Not a single grain of rice.

I just came from a meeting of the citizen’s advisory council for determining the rules on which waters are to be protected from sulfite pollution caused by mining. It was the usual bureaucratic standoff. The rules of compromise make it certain that nothing useful can be done. Instead the participants are ushered into a hopelessly tangled conversation in which amateur activists try to protect a little of what is left, while company shills circle around them and make sure their companies are in no way restricted from business as usual. Same old story of death by a thousand cuts.

In this case it starts with the unchallenged assertion that it is impractical to protect every grain of rice in every pool of water. Who would find all those little water pockets? Who would survey them, who would conduct the almost countless number of tests that would have to be done, to prove that they are not already polluted, or prove that there is a chance they will become polluted? Is a whole lake or river to be protected because years ago someone says they saw a single stalk of rice out there?

The amateur activists reluctantly agree that a single stalk of rice in an entire river system should not have to be protected by an expensive regimen of testing and regulation. What about two stalks? No. So to determine which lakes have a right to be protected, the panel tries to define what acreage a lake must have to be to be included, and what density of rice plants is sufficient to make it a viable rice bed?

The company shills are able to laugh heartily when they see the old squeeze working for them again. They know that whatever ‘compromise’ is worked out, they will have won the right to pollute the water. Then they accidently pollute a little more, crossing the agreed upon lines, and after years of legal effort, some activist may be able to get a fine imposed. The company pays up happily. Cost of doing business. To a billion dollar industry, the little fine is no more than a traffic ticket would be to you or me. Meanwhile they keep breaking little rules here, middle size rules there, until the land is so polluted that no one will care anymore what they choose to dump there. The environment the activists thought they had protected is lost.

The battle was lost from the first salvo. The main focus of the committee is trained upon determining how many lakes can be defined into the protection equation. It is assumed, long before the meeting starts, that the problem is to protect the rice. That is why the environmentalists are pinned to the ropes. That is why we have been fighting a losing battle for generations. Corporate interests set the agenda. Environmentalists are on the defense, trying to protect what little remains. Corporations are happy to dance around and pick us apart.

Why do we have to protect the right of rice to grow where it can? Why is it not the task of the mining corporation to prove that their activities will cause no harm, no harm of any kind, not even a little maybe potential harm? They expect to make huge profits or they wouldn’t be here. Let them prove they are not going to harm the rice, not a single stalk, not a single grain. Then when they prove themselves harmless, they can ask us, they can ask the rice, for the right to do what they want.

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