If You Can Keep It: A Constitutional Roadmap
to Environmental Security by Michael Diamond
Food & Water Journal
Reviewed by Miriam MacGillis
Is the poisoning of our nation’s food supply and the scare tactics employed by the poisoning agents against voices of dissent a crisis great enough to revisit the Constitution of the United States? This small but powerful book would suggest as much.
“No generation has faced such a complex set of issues requiring immediate attention. Proceeding generations have always been concerned about the future, but we are the first to be faced with decisions that will determine whether the Earth our children inherit will be inhabitable.” (1987 report, Worldwatch Institute)
Michael Diamond has spent the past 20 years pondering the complex set of issues that the Worldwatch Institute suggests must become the agenda of the nation states of the world. The above quoted statement was made ten years ago. Their concern about the devastation to the earth’s vital systems has become many times more ominous because of a growing awareness that the very capacities needed to deal with the looming calamity – intellect, consciousness and willpower – seem to be fast waning. It is these capacities that Michael Diamond sees being compromised everywhere and which he warns could hasten and make inevitable America’s dangerous descent toward becoming an inept, brute society.
He suggests that since 1945, the citizens of the United States have been exposed to unprecedented volumes of toxic chemicals carried to us by food, air, water, and innumerable manufactured products. These chemicals are producing states of morbidity. Exposures begin in the vulnerable in-utero development of the fetus and continue through a person’s lifetime. These multiple and unaccountable exposures are created by a largely unregulated chemical industry. The full effects are unknown, and the risks are denied by our government.
The author, a former government administrator, shows how the self-evident truth of toxin-driven morbidity was hidden from our view by the legal and regulatory systems we created to deal with environmental problems. Our politicians so severely underfunded government scientists that those scientists could never even begin to cope with the complexity of the subtle poisoning of America, let alone give us warning.
Military imperatives took the great bulk of our public money. Lawmakers, continuously beholden to economic interests, maintained a false belief that whatever small and manageable problems exist in the environment could easily be handled and funded by passing laws that nominally regulated environmental practices in the private sector. Certainly, says the author, dealing effectively with the broad range of problems posed by our toxin-driven morbidity is many order of magnitude beyond the capacity of private sector planning and funding. Under such circumstances, the subtle but sure poisoning of people became “buried under a mountain of denial.”
Diamond carefully traces the development of the Cold War and a national mentality that has been unbalanced since its inception resulting in the bypassing of the domestic needs and values of the American people, feeding instead the insatiable demands of the military-industry machine. This, of course, we all know, but it boggles the mind that even in a so-called “peaceful world” elevated military spending continues.
The costly engine that drives American military dominance in order to “protect” the planet has thus spawned an out-of-control chemical industry. Every day, the military uses the funds needed for our nation to protect us from the environmental violence that these companies have released into the global commons of food, air, and water.
While environmental groups of every stripe search for more effective ways to protect and defend the earth an its fragile web of life, the powerful residue of the Cold War mentality stands in the way of solving our environmental crisis. First, it allows for the continuing misconception that simply by regulating the conduct of companies in the private sector, we can make the necessary environmental progress. Second, the residue of the Cold War mentality makes us believe that military spending is necessary in order to establish and maintain order in the world. And third, military spending pauperizes any effort to truly fund for the public health needs of an environmental problem that is so out of control. This, Diamond suggests, has created a state of emergency; an emergency that can be addressed through an overlooked but priceless part of our democratic heritage: Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution.
Although rarely evoked, Diamond believes that this paragraph was the focus and driving force behind the Constitutional Convention called by our nation’s founders in 1787. The delegates, keenly aware that the federal government under the Articles of Confederation lacked the power necessary to deal with emergencies, decided that it had to do more than merely amend those Articles, as was intended. Rather, they had to grant to the federal government all power necessary to deal with any danger that might arise through “invasion” or through “domestic violence.”
Understanding that self-government was a precarious experiment and that the greatest threat to a democracy might well come from within the borders of the republic, the framers of the Constitution made sure to equate, in Article IV, Section 4, internal or domestic violence with the threats posed by invasion. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, expressed a commonly held fear that domestic dangers might well be “more alarming than the arms and arts of foreign nations.”
Diamond points out that Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution mandates that the United States must protect its people from domestic violence. According to the Constitution, what constitutes domestic violence must be determined by various state legislatures, the actual language of the Section being: “on application of the legislature the United States shall protect against domestic violence.” He proposes that we work at the state level everywhere in this country to analyze, acknowledge, and define the unprecedented harm being done to us, to our genetic endowment, to the future of our children, to the purity of our water, to the safety of our food system, and to the potentiality of life itself.
We must speak across all our traditional boundaries in order to document a common experience: domestic violence is being done to us and this calls for emergency measures. It is at the level of state government that we must make our legislators understand the gravity of the situation and the power they possess through their oath of leadership to protect their citizens. It is at the legislative level that the federal government is finally to be harnessed to impose those emergency measures that would direct the wealth, power, imagination, vision, and resources of this republic to stop the violence done against us.
According to the author, coordinated efforts to bring the domestic violence clause to the attention of the various state legislatures can be the beginning of a great movement. That movement, since it involves us all at the deepest levels, has the capacity to put aside ways of war in favor of ensuring peace, public health, and survival.
Diamond’s book is well organized and well documented. He has spent 20 years researching this issue and has created a riveting basis for analysis and direction setting. Any organization involved in issues of food safety may well find this book a powerful tool for breaking the impasse of abuse unleashed by corporate food giants. It may provide a spark of democratic energy to overcome the feelings of powerlessness felt by so many ordinary people who care deeply about life and its future.
Sister Miriam MacGillis is the director of Genesis Farm,
an ecological learning center and biodynamic farm in Blairstown, NJ.
Published in the Fall/Winter 1997-98 issue of Food & Water Journal