Analogy for many of today’s scare stories

The topic is Never Cleaner but the analogy works for many hot political issues besides environment protection.

“The problem,” I tell the students, “is similar to the experience when watching the Steelers play on Sunday with your wife or girlfriend, while eating potato chips and French onion dip. At first, each chip is generously covered with dip, a good return on each effort of chip dipping, you can even do it with peripheral vision and focus on the game. As the dip volume decreases, some adjustments have to be made; additional efforts, focus and attention are expended. Initially, the extra effort is simply turning the dip tub to a more favorable angle for your chip dipping success, after all, it is in your girlfriend’s or wife’s best health interest, almost an altruistic act on your behalf.

“Then additional effort is expended to actually retrieve the dip tub and closely focus on ferreting out sufficient dip for each chip way down in the bottom crease or under the lip of the lid. This is ultimately followed by the effort of the finger swipe and mouth chip/dip mixing. It is at this point that some reasonable person needs to stop the process. There is no longer a sufficient benefit to continuing efforts to try to ingest the last dip residue … don’t lick that dip tub … is the admonishment from your better half.”

This is the analogy to the history and current story of our environmental regulations. Where once contamination was emitted almost freely into the environment, now, it is not so extreme. We continue to expend more and more efforts to seek those last molecules of contamination to satisfy our environmental appetite for cleaner.

This gets into the False Dilemma logical fallacy. Pollution isn’t something that is or is not. It is a matter of degree. Peak oil and other resource limitation scare stories are of a similar nature. These things don’t just reach a perfect state. There is a cost involved and it rises as the limits approach. Whether it is an effort to reduce pollution or to find new sources for a resource, there is a point where the cost starts to exceed the benefit. Some matters, like pollution, do seem to need governmental involvement to address as they are often highly dispersed in impact and in sourcing. The problem is in developing mechanism to govern the governance because the cost to meet governmental regulation is also often highly dispersed. That diffuse connection between actual cost and actual benefit tends to fly past any cost to benefit considerations. That is what Robert Smith was describing in his American Thinker column.

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