The Dark Side of the Golden Rule
NOTE: This column from Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of TSE.Org first appeared here: http://planetaryethicist.com/
As I learned it, the Golden Rule was ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ with the goal that such consciousness would lead to doing good, being good and using kindness, graciousness and gratitude as one’s guide. It is a noble ideal and worthy pursuit.
Unfortunately it is not always in the forefront of our brains, our motives or our actions. Maybe if we substituted a descriptor – such as race, religion, socio-economic group, political affiliation, species, community, country, or employment identity into the golden rule our public discourse would be more empathetic and effective.
Perhaps if we were more specific about what we were doing to others, we would be more cognizant of, responsive to and responsible for the outcomes.
I ask because a recent World Heath Organization (WHO) stated that 92% of the world’s population is breathing polluted air. Apparently we have subverted the Golden Rule to mean: pollute unto others (countries, people, places, businesses, species) as you would have them pollute unto you.
Welcome to the Dark Side. And what is so insidious about the path to the Dark Side is that the way is generally invisible to the individuals but the results are manifest. When we drive, we do not see the heat, the carbon dioxide, the particulates or any of the other chemical contaminates that mark our passage.
Air pollution from traffic is linked to childhood cancer; the children of women exposed to high levels of traffic pollution during pregnancy had a higher risk of developing cancer. The Royal Geographic Society found that cars and other vehicles were the main sources of air pollution in 95% of the cities that had air classified as unfit to breathe. That air pollution shortens the life span of 50,000 people per year in the UK, which results in 2818% more people dying than were killed in traffic accidents in 2013. In China, air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, and to 5.5 million premature deaths world wide in 2013. In India, airborne pollutants shorten life span by an average of 3.4 years – 6.3 years for those living Delhi. Other studies have shown that air pollution is associated with low birth weight, prematurity, neonatal death and decreased fertility in both males and females. One new study suggests a link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease. And while there is variation from year to year, the bottom line is that air pollution kills or contributes to death of as many, or more, people per year than all forms of cancer combined.
While I see all types of campaigns and treatments advertised to cure cancer, I have never seen one to end air pollution in our lifetime. We put traffic flow over air safety. We put moving cars ahead of moving people and thus design roads and parking areas for an assumed volume of traffic based on privately owned and operated cars rather than shared economy vehicles and public transportation.
Given the interplay of an aging population, increased urbanization, market forces, increasing preference for and reliability of technological capability as well as shifting priorities in personal economics, the ICE (internal combustion engine) will go away. Already the Germany’s Bundesrat has passed a resolution that bans the internal combustion engine as of 2030. And as more of us understand the connection between traffic pollution and health the ICE will melt even faster and urban design will focus on people first and cars second. After all, transportation and clean air should not be the antithesis of each other – the Golden Rule taught us that.