Medicine For People!

August 2019: Politics and Green Jobs

Chemical Waste Disposal Guidelines
By Zzazalisa - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Politics and Green Jobs

I grew up in the 1950s. The world was impossibly large and forgiving. If I had to dispose of some paint or solvent, I'd probably dump it in a hole at the back of the yard. You could throw litter out of your car in front of the police station without consequence.

Shortly after that came the anti-litter campaigns. All of us learned the unforgettable lesson that minor changes of habit by a couple hundred million people could majorly improve the view out the car window.

Fast forward to today and I share the general alarm about the current environmental catastrophe. Cities all over the world suffer unprecedented heat waves and water shortages. Most of us, but not all, realize that this is linked to how much hot water we use and how many air flights we make. As with litter, we are paralyzed with thoughts such as "What can one person do?" or "This is a problem that we won't be able to solve."

Wishing to join my efforts with others, I have been attending meetings of environmentally concerned folks here in Port Townsend, most of whom seem to come from a college-educated background. At one meeting, someone suggested that we encourage green jobs. She suggested that we hold up for admiration those people installing solar panels, or repairing wind generators, or working at a bicycle shop.

Now, I agree those are bang-up environmentally positive jobs—with their own challenges. But how about everyone else?

For example, how about truck drivers? Take a look at this truck. Over the past years it has sprouted a cowling over the cab and skirts under the trailer. Often these days you'll see drag-reduction panels at the back of the trailer. Solar panel installers and truck operators both innovate to reduce costs and environmental impact—how about we give them equal credit?

Walmart Truck

By Walmart from Bentonville, USA - Walmart’s Aerodynamic Trucks, CC BY 2.0,

I have a cousin who works at a chemical plant in Liberty, Texas. Just as a person might be hesitant to express a conservative idea here in Port Townsend, the zeitgeist in Texas runs the other way. That doesn't stop my cousin from saying that he does believe we are harming the climate. He can tell you numerous ways he oversees waste and emission reduction.

The New York Times recently quoted one of those dreaded coalmine workers, a man named Dwayne Thomas, saying "Climate change is happening. We have to tackle it before it becomes too large an entity to take on."

If we sanctify certain activities, such as solar power, wind power, and bicycles, important as these are, we run the risk of losing essential allies. A local acquaintance, a heavy equipment operator, told me he found these self-proclaimed virtues of environmentalists an irritant. Sure, he drives diesels, but how else is he going to get the septic systems installed? Those Priuses—such as the one I drive—have better mileage, but do I know they cause more pollution in manufacture than does his gasoline car? Further, he emphasized, he goes the extra mile to keep those septic systems and wells safely separated, even when his company has to take extra care and expense to make that happen.

Comments such as from this heavy equipment operator should alarm us. Why does this leader in his community not feel appreciated as he should be? Why does he not know that the higher initial environmental cost of a Prius is more than compensated for by its reduced fuel intake over the years? Why does he feel disrespected?


To be personal, coming from my own background and experience, I see why.

I think you see where I am coming from here. Examples are everywhere when you look.

Port Townsend papermill: Our neighbors who work at the mill recycle a major portion of the waste cardboard in Washington State. Nothing photogenic about it. It's sensors, valves, raw materials and 24 hours a day of attention and effort from hundreds of people. They sweat if they must to make sure that most of what you see coming out of those smokestacks is water vapor. These are far greener jobs than when I moved to town; from reading the Leader I know they are about to become even greener.

The Boat Haven: Port Townsend's marine tradespeople undertake tasks that have potentially terrible environmental impact. Marine bottom paint is intentionally toxic. Glues, vaporized metals, solvents and other necessities of the trade pose as great an environmental challenge as you would want to face. But walk around the boatyard. You'll find everything neat and orderly, an expanse of protective tarps under every vessel—and everywhere signs saying, "Did you clean your tarp?"



Dangerous ideas are afloat in our country. The addition of carbon dioxide to a planet's atmosphere will increase its heat retention—this elementary physical chemistry is cast in doubt and contradicted by major media outlets and powerful corporations constituted to spread disinformation. Our highest elected officials seem willing to save the super-rich and let the rest of the planet cook.

If we are to change the conversation, we must enlarge our vision.

Many of us in all lines of work—offices, restaurants, dry-cleaners, most of us—are already working hard to make our world more sustainable. Let's give every contributor credit, even those who voted differently from us.


Let's not fall victim to hypocrisy. Let's consume less, which will allow fewer trucks on our highways. Let's order fewer online goods that come in cardboard boxes.

We need to widen our vision of what must be done and what can be done. All of us are necessary to the task.








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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.