaving behind only those with nowhere else to go? It was considered a type of chicken-and-egg problem.
It turns out that just like in the case of the chicken, there is an answer.
In the case of the chicken - science sidebar here - egg-laying creatures have existed long before there were chickens, which means that chickens must have evolved from some earlier egg-laying creature. The egg came first.
In the case of communities, well, Paul Mohai at the University of Michigan and Robin Saha of the University of Montana have given us the answer.
They analyzed 319 commercial hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities sited in the United States from 1966 to 1995 along with the demographic composition of the neighborhoods at the time the facility was established and well as considering demographic changes that occurred later.
What they found was, quoting them,
a consistent pattern over a 30-year period of placing hazardous waste facilities in neighborhoods where poor people and people of color live.What came first, the waste dump or the depressed neighborhood? The neighborhood. Our captains of industry sought out neighborhoods where poor people and people of color live, sought them out as places to truck in their noxious waste and pollution.
Why? Simple. If they tried to put this sort of crap in a more affluent community, they would meet resistance. They would have to deal with all sorts of objections, all sorts of demands for all sorts of guarantees if not - and more likely - outright rejection. They would face delays and potentially lawsuits, all of which cost money even if the company were eventually to win.
But poor communities and minority communities - which are often both because minorities are disproportionately represented among the poor - usually lack both the resources and the political connections to mount an effective resistance against corporations waving plans and promises in front of city governments. These communities are simply are, as the researchers said, "the path of least resistance."
Which means, and I want to emphasize this, the siting of these facilities in these neighborhoods is not, despite what some would say, racism. It is not classism. It is capitalism.
This is what will make me the most money at the least cost, this is what will net me the biggest profit with the least inconvenience, and I really don't care about the impact I have on the communities where I operate because after all I don't live there so why should I. The research showed that these communities, already depressed, became even more depressed, became even poorer, as time went on but I don't care because I am indifferent to their fate so long as it doesn't affect my profit.
That's what this is. Not racism, not classism, but the cold-blooded logic of the marketplace and this is the sort of result that logic inevitably leads to.
And if you don't think that's an outrage, you need to reevaluate your worldview.
Sources cited in links: