This past week, I attended the NCSE conference in Washington DC. This year's theme focused on the "Energy-Water-Food Nexus." The Nexus is a focused effort on a specific aspect of resilience, sustainability, systems analysis or whatever the buzz word was before that.
At the heart of society is food, energy, and water and if one system crumbles then the larger system collapses. One man in the audience, pointed out that food, energy, water leaves out air which of course is integral to society. But air, doesn't have a whole lot of infrastructure and the focus seemed to be on necessary systems that also have infrastructure.
In any case, one of the keynote speakers, argued that the Chinese government has been more encouraging to environmental litigation. I have no idea what is really meant by more encouraging or if it is necessarily interesting that China is doing this. However, his point was that China encourages environmental protection through civil and criminal tort (presumably, rather than government implementing policy?).
Processes of delivering goods and services to society that do not challenge society's (and other critters) dependence of clean air and clean water are desirable. To the extent that the former cannot occur without sacrificing the latter, than perhaps a better debate is how badly we really the goods and services that challenge our safety.
Of course, the age old question is how safe is safe enough? Safety levels are negotiated and this is in part, why we have "environmental justice" issues, which I never thought were much different than any other policy decision demonstrating who has political power and who clearly does not.
The environmental justice label may even belittle a broader issue of exclusion from democratic processes of decision making.
In any case, people can not breath, drink or eat their class action lawsuit payout. Payouts tend to run out anyway- especially with high medical bills. Nor does money buy back much of anything that is lost when people and environments are harmed, namely our innocence in pursuing goods and services to the sacrifice of other people and beings.
I don't think that lawsuits (in American, China, or otherwise) is an appropriate means to encourage valuing the health and well being of people and the environment.
It's a tool- fair enough. But the issue arising in society about environmental atrocities such as, the BP oil spill or the EPA spill into the Animas river , are not really about how much the cost ought to be but attempts to come to terms with society's pursuit of some values (money, power, comfort, etc) to the sacrifice of others (health, well being, respect).
All this to say, I found the song above, Keep the Wolves Away, by Uncle Lucious to be very powerful.