Rachel's Democracy & Health News #865  [Printer-friendly version]
July 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Like many of our readers, we have worked for
decades to provide good information to citizens and to decision-
makers, on the assumption that more facts, packaged effectively,
would give rise to better decisions. But is this assumption valid?
Can information by itself, without a robust grass-roots movement
behind it, alter the fundamental behavior of the people who govern

By Peter Montague

As every reader of Rachel's News knows, there is abundant evidence
that our children are being subtly poisoned by chemicals. Sources
include a daily cocktail of pesticides, hormone-disrupters such as
phthalates and BPA leaching out of plastic products, benzene in soft
drinks, and so on. Every year or two, some new threat to children's
health is discovered, with no end in sight.

Is this a problem that can be solved merely by providing better
information to decision-makers? Or is it possibly a messaging problem
that can be solved by merely packaging our information in slicker,
more persuasive ways?

These approaches assume that the permanent (unelected) government
simply doesn't know that children are being poisoned or what it's
costing in suffering and in dollars. According to this view, if we
just provide compelling facts they'll come to their senses and change
their behavior. History suggests that this is not the case.

Let's look at the well-documented example of toxic lead.

In 1992, Rachel's News #294 laid out the history of toxic lead
exposures of children, including what was known about childhood
poisoning starting in 1892. By 1920 it was clear that U.S. children
were being poisoned (Europe and Australia was beginning to ban lead in
paint by that time). By 1950, it was well-documented that really large
numbers of children were being poisoned, and rather severely. Rachel's
also documented the provisional (elected) government's response,
which was a Great Wringing of Hands. You can find the history here:


In 2000, Rachel's News ran a 3-part series, filling in more historical
details about the poisoning of children in the U.S. -- the series was
called "Dumbing Down the Children."

Part 1: Rachel's News #687: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is

Part 2: Rachel's News #688:  http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is

Part 3: Rachel's News #689: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is

Since then at least two major studies have shown that there would be
very substantial multi-billion dollar savings to the national economy
if we reduced lead exosures below current levels. More Great Wringing
of Hands.



In 2004, Rachel's reported new estimates, that removing lead from U.S.
housing stock would cost $16 billion but would result in an immediate
benefit of $43 billion, with very substantial multi-billion-dollar
profits to the national economy EVERY YEAR thereafter. We also showed
that, at the present rate of lead removal, U.S. housing stock will
remain contaminated for the next 120 years.

It's pretty clear that the permanent government -- and perhaps many in
the provisional government as well -- believe toxic lead in children
is desirable -- desirable enough to forego tens of billions of dollars
in savings each year. Put another way, the nation's leaders are
willing to accept costs of tens of billions of dollars each year for
the benefit of keeping hundreds of thousands of children (particularly
poor children and children of color) behind the eight-ball.


All the Rachel's News stories have been based on readily-available
information from the open literature. Much of the information comes
directly from the provisional government itself, and from the
newspaper of record, the New York Times. No secrets here.

I think this goes to the heart of an information-and-messaging-only
strategy, doesn't it?

If the permanent government will change its ways when confronted with
the facts, then we just need to gather more facts and package them

But if history is any guide, the permanent government is NOT moved by
mere facts or mere multi-billion-dollar savings offered by pollution
prevention. For some reason (which each of us can decide for himself
or herself), the permanent government calculates that someone or
something important is better-off when large numbers of children are
poisoned each year, even at considerable cost to GDP.

If this is the case, then campaigns built around "more information"
and "more effective messaging" -- without intentionally building the
infrastructure to support and sustain a grass-roots movement for
change -- are likely to have quite limited success, are they not?