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U.S. drinking water widely contaminated with 'forever chemicals': report (reuters.com)
548 points by pseudolus 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 391 comments



Meanwhile, these same PFAS chemicals are sprayed liberally onto the surface of clothing that we all wear, and increasingly furniture as well, and this may account for far more human PFAS consumption than drinking water.

PFAS chemicals are widely used for waterproofing fabrics. The industry term is DWR -- Durable Water Repellent. The chemicals are sprayed onto the surface and simply left there to rub off on your hands and face every time you touch them. The chemicals are ubiquitous; nearly every garment marketed as "water resistant" will be covered with them. As of 2019, only one large outdoor clothing company has abandoned PFC-based DWR finishes. I've also noticed more and more furniture advertised with DWR recently.

All of this concern over parts-per-trillion levels in drinking water is like panicking over an untended candle when your house is already on fire.

EDIT:

Also note that the U.S. military regularly dumps tremendous quantities of PFAS chemicals on the ground around dozens of military bases around the country [1]. They use it in fire suppression foam, of which they spray thousands of gallons during regular fire fighting exercises.

There are low-cost and low-toxicity alternatives to PFAS that are fairly well proven to be just as effective in fire suppression foams, but the U.S. military continues to ignore them steadfastly.

1 - https://theintercept.com/2018/02/10/firefighting-foam-afff-p...

EDIT 2:

Don't forget carpeting! For decades, rugs and carpeting advertised as "stain repellent" have been coated with PFCs. One prominent brand is 3M's Scotchgard, which is also sold as a liquid for people to spray on all their shit. Until 2003, liquid Scotchgard contained PFOS, a C8-class PFC that is now banned. Even today, Scotchgard and other similar products still contain PFCs -- merely shorter-chain versions that have been surmised (but not proven) to be safer.


It's even in those "compostable" curiously-grease-proof bowls you see at Qdoba, Chipotle, etc.

https://grist.org/article/chipotle-sweetgreen-bowl-compost-p...


I recently learned a lot of 'compostable' plasticky items are not bio-degradable. They rely on a technicality to say they can be composted after being pre-treated or broken down with another chemical or process. Or something ridiculous of the sort.


As long as there is a process in place to ensure that is done post collection, why is that a problem?


As long as there is a process in place to ensure that is done post collection, there isn't a problem.

Ensuring that process is in place is the hard part. My city doesn't do commercial composting, so partially composted cups are ending up in gardens that were labelled "compostable", but had fine-print on the bottom explaining that it's only compostable in a commercial process.


Quite a few things are compostable in industrial scale municipal compost systems, where there are higher temperatures then the bin in the back yard. We compost food scraps to use in the garden, and it generally works great.

What we found was that certain items just never broke down, like certain tea bags that have what looks like a plastic tetrahedron instead of a filter-paper bag. The bags end up getting scattered about by our chickens, and eventually picked up and thrown away by ourselves. So, we don't buy those any more.


Well I threw one in my own compost bin in my backyard before learning, since the bag didn't include fine print. I thought it was bio-degradable but apparently I need to do my research on each individual item. That's my problem.


Wow I had no idea.

Here's a link that talks about makers of outdoor gear and their relationship with DWR. http://www.detox-outdoor.org/

It doesn't look like there is a lot of choice. Maybe I'll just stay wet :)


The whole breathable/gore-tex thing is overrated as they all rely on liberal use of DWR chemicals that tend to be waterproof only for a while. So regular retreatment, which never seems to be as good, or acceptance of wetness is needed. :)

I'm surprised to see Patagonia in the worst of that site's categories, considering their stance on sustainability.


Gore-tex does stay waterproof. It just can't breathe once the outer fabric soaks through, which results in clamminess. DWR delays this & keeps it breathable for longer in wet conditions. Gore is not a great solution if you'll be drowning in rain but for intermittent showers, meltwater and snow it has time to dry out. Especially if you're moving & generating heat.


What is a better engineered membrane than gore-tex?


I'm not sure what you mean, but pretty much all breathable membrane systems in clothing work this way, depending on DWR to maintain breathability.

The one radical entrant in the market is gore shakedry, which is pretty simple- the face fabric is omitted, and therefore the need for DWR. The exterior of the jacket is literally the gore membrane. The moisture performance is reportedly superior. The consequence is extremely poor durability against abrasion, to the point you cannot wear a pack over it.


On the other hand, I'm completely unsurprised to see archie on the bottom list.


Gore-tex (at least the heavy 'classic' kind) doesn't have any refreshable coating. Its an inner layer of moisture wicking mesh, stuck to a thin rubbery ptfe membrane of some sort and an outer very abrasion resistant layer which is hydrophobic when clean. It can be boil washed and special treatments are advised against. It is very waterproof while surprisingly breathable.


No, Gore Tex -- and all other membrane systems -- rely on DWR to keep the face fabric from wetting out. The face fabric is only water repellent if it's finished with oil, wax, or DWR. When the finish is degraded, rain will wet out the shell and breathability plummets. There are no exceptions. If you invent a fabric that is both breathable and permanently water repellent (as in, it sheds water in beads), then I promise you'll become wealthy beyond your wildest dreams :)


Well, in the 90s before they had lots of grades, the instructions where to never put anything on it, just wash and tumble dry. It has a slightly coarse texture like it has microhairs. It can bead water but can also get wet, but when it is wet the water flows off it quickly, not into it. Ive never expected wet gear to be incapable of getting wet, just to resist it, drain quickly and not let water in. But i've never used repellent sprays.


Somewhat serious question: do you think it matters if it looks absolutely silly?


Sorry, if what looks silly?


Hmm, as far as I can remember, every gore-tex item I've owned across the decades -- mainly from the better outdoorsy brands -- has needed a refresh, and warned to expect that on the label or leaflet. Some lasted longer than others. One that was left far too long without eventually gave about as much water protection as a cotton jacket. Whether any of them were "classic" gore-tex or not, I don't know. I've always understood it as the middle breathable layer with several bonded layers, and chemically waterproofed outer.

Wikipedia seems to agree about the outer, and only notes a decline in breathability in newer fabric by using a PU layer in place of teflon bonded to fabric found on the earliest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gore-Tex


Honestly people have “stayed wet“ for centuries without chemicals. We’ve hung our clothes to dry instead of using machines too.

Lots of apparel products are highly overrated. And those water resistant coatings just come off anyway.

I think the best thing to do is go on a hike near a river with a dog, and watch how the dog marches through the water unwaveringly even when it’s cold!


There's also waxed cotton and oilskin. Some maintenance required, but they work.


Unless you really saturate cotton in wax/oil so it has no breath-ability, it only holds up against showers. It becomes sodden and little use in persistent rain. PU coated polyester rainwear can perform on a different level in persistent rain. I've not found natural materials which perform as well, although some expensive tweeds are reportedly exceptionally good.


That site isn't loading for me. I would hope that vapor-permeable membranes work (e.g. gore-tex). The only problem is that the outside of the garment gets wet, and they're not very breathable


Gore-tex is PTFE, also known as Teflon, which is a flurocarbon. Several of the waste products or reactants for making Teflon are in the same category as DWR products, and are basically toxic forever. There's not much you can do if you need fabrics with these properties, you just need to pick you poison.


Add for clarity: Goretex (like all modern waterproof-breathable products) is a system, which includes a PTFE membrane, as well as a DWR coating. The fabric is not breathable without the DWR coating, as it will "wet out."


Breathability is as much a marketing feature as it is a useful property of these garments/fabrics. Do they work well in cold/dry conditions? Yes! Do they work well in warm humid conditions (i.e. your average North America. Rainy day)? Not so much.


How old are you? The key feature is not breathability but "waterproof+breathable." You might not be old enough to remember airtight rubber raingear, or questionably waterproof oilskin, or horribly "water resistant" synthetics.

You also might not be into gear enough to have realized the significant spectrum of breathability between a nylon jacket, a 2.5 layer jacket, and a fully 3-ply goretex pro.

It is a real thing, not marketing, for many who care about and rely on these things for comfort and safety.


I am aware. I’ve sold this gear, have owned a spectrum of different types, and use it regularly. Humidity differentials are real. I stand by what I said.


Maybe one day they will make a rain jacket with an air compressor in it :)


But Teflon doesn't react with anything. That's its purpose. So even though it's a fluorocarbon, it's unlikely to cause health problem because it just won't react with your body. Or is there some other mechanism through which it causes damage, such as blocking something by physically being in the way?


Consider what happens to your immune system when it detects a foreign particle that it can't get rid of because there's no way to interact with it.


For the most part, what happens is nothing. PTFE is completely biologically inert, which is why it's commonly used in surgical implants and prosthetics. Only the finest particles (<100 nm) have been established to present a biological hazard, and these are very hard to come by.

Ingested PTFE passes right through the digestive system unaltered. You can scrape the non-stick coating off of all your pans and eat it, and there will no detectable fluorinated chemicals in your blood.

However, if you heat that nonstick pan above 600 deg F, the decomposition products can easily injure you, and sometimes worse. But even in this case, and main danger does not appear to be microfine PTFE particles, but rather chemical nasties like fluoroacetates.

There are many studies on this. One example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11042093 - "Pulmonary effects induced by ultrafine PTFE particles"


Adam Ragusea on YouTube (can't link sorry, restricted browsing) had a short video covering this as he reviewed the cases and research from experts. In the end the worst known case was basically a guy who fell asleep and the entire coating of his pan burned off, filling his house with smoke. He had respiratory symptoms and was hospitalised but walked out (I think) less than 48 hours later with no obvious lasting effects.

I think the post you are replying to though was angling that it would cause a sustained inflammation response as your immune system is detecting and gearing up to fight a particle it cannot deal with. I have no idea if that's true though.


>However, if you heat that nonstick pan above 600 deg F, the decomposition products can easily injure you, and sometimes worse.

If you have birds the fumes will kill them. It's that whole canary in the coal mine.


Just to clarify, if a large quantity of PTFE particles was introduced into your blood stream are you stating that wouldn't deprive your cells of oxygen? I think you're making some health related claims and assumptions that may be correct in limited circumstances but haven't been sufficiently studied to come to a good conclusion on.


Umm... yes? Why would PTFE "deprive cells of oxygen"? What cells? What size particles? Do you think they'd block your arteries or something? Why would that be any different than any other material? And how exactly would such particles get into your body? By injection?

PTFE is chemically and biologically inert. It's well studied, and has enjoyed extensive medical use inside peoples' bodies for over half a century. I'm aware of no evidence that PTFE in your body is harmful in any form or quantity that is known to actually occur in humans. If you have any evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.


The process to ensure your cells get enough oxygen is a complex one. When you're exercising heavily certain chemical signals are sent out to ask the heart to increase blood flow to compensate for the high consumption of oxygen - similarly injuries produce stressor signals when the body is damaged and bleeding (since the lowered blood pressure decreases the efficiency of the heart's ability to deliver oxygen) - if an inert chemical was introduced into the blood stream slowly it'd gradually reduce the amount of oxygen carried in blood as it flows through your body by decreasing the proportion of red blood cells per volume, to compensate maybe your heart needs to beat a bit quicker deliver the same amount of oxygen via blood. Keeping your blood clean of impurities is traditionally (mostly) handled by the kidneys, if some PTFE is introduced into the blood stream does PTFE recognize this impurity as a dilution - will it properly filter it out? How efficient is that filtering and how much will it stress your kidneys?

Basically, bodies are complex objects - this is what studies are for and long term effects can take time to be detected. I don't have any evidence to the contrary, but I am skeptical of how conclusive the supporting evidence is and would place the onus on proving harmlessness rather than harmfulness.


You've invented a new medical hazard, which makes no sense whatsoever. If you were to somehow introduce enough solid matter into your blood that it lowers your RBC count on a volumetric basis, then you'd have far bigger problems than oxygen transport in general. And at that point, it wouldn't matter what the material is.

And you still haven't answered the question: how do you imagine such a large amount of powdered PTFE would get into your body? PTFE can't be digested, and there's no evidence that it's passed to the blood stream though inhalation. Are you really afraid that someone's going to inject you with a specially formulated suspension of ultra-fine PTFE?

The rest of your post is a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

> injuries produce stressor signals when the body is damaged and bleeding (since the lowered blood pressure decreases the efficiency of the heart's ability to deliver oxygen)

Not sure what "signals" you think you're talking about, but our compensation for traumatic hypovolemia is triggered by vascular baroreceptors, a mechanism has nothing to do with the effect of foreign particles in our blood.

> Keeping your blood clean of impurities is traditionally (mostly) handled by the kidneys, if some PTFE is introduced into the blood stream does PTFE recognize this impurity as a dilution - will it properly filter it out?

No, the kidneys do not filter out solids. That's not how they work. Your body has ways to deal with foreign particles, which vary widely depending on the nature of the material -- particle size and shape, reactivity, opsonizability, etc. None of these ways involve the kidneys in any significant way.

> I don't have any evidence to the contrary...

Nor, apparently, are you able to account for the half-century of experience we have in using PTFE inside people's bodies. Nor as well the material's track record in a huge variety of other applications. E.g., nearly every household in the first world has used PTFE-coated non-stick cookware. The fact that we have no evidence of PTFE somehow entering people's bloodstream and "diluting" their blood might clue you in to the plausibility of your theory. Or maybe not.

> ...but I am skeptical of how conclusive the supporting evidence is and would place the onus on proving harmlessness rather than harmfulness.

You can say that about anything. Literally anything.

Honestly, I know you think you're discussing a complex topic with some sort of clever reasoning, but it's only because you're missing a lot of basic knowledge of chemistry and physiology. I think I need to be done with this now.


>You can scrape the non-stick coating off of all your pans and eat it

This almost sounds like a dare. Maybe it could even be the new Tide Pods thing.


What happens? I'm not an immunologist, and "common sense" certainly doesn't seem like the way to think about the behavior of something as complex as the human immune system.


The human immune system doesn't need to "interact" with a physical particle. White cells envelope (standard attack) a foreign particle, then dies around them, and the resulting envelope is expelled. Your body is mostly fluid. Internal fluids don't really need complex chemical interactions but the dead white blood cell acts as an effective envelope for transport, by design. eg mucus in your nose when you're sick.



Those articles describe PTFE as "stable and non-toxic at lower temperatures", starting to degrade into concerning and toxic byproducts at 500F/260C.

As a rule, I try not to let my rain jacket reach 260C, but your local weather may differ?


PTFE coated pans definitely reach above 500F from time to time.

People who own birds are suggested to not use PTFE coated pans. Birds are much more sensitive to the offgased chemicals and there are numerous instances of people accidentally killing pet birds from these fumes, so it definitely happens.


Yeah- there are definitely problems with it on pans, but the context of the thread was for PTFE as a water repellent in clothing.

As far as I know, the concerns for uses where high heat isn't an issue are related to manufacturing byproducts- which can make their way into the final product, but also if the manufacturer doesn't dispose of them correctly, they can wind up in the environment.

It's almost a bit like Agent Orange (though probably not nearly as bad, at least not in the medium-term?)- the intended product isn't the problem, but the manufacturing process makes it really easy to let nasty stuff slip in.

But I don't know that much about this, so please correct me if I'm wrong! Not a chemist, I just read a lot.


Sodium is a precursor to table salt and it’s highly toxic. Would you consider table salt dangerous?


> surmised (but not proven) to be safer.

In the US legal system we follow innocent until proven guilty for some very valid reasons - but at some point the public consciousness accepted this for regulations as well and harmless until proven harmful is extremely dangerous. New chemical products shouldn't be shrugged off until studies have proven them harmless, instead the onus should be on them to proven themselves harmless before being usable - especially chemicals that can be ingested indirectly by being included in things like pipe liners, shower products, utensil and cookware coatings, jars, adulterated cans and drinking vessels.


Wasn't aware of any of this.It looks like it's as bad as fire retardants used in furniture ( California,if I recall correctly, alows selling furniture without them). In the UK, about 30 or so deaths a year happen because furniture gets set on fire( I suppose drinking + smoking is the main reason).Because of this, everything,from chairs all the way to sofas are soaked in chemicals that cause cancer and many other issues to humans.I'm sure chemical industry is lobbying as hell for this to continue, however the bastards themselves end up using the same harmful products.


If this is a topic that concerns you, I recommend you should watch the documentary "The Devil We Know"[0] -- About DuPont's Teflon production and how its literally in the bloodstreams of all.

I recall growing up in Tahoe, we would spray the heck out of all our winter wear with Scotch Guard (Teflon) and even breath in its fumes...

[0] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7689910/

[1] https://www.netflix.com/search?q=the%20devil%20we%20know&jbv...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Devil-We-Know-Bucky-Bailey/dp/B07H7XJ...


A very valid comment but I think it should be seen in addition to the issue of PFAs from manufacture and mil/industrial uses which are polluting the wider environment and drinking water to a significant but unclear extent. I think it is fair to expect that PFCs most commonly employed in everyday materials are better researched for safety than those polluting the wider environment, at least it is not fair to assume equivalence just because they are PFCs. The following conversation on useful materials which I also found diverting rather focuses the issue on risk and utility to self, while persistent pollution has the potential to affect all for a very long time regardless of whether they are users, children, even human or animal.


> As of 2019, only one large outdoor clothing company has abandoned PFC-based DWR finishes.

Which one?


I was under the assumption that Patagonia was PFC free but according to their website: "Patagonia has long relied on a DWR with perfluorinated compound (PFC) but we have been searching diligently for an alternative because of its harmful environmental impacts."


Paramo. There may a couple other smaller ones too. I haven't looked in a while.


Isn’t Paramo unique in that their garments are intended to keep you comfortable (while damp) rather than a typical DWR costed shell that is intended to keep you dry?


That's their reputation for sure, and their marketing plays up the whole "vapor transport" thing, but make no mistake, Paramo is in pursuit of the same holy grail as everyone else: a fabric that's both breathable and completely waterproof in all conditions. Like a duck.


https://sectionhiker.com/why-does-dwr-suck/ mentions

- Nikwax (all products) - Sciessent Curb


Fjällräven is relying on wax that you need to reapply seasonally.


From what I read, ingestion accounts for greater absorption than dermal exposure in populations. If your water has high levels of PFAS its best to shower in lower temperatures so you don't inhale the steam.

Yes, it would be nice if REI and other companies that sells lots of these garments could apply pressure with "PFC free" filters / sections.


That may well be true, but I'm not sure it matters when your carpets, furniture, and clothing are covered with it. Eventually it will end up in your mouth and lungs, no way around it. I have a little theory that a significant portion of our physiologic PFC burden is acquired when we're babies. Babies positively swim in whatever substances are on the ground and furnishings. My other pet theory is that PFCs are contributing to the decline in sperm counts that we're seeing across the developed world:

https://web.archive.org/web/20191221153531/https://www.theat...


What do these chemicals do to humans?


Why can't they be made illegal to use?


Because we have no idea whether the benefit from doing so would outweigh the loss of non-stick and stain-free products?


Funny how that didn't seem to be a problem moving to Teflon and such. Kinda sounds like a post-facto rationalization for maintaining the status quo.

Prior to it's synthesis there are centuries of use of stick pans without much issue.


We live in a free society.

The burden for passing laws outlawing particular products is supposed to be higher than the burden to bring those products to market in the first place.


I don't think that's sensible. The burden for crime prevention follows that rule (preventing someone from leaving their home because they may rob someone else requires a heavy burden of proof) but there isn't any assumption of harmlessness encoded anywhere in the legal system.

Back in ye olde founders day these sorts of harmful chemicals weren't a consideration that warranted any specific inclusion in the foundation of our laws so I think it's a bit disingenuous to take the lack of any precedent as acceptance.


That's supposed to be a joke?


No, it's a legitimate question. Think of it this way. If we stop using Teflon coatings on pots and pans, will that, for example, increase the amount of cooking oil used in cooking? And if so, will that cause other health effects such as more oil being aerosolized and getting in people's lungs more? Will it cause more oil to clog up pipes (think London's "fatbergs" for example)? Will it cause more oil to go into landfills, etc.? There are frequently unintended consequences to these sorts of changes and you may just be trading one poison for another one or a worse one.


The issue is that the historical arguments lean toward using oil - we know that our ancestors used cooking oils and lards for greasing and survived with it, there may be quite legitimate questions about the ability to scale that approach up to our current population but I think it's reasonable to put the burden of proof on Teflon to guarantee it's no worse for humans, the environment and our plumbing than lard and oil... this also logically extends to exotic oils like avocado oil and palm oil. I think our cavalier attitude toward food additives is proven to be an incorrect stance by the utterly massive obesity crisis in America - there literally couldn't be a clearer sign that we're doing something seriously wrong. In the defense of Teflon there's nothing that directly signals it's chemicals on cookware and most research is pointing toward sugars, but it's an ongoing problem we all recognize and are not fixing.


Trade offs, yes, but they must be comparable and proportionate. For example, you cannot compare proven carcinogenicity with fatberg risk. You could, however, compare the toxicity of consuming larger amounts of overheated cooking oil with that of Teflon.


This is speculative

> and you may just be trading one poison for another one or a worse one.

What poison exactly? This almost is whataboutism.


It's not at all speculative. At the very least, getting rid of PFAS will cost money and reduce convenience. Those things are valuable. People will accept some level of risk in order to have comfort and convenience and save money--and to do so is completely rational. That's why people drive, eat red meat, etc.


That's a very valid point to bring up but I think it makes a big mistake in assuming that people would rationally respond to the risk.

People are pretty terrible at rationally evaluating risk and participate in provably harmful actions all the time - going to vegas or playing the lottery to spend some money and feel like a rich person for a while is totally valid, but playing the slots or the lottery to make money for your retirement is completely irrational. And yet, folks will play the lottery in the hopes they can retire more comfortably - even when their financial situation isn't so dire that structured saving wouldn't give them their desired level of comfort.


> People will accept some level of risk in order to have comfort

That's a pretty evil argument, when poisoned people for the most part have no clue they are being poisoned, or even that many are being poisoned due to spread of these chemicals.

"Accept" implies they know the consequences. Those who profit on this, benefit from obscurity.


I think oil concerns are much less problematic since you can decide what oil to use (or use no oil altogether) than ones that come from the chemicals you can't control because they are already in the water or your frying pan. You can simply cook, not fry if you worry about oil. On the other hand you can't avoid poisoned water unless you filter it.

So it's a false argument here.


You can choose to use non-non-stick frying pans.


But if the coating from non-stick pans makes its way down the drain (or down the toilet) and back into the water system of the planet then you really can't.


Not with properly seasoned cast-iron cookware, it won't.


Pollution already comes from production alone, whether you are using it or not.


That won't stop pollution of the water sources, so it will come to you either way.


No, it’s not. He’s pointing out that there are legitimate trade offs here.


Corruption and regulatory capture.


Corruption, regulatory capture, and worst of all... convenience.


> In 2018 a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.


Here is more detailed report on this problem in Europe [1] They seem to indicate levels many times higher are present in Europe than the EPAs suggested limited of 70 PPT. Although that limit also seems to be commonly exceeded in US. It is concerning that technical discussion over regulation is occurring while the picture of actual contamination levels is very incomplete [2]

[1] https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/human/chemicals/emerging-ch...

[2] https://greensciencepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/An...


I would be interested to know what is the current trust level of the residents on the gov and EPA in the different states.

Not far from my living area a new gas rig started operating where the gov, contractor company and EPA (EPA of my country that is) argue the chemical emissions doesn't pose health risks (same for sea water pollution risk), while self-funded environmental organizations argue otherwise and show inconsistencies and omissions of real-time data in air monitoring stations. They compare the owners' claims with their assertions.

The interesting story is about trust crisis in the system. The public reached a point where they started crowd-funding independent air monitoring system to put pressure on EPA to "do its job" and enforce the standards. EPA already announced a nice mobile app showing monitored air data on the map to provide public sense of security. I hope the data is genuine.

There are more and more examples of crowd-funded projects as alternatives to governmental components expressing decline of public trust.

It seem to happen globally on many levels. Is it possible the crowd-funded organizations will one day replace the government?


Air-quality safety (among other things) is assured by the EPA, and it's done a lot to undermine that trust in the last couple of decades.

Electronics safety is assured by UL, a private company. To date, they've maintained the public's trust in their services.

If Consumer Reports publishes an exposé of UL taking kickbacks to certify substandard equipment, I'd become very interested in buying gear certified by a competitor.

With the EPA, I mean... I can't vote out the leadership of the EPA. I can very indirectly vote for a change there, and hope it happens, if that vote happens to align with my other interest, but there's no granularity, no way to hit them in their pocketbook, which I line once a year regardless of my feelings on the matter.

Now, there are some immediate differences between the two, which are obvious enough that I'm not going to bother elucidating them. But it's an instructive comparison. I'd say the UL model is underutilized.


> I'd become very interested in buying gear certified by a competitor.

UL’s main competitor is ETL. I can tell you that you very much should prefer products tested by UL. I work for a company that makes wire and it’s widely know inside our industry that ETL does nothing to ensure that products being sold with their mark are products they actually tested. There are lots of issues with UL’s enforcement of their mark, but ETL just doesn’t care at all.


Most people don't know what UL is or that they even exist. Of the few who do, many probably believe it's some government mandated thing.

Regardless, just because UL seems to be doing a decent job (I'm not really qualified to comment on that, just going on an assumption here), there have been other industry groups that were supposed to do the same thing and were basically utter failures. For example, the EnergyStar organization giving certification for a gasoline powered alarm clock[0].

[0] https://gizmodo.com/a-fake-gas-powered-alarm-clock-once-got-...


> Energy Star was started in 1992 by the EPA as a voluntary labeling program to encourage the consumption of more energy-efficient appliances.

Huh! TIL.


I find this comparison dead on arrival. Full stop.

UL, a private company, can only exist because they charge manufacturers of electronics for their certification.

No one is manufacturing the air we breathe (at least not yet...) so there is no revenue source for this kind of testing outside of public funding.

Your whole comment is a classic example of attempting to apply market forces to a problem that has no market.

I'll be blunt - Capitalism is a nifty trick for situations where there's a market and low barrier to entry. IT IS NOT A SILVER BULLET.


Air safety certification could be seen as a market, with the buyers being localities (towns, cities, city-states, counties, etc).

I don’t think the issue is so much “markets vs govt” as it is accountability vs impunity. The issue with single-payer, nationalized air protection is that there’s a single point of failure and there’s no reasonable means of individual dissent (pulling funding, voting with one’s feet, etc).

Of course this line of thinking leads to some very politically incorrect conclusions.


Taxes are the original crowd funding


Right, but I think modern crowd-funding is inherently designed for trust, otherwise people won't fund. Taxes are not an option for the payer - for a reason - but still I think its lacking on the trust element, which is fundamental to a functioning society. Maybe then the crowd-funded bodies are meant to keep an eye on the government to do its job.


Trust? How many crowd funded campaigns fail to deliver on their products? Even to their initial backers?


Yes, but at least people can choose whether to back or not.


I think a lot of crowd funding is for hucksters who abuse trust.


Yeah, they’re like a kickstarter campaign, except if you don’t support it they send guys with guns to your house to threaten you and take your stuff.


I don't think crowd-funded organizations will totally replace the government, I do think they will start taking action where the government has failed or enables the bad actors. I feel that there are plenty of business opportunities for companies that want to improve the world instead of destroying it. Your example is a great example.

I've been thinking a lot lately about starting a company that focuses on improving water quality, working with waste water treatment, and working on CO2. Going forward I think this problem will continue to get worse and there needs to be companies that are trying to solve these issues.


Yeah PCB's are a big thing in North-East Wisconsin. Papermills just added a new chemical to papermaking and dumped in the river for like 50 years before the government even bothered saying you can't do that anymore.

Now the Fox River has a base layer of PCB's and all the papermills declared bankruptcy or dissolved so as not to foot the bill for cleanup.


Yeah it's kinda like the wood companies that gut the rain forests.


A reminder that you can remove these and many other contaminants from your water with a simple undersink RO filter. They are quite inexpensive and start at about $160 on Amazon for a lifetime of clean drinking and cooking water.

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/list-of-household-filters-appr...


Shifting the costs to the consumer -- standard externality game.


Kinda like the companies that produce really gross chemicals and make the owner millions, only to become superfund sites that get cleaned up with taxpayer money many years later? :D


Out of curiosity, I looked up maintenance costs on RO filters. It looks like the filters that need replacing annually are $20-$30 for the set, and the membrane that needs to be replaced every 2-5 years is $30-$50.


I’ve found those guidelines to be pretty conservative. I think I’ve maybe changed the membrane once. A simple TDS (total dissolved solids) meter can be had on Amazon for <$20 that tells you if the water quality is changing over time and it is time for a change.


PFAS can be filtered by simple activated carbon filters. You don't need RO.

They can be absorbed through the skin so if you really want to avoid them you need a whole house filter.


I've heard this also removes many essential minerals that we get from water?


Drinking water typically does not provide significant quantities of any essential minerals. For example, the USGS threshold for "hard" water (heavily mineral-laden) is 120 ppm of combined calcium and magnesium carbonates. At that level, drinking the recommended two liters a day would only give you a few percentage points of your required daily intake of elemental calcium and magnesium.


Yes, googling "reverse osmosis demineralized water" provides many options to add minerals back in.

The WHO stated that demineralized water is unsuitable for long term drinking due to the lack of minerals.

Not sure how significant this is or how many minerals you can get from diet instead of water.


Here's the WHO report for folks who are interested: https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/nutrientscha...


How many gallons of water do you have to throw away to get 1 gallon of pure water with this system?


Some companies have 1:1, gallon of clean to gallon of waste.

Here's one that's quite popular: https://www.theperfectwater.com/Home-Master-hydroperfection-...


Looks like 4 to 1. Not great, but probably not a huge hit if you hook it up only for drinking water. I wonder how hard it would be to pump that waste water to your toilet tanks instead.


Some people just let it gravity drain to another container (inside or out) and then use it for outdoor watering.

The flow rate & pressure is typically very low for the drain water with these systems, so you'd need another setup to handle pumping it to your toilet, etc.

Sending it outside is probably the easiest way to immediately use it.


Unfortunately some areas only have need for outdoor watering a few months of the year, so other uses might need to be found.


you can also pick an ro system with a permeate pump (https://www.purewaterproducts.com/articles/how-permeate-pump...)

proper inlet pressure also improves efficiency.


This problem has been brewing for a long time, and is likely worse than any of us can grasp.

Here's an enlightening read: (warning: it's long)

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-b...


There's a movie, Dark Waters, about this as well. Great watch.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9071322/

EDIT: Spelling.


Saw this last night, completely agree. Everyone should watch it


What an incredible yet horrifying article. My first thought is someone should make a Chernobyl-style show based on these events so that it gets national attention.

Edit: apparently there was a movie recently released about it, that I had never heard of until I reached this thread. I still think a TV series is the best way to approach this sort of topic as you have more hours to sink into the details.


FYI (since I couldn't find this information anywhere in the article itself) the Huffington Post piece was published August 27, 2015.


Terrific article, thanks for sharing!


Wow, great article.


> previous estimate [...] that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

If that number is "far too low", everyone is probably affected. And probably not just in the US, they just tested for it.

Sounds like PCBs 2.0.


Netherlands also has an issue with it. The norms and standards have been made a bit less strict. It was forbidden to move dirt, sand etc around due to PFAS contamination.


Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington D.C., only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700 foot (215 m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends.

The article is all over the place with various recommendations. Seems to boil down (no pun intended) to:

* EPA recommends less than 70 parts per trillion

* US Department of Health and Human Services recommends less than 7 parts per trillion.

* EWG recommends less than 1 part per trillion and states in their report that only 3 out of 44 sites they tested met that much more stringent standard.


I've seen this issue trending on HN multiple times within the past year, search "PFAS contamination" for more info online.

I moved into a new house last year near 2 closed down USAF military bases (known to have been previously contaminated by firefighter foam) and did a ton of research on the issue since the house water comes from a well (free water!). I ended up getting a professional water filtration system installed in our basement (carbon tanks, UV light filter, reverse osmosis). Cost me $5k+ for install and ~$1500 year to swap out the tanks and service the system. It's pricey, but you can't put a price on clean water.


> "...you can't put a price on clean water."

Is that... is that not exactly what you just did? $5k capital expense and $1500/yr operational expense.

That system is almost certainly more than enough for your own household needs, so you could probably sell the excess capacity to your neighbors at near cost to cover some of the operational expenses.


And since it's priceable, doesn't it become an ethical question if the neighborhood should require such systems and possibly try and get federal subsidies to install them since they are required as a result of the military's actions? (And, specifically, completely non-essential actions - asking the military to clean up contamination caused by active national defense is a slightly different question)


That's a good point. The capital expenses should be recoverable via civil suit, with actual operating expenses so far, and possibly also projected future operating expenses over the expected lifespan of the installation.

But possibly not. Water rights in legal-land aren't always as fair or uncomplicated as ordinary non-lawyer folk--such as myself and most HN readers--might expect them to be.


Mind sharing the exact system?


Culligan Water is the company I used. Systems like mine are custom built depending on your house layout, the type of filtering you want, etc so the cost could fluctuate.


Apparently there are now technologies available to remove PFAS from water: https://cen.acs.org/environment/persistent-pollutants/Foreve... but it is going to be expensive to deploy everywhere that it is needed.


From the article it seems reverse osmosis is up to the task, but the problem is the waste water generated now has concentrated PFAS.


I think britAs and the like work somewhat at removing pfas. They’re large organic molecules and they excel at removing those.


Based on internet it seems zerowater filters are much more effective than brita, but they cost a bit more to run (because, well, they filter out more stuff).


Hmm I got to the conclusion that zero water was way better at filtering out smaller chemicals like lead. I’m still think both types of filters are good for pfas. Zero water could be a little better though.

I could still be wrong. It was hard to find any good studies or tests last time I looked into it.


"Both granular activated carbon (GAC) and reverse osmosis (RO) filters can reduce PFAS substances. Both systems provide less water flow than a standard water faucet."

https://www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse/0,9038,7-365-86510_871...


do you have a source for this? i can't seem to find much on pfoa removal/reduction and brita filters


I believe the brita type filters are considered activated carbon? If so here’s a source:

https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/reducing-pfas-drinking-wa...


These materials are used as coatings on "compostable" food packaging. I've seen this packaging being used as a replacement for plastic packaging at "green" grocery stores.

Of course, the coating does not decompose upon composting, it just sits there in the compost.


Can anyone help me understand how anything at a concentration of < 5PPT can be dangerous?

I'm not arguing, just trying to get my head around it.

(And yes I realize that in some of these areas the concentrations were orders of magnitude higher; the recommendation for allowable concentration is < 1PPT according to the article)


It doesn't degrade and accumulates in the body (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfluorooctanoic_acid#Human_d...), where it looks like it acts like a "biological handgrenade" (a nifty term I heard elsewhere).

"PFOA is not rapidly eliminated from the human body, with a half-life of 3.8 years in human blood, thus raising the public concerns over the toxicological implications due to internal exposure." (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4817033/)

That's elimination from retired "fluorochemical production workers" (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17805419/).


Got it, thanks!


I believe these chemicals get concentrated in the human body as they don’t get eliminated very fast. They are very stable too (hence “forever chemical”) so they don’t break down either.


Makes sense, thanks!


I had a similar question.

I assume that these compounds aren’t readily excreted from the body, so you’d want a very low limit with the understanding it would accumulate over time?

Just a guess.


That makes sense. Thanks!


Use the EWG zip code search to find your water utility [1]. That shows which chemicals or toxins were found when testing your tap water, and scrolling down you see which filter system can remove those chemicals.

For ex: San Francisco's City Water has Chromium (hexavalent) at 0.0906 ppb, and Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) at 38.9 ppb [2]. The "Water Filters That Can Reduce Contaminant Levels" table says Activated Carbon and Ion Exchange filtration can't remove those particles, but Reverse Osmosis can.

[1]: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/

[2]: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/system.php?pws=CA3810011


So next time I go to the US I should bring a LifeStraw?

This is an actual question: How much do these filters help against the type of contamination that's in US drinking water?


Why do you think the problem is limited to the US?

>The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.

All of these chemicals are in common use throughout the developed world. This isn't just a case of evil corporations dumping industrial waste into impoverished children's drinking water, though corporate environmental pollution does play a role. They come from everyday use and wear of common products, and they are incredibly expensive to filter even by centralized plants once they've made it into the water supply through e.g. dish washing, clothes washing, and street runoff. And the issue is that they accumulate over years or possibly decades.


Products like the LifeStraw/Sawyer/Katadyn won't filter most chemicals. To remove some chemicals you need to use distillation and distillation is only good if the boiling point of a given chemical is higher than that of water.

LifeStraw even states

>Chemicals, salt water, heavy metals and viruses will not be removed.

http://help.lifestraw.com/en/articles/2507813-does-the-lifes...

Sawyer states

>Taste

>The Sawyer filter removes taste that comes from bacteria, dirt, and green matter.

>Chemicals

>The Sawyer filter does NOT remove iron, sulfur, other chemicals, or simple compounds. Taste can be masked by using flavor additives like Gatorade or crystal light (filter needs to be cleaned immediately after using them).

>Heavy Metals

>The Sawyer filters are not made with charcoal. While other portable filters have charcoal, they lack in amount of media and adequate dwell time. Therefore, they only remove small amounts of heavy metals, pesticides, etc. (when used in real life applications). Try using better sources of water, if possible.

https://sawyer.com/water-filtration/faqs/


Seychelle seems to have more advanced filters:

https://www.seychelle.com/water-filters

> The Radiological filter removes the four basic zones of contamination: aesthetic (chlorine, taste and odor), chemicals (from industry and agriculture), dissolved solids (heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium 6) and up to 99.99% of radiological contaminants such as gross beta, radon 222, alpha radium 226, plutonium, uranium, cesium 134 and 137. Removes up to 90% of fluoride. (Not to be used with salt water.)

> The RAD/ADV filter removes up to 99.99% of chlorine, chemicals (VOC’s), heavy metals, radiological contaminants and up to 90% of fluoride. It removes up to 99.9999% of bacteria and viruses, as well as 99.9% of giardia and cryptosporidium. The RAD/ADV filter can be used for emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and radiological contamination. Just like the Advanced filter the RAD/ADV filter is ideal for traveling around the world and used with water of unknown quality. (Not to be used with salt water.)

So there's a chance that these might be able to remove other chemicals and perhaps microplastics.

The Berkey filter also seems to remove quite a few contaminants:

https://www.berkeyfilters.com/pages/filtration-specification...

I wonder if there will be a boom in the water filter industry after more mainstream articles come out about the problem and the government eventually starts recommending them openly.


> distillation is only good if the boiling point of a given chemical is higher than that of water

What about fractional distillation?


First, I am not a chemist but this is something I've thought aobut a lot as a camper, a "prepper", and someone interested in Mars colonization (perchlorates!).

That would work but I imagine it's going to have some amount of inefficiency depending on the contaminant, you'd have to do several passes to get to really low trace levels I imagine as you're going to keep some contamination simply by what collects on the walls of the vessel and runs back down.

With some contaminants I imagine you could introduce more chemicals to get a reaction that would make the filtration easier. I imagine some could also be changed sufficiently by heating the sample to a point where you get a chemical change in the contaminant, although, I'm guessing this would be the most 'expensive' method unless energy wasn't an issue (fusion).


Take three fractions, the first being the "heads" or "tops" from the first condensed volume up to 5% of the original volume, the next being the "mains" from the next 90%, and the last being the "tails" or "bottoms" from the final 5%.

Wash the packed column and boiling vessel with the heads and then discard them. Discard the tails. Repeat the process with the mains.

Your twice-distilled mains are now pure water, discounting contamination from inferior distillation apparatus.

Get some food-grade calcium chloride (E509, de-icing salt), magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and potassium chloride (NoSalt brand table salt substitute) and add some (known) minerals back into the result for your drinking water, because pure distilled water has a very poor taste profile.

The only types of chemical that cannot be easily removed by this distillation process are those that form azeotropes with water, such as ethanol, and those chemicals are unlikely to be present in quantities significant enough to be a problem.


How would a reverse osmosis filter hooked up in the basement / under the sink compare to distillation? The good ones spit out water that is close to 0 PPM (in most municipal water systems tap water is closer to 60-200). Is PPM a good way of measuring the types of chemicals you mentioned?


RO will still have some chemicals it can't remove. Per the CDC:

>Reverse Osmosis Systems will remove common chemical contaminants (metal ions, aqueous salts), including sodium, chloride, copper, chromium, and lead; may reduce arsenic, fluoride, radium, sulfate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, nitrate, and phosphorous.

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/home-water-treatme...


A lot of RO systems come with a sediment filter, carbon filter, and UV as part of the package.

Seems about as close as you can get to completely clean water.


Electrolyze water in one vessel. Combust the gases in another vessel, and condense the water vapor.

Hilariously inefficient use of energy, but I think the only contaminants you are likely to encounter would be... nitrous oxide (N2O)?


I'd be less worried about the contaminants in the water, and more worried about the contaminants in the air.

As I understand it electrolysis of water converts chloride salts (table salt) to chlorine gas (poisonous), fluoride salts (rarer) to fluoride gas (really poisonous), etc.


Electrolysis only produces chlorine to the extent that chloride ion is present in the water. If the charge-carrying ions are metallic positive and hydroxide negative, the chlorine produced will be negligible.

So to promote electrolysis, add KOH or NaOH (lye) instead of NaCl (table salt). Or don't add anything, and let your charge carriers be H3O+ and HCO3- from dissolved CO2.

The chlorine will come off first, and if you have a reducible anode, it will attack that first. If you have a graphite anode, you will get Cl2, which will oxidize pure hydrogen just fine. You'll get HCl in the combustion, which isn't dangerous when diluted (it's the same acid that's produced in your stomach).

Fluorine gas is not produced from aqueous fluoride salts because the oxygen is always oxidized first.

The half-reactions:

  2 H2O + 2 e- --> H2 + 2 [OH-]       (-0.83 V)
  2 H2O        --> O2 + 4 [H+] + 4 e- (-1.23 V)
  2 [Cl-]      --> Cl2 + 2 e-         (-1.36 V)
  2 [F-]       --> F2 + 2 e-          (-2.87 V)
Even if you do get a F2, it immediately reacts with the electrolysis water to produce oxygen gas:

  2 F2 (g) + 2 H2O (l) --> 4 HF (aq) + O2 (g)
In short, this is not much of a problem.

By the redox half-reactions, it looks like oxygen should be produced before chlorine, but there is also something called "overpotential" at the electrode. On a graphite electrode, the activation overpotentials for H2, O2, and Cl2 are -0.62V, +0.95V, and +0.12V, respectively. There is also a "bubble overpotential" of the tiny bubbles that form on the electrode. That pushes the preference towards chlorine gas. Tiny oxygen bubbles will form, but the energy required to grow them large enough to detach from the electrode and rise to the surface exceeds that required to form and grow a chlorine bubble.


Doesn't RO needs 3+ liters to get you 1L of purified water ? It doesn't look like this would be viable long term + it doesn't solve the root cause, just the symptoms.


Most people use it for just drinking water. When compared to other uses, you don't drink that much water.


You can get as good as 1:1 clean and waste water using.

Though as you stated it still doesn't solve root cause.


That would almost certainly work but make sure to remineralize the water after.


I have been drinking non-remineralized reverse osmosis water since conception and I'm fine.

Plus remineralization isn't as effective as you would think. Most of the minerals removed by RO can't be easily reintroduced as they aren't readily dissolved.


As long as you're eating a varied diet (such as eating a good variety of plants) drinking demineralized water really isn't an issue.

I've been eating plant based whole food lately and at 1903 kcals yesterday I managed (per Cronometer):

- 646.4mg of calcium

- 636.1mg of magnesium

- 785.1mg of sodium

Which are the 3 big ones in common tap water. Even if you factor in a 25% error margin, through my diet I'm getting way more than I would drinking random tap water.


So as a baby your parents were only giving you RO water? Then during your whole time at high-school and college you only drank RO water? Errr, I don't believe you.


> Results from a single sample form a snapshot of what was found in tap water at a specific site.

This is a weak statistical methodology.

>They are likely representative of the water in the area where the sample was taken...

I don't agree with that.

Quotes from the source: https://www.ewg.org/research/national-pfas-testing/

That said, this is serious problem.


If there was a magical way of convincing every single person in the U.S. to stop buying X, what would we have to stop buying to stop this pollution?


Teflon for example, is pretty stable when manufactured and in-application. But the company manufacturing it, DuPont, has shown despicable disregard for environment and people health and as such, imo, should get a healthy dose of "I ain't touching your products".

edit: one example, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-b...


> Teflon for example, is pretty stable when manufactured and in-application.

Chemical stability isn't necessarily a good thing. Another chemical, Perfluorooctanoic (C8), is used in the manufacture of Teflon and is extremely stable, so much so that it's found in the bloodstream of 98% of Americans. Unfortunately C8 bio-accumulates and is in fact very harmful.

Also, one of the applications of Teflon is cookware and when heated Teflon undergoes thermolysis and forms toxic compounds. So stability is great until it's not.

Speaking of how shitty DuPont is... 3M was DuPont's sole supplier of C8 and stopped manufacturing it amid rising concerns from the EPA, so DuPont started manufacturing it on their own.


Stop eating any kind of factory-processed or packaged food (with plastic packaging, canned packaging, etc, as these are coated), stop using any clothing/shoes/furniture not based on natural fibers or with water-resistant or stain-resistant properties, using any sort of coated cookware (return to cast iron), etc

and that still won't do anything about commercial or industrial uses of those chemicals that contaminate your water supply/etc. Like firefighting foam, for example. The Air Force is going to keep using it regardless of what you do personally, despite them having less toxic alternatives available.

simply banning it directly wouldn't help, companies will just move on to the next thing, legally it will be presumed to be safe until there is science to prove that it's not, and we will need another 75 years of epidemiological studies to build that proof. Rinse and repeat forever.

The long term answer is that we need to reverse the legal model and have companies prove that any chemical they intend to introduce is safe, rather than the public having to (first learn what proprietary chemicals are being used, as this is not legally required to be disclosed, and then) prove that it's dangerous, but that won't happen under any conservative or liberal governments in the US, it will take a leftist government pushing heavy environmental regulations before there's any chance of phasing this sort of thing out. Until then, it's on to the next poison.


I don't think there's much a consumer can do and it seems many of them are no longer in active use yet are still in the environment from when they were used.

>The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.


While true their replacements are very similar and have almost the same risks.


There is probably no single thing to stop buying. You would set up regulations and everything would probably become a bit more expensive. Maybe some items would disappear completely.


Industrial pollution like this is the lived reality of Capitalism and it’s inability to meaningfully account for the environmental degradation and destruction it causes. The problem isn’t “stop buying X” it’s that we need to “stop buying.”


This is what I was getting at, honestly. If you look at the supply chain, this pollution is the result of hundreds or thousands of unnecessary "products".


I don't know why you get downvoted for this. The current assumption that GDP must always grow (and consumption must keep increasing) seem to be in direct contradiction to the idea that we must stop consuming so much if we want to save the environment.

Perhaps "capitalism" is a lazy proxy for this but I think it's more lazy to downvote you than engage with the discussion


Increasing GDP does not imply increasing consumption, and increasing consumption does not imply increasing pollution.


In theory maybe, in practice the world is designed to maximise consumption with little regard for the long term impacts.


Can you provide any examples to support your statement?

I don’t see how the production of materials and transportation of the materials and people could not increase pollution, given the current infrastructure which requires use of fossil fuels, and which will not change in the short term.


You're forgetting the #1 cheapest and most effective way to reduce our environmental impact: efficiency of energy use and efficiency of resource use.

In the case of GDP, energy and resources are both costs that businesses try to minimize in order to provide end products and services, which is what the GDP measures.

Therefore, the carbon intensity of a dollar of GDP is expected to decrease in time, as people discover more ways to save money and compete better, in order to increase profits. They probably aren't thinking about decreasing the amount of CO2 emitted, especially when they are making business decisions. But since CO2 indirectly has a cost, the amount of CO2 emitted per dollar GDP has been decreasing drastically:

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PP.GD

If we were to directly price in the costs of CO2 via a tax, the fall would be far faster. And as we come up with tech that doesn't emit, and is cheaper than fossil fuel extraction, we will stop using these damaging resources completely.

There has historically been great resistance from the right to the power of energy efficiency, because of their ties to high fossil fuel consumption, and their attachment to GDP rising at all costs to fuel gains for those at the top of the capitalistic hierarchy. However, this was a miscounted belief.

Lately, this misunderstanding has been picked up by the extreme left, who had assumed that global collapse was their time to finally overturn market-based systems, but now fear that we will try to address the coming disasters of climate change without overhauling market based systems, so now after the yellow jackets gave it to Macron over carbon taxes, a fundamentally market based system, the left has now decided that the enemy (rural conservatives) of their true enemy (neoliberals in urban centers), they can pick up the mantle.

But it's important to fully recognize where these narratives come from and what motivation is driving those who push narratives, and return to the data for our ultimate analysis.

Stopping pollution does not mean destroying GDP. It means eliminating the parts of the GDP that cause the pollution, but other activity will quickly replace the other.


>You're forgetting the #1 cheapest and most effective way to reduce our environmental impact: efficiency of energy use and efficiency of resource use.

How can that be cheaper and more effective than reducing consumption?

>If we were to directly price in the costs of CO2 via a tax, the fall would be far faster. And as we come up with tech that doesn't emit, and is cheaper than fossil fuel extraction, we will stop using these damaging resources completely.

I don't think this is politically feasible in the timeframe necessary. The hundreds of millions up and coming in China/India/Brazil/Nigeria/etc want a piece of that nice Western life with a home and car and vacations.

The only realistic solution in a short enough timeframe is to try to educate everyone to consume less. Consume less space (more dense living), consume less fuel (enabled by dense living as public transport is now feasible), consume less products (vastly fewer cheap plastic toys and whatnot), etc.


After reading your last paragraph, I'm convinced that we are in full agreement, except for nomenclature choices.

Efficiency is just that, consuming less. One can also consume less end services, too. But if you're saying that a carbon tax is infeasible, then far more in feasible is just taking away with no replacement.

I am 100% in agreement with your plans to educate people to consume less, and have gotten active in local politics to try to effect the changes you suggest. These are exactly the types of things that we need to be doing! I don't think they will decrease GDP, and will likely increase it, as well as increase the quality of life of those who choose to live closer to more people with more transit and amenities nearby. Walking to a small grocery store that takes up 1/8th or less of a super market, and doing that daily or every other day to get the freshest food, is something that will make tons of people far more happy and likely reduce food waste, etc. but I think this will likely increase GDP.

Locally, the biggest pushback is from those who oppose allowing dense walkable neighborhoods. They tend to oppose "growth," be it economic, or population, or incomes, or basically any change from their car-centric lives, and walkable neighborhoods and the construction that comes with buildings taller than 2 stories are the prime culprit, or so they say. They control the local Sierra Club chapter, even. So we get to hear about the "dangers" of 5G tech rather than concrete proposals to stop climate change through local political change. Sigh.


Yes, I was trying to highlight that all the Teslas in the world won't make up for the extra consumption caused by utilizing so much space by non-dense living, since everything has to be moved exponentially further requiring exponentially more materials and energy.

Hopefully we see the externalities of energy usage priced in via a carbon tax or similar, but at the same time, unless we can alter the lifestyle of many to allow for far more density, I don't believe it will be enough.


Stop buying is not the solution to this problem.

I agree disposable consumerism is a problem —but that’s not the cause of this. Even historically socialist countries have issues (maybe even more issues) with industrial pollution. Adding “Capitalism” is a distraction from the problem.

The issue is learning from mistakes and taking proper corrective action according to risks.


The issue is nature doesn’t have an unlimited budget for mistakes to learn from. It doesn’t matter if it’s disposable consumerism or consumerism, it is clear that billions of people consuming resources at the rate they are now is modifying the ecosystem.

Assuming the modified ecosystem is worse for basic needs such as water, temperature, and air quality, the only solution in the short term is to reduce consumption. Which is antithetical to every assumption made by every government and their financial system, which require exponential growth to sustain themselves.

I don’t see what socialist or capitalist or democracy or dictatorship has to do with it. If everyone wants a detached house with a garage and yard and personal vehicle to travel with and flights to tropical destinations, then this is the price that will have to be paid (barring a drastic reduction in population that can afford to do that).


You MUST watch the amazing film, “Dark Waters” .... it’s about the origin of this problem. DuPont knowingly poisoned the public. And the effects will never go away. And then people wonder why cancer rates are so high? Duh!!!


The documentary is The Devil We Know. It is riveting and heartbreaking.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_We_Know


[citation needed]

Dark Waters is not a documentary.


It is insane. I've been looking at water quality over the past year. Look into EPA superfund sites. We only have so many permanent underground aquifers that are disconnected from each other. The industrial age of the 1950s with basically unchecked regulation really ruined our country's permanent aquifers.


| unchecked regulation

I think you mean "complete and utter lack of" regulation.


What happens is someone will point to anyone of these chems and say "that level is safe." Perhaps. But no one has an understanding of them and what happens when you combine trace amounts of Chem X, Chem Y and Med Z. At that point any judgement of safety breakdowns.


Today's Edition of Fear Your Government >The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.


The Trump administration in effect.


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments and/or flamebait to HN? You've been doing it a lot lately, and we ban accounts that do that.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Why are these chemicals not being extensively studied and banned if adverse health effects are proven to affect human health? This stuff could be shortening our lifespan and we are just absorbing it all the time in clothing and water etc unbeknownst to us.


Today I learned that California has at least one business that can be called a "water store".

Obviously, the chemical that's in the water that must promote such enterprises has to be reintroduced after any purification processes that may occur in the aforementioned store.

Someone please explain to me how such a business is viable in 5 gallon quantities, when the rest of the world either digs a well, buys the outflow from a metered pipe, or fills up a cistern from a tanker truck with at least 3000 gallons per delivery.

Do they not sell reverse osmosis filters or distillery pots there?

Also, if one person filters out the stable perfluorocarbons like PFOA and PFOS, and then dumps them back down the drain again, is that really helping to solve the problem?


Lets thank dupont for that


Another example of privatization of profits and socializing losses.

I live on Long Island (New York) and we have water problems from old factories that polluted the ground water.

My water bill will now include $80/year charge for new filtering plants that are supposed to clean up the contaminated water.

At best, the companies should’ve never been allowed to pollute the water. At worst, the cleanup cost should’ve been charged to the polluters immediately.

Instead, they get a subsidy from my neighbors and me while we drink contaminated water.

New York is trying to sue some companies to recover costs [1] but we can never be made whole. I doubt they’ll recover the full cost of the cleanup and I know they’ll never recover the cost to our health.

[1] https://libn.com/2019/12/23/new-york-ready-to-fight-polluter...


"privatization of profits and socializing losses."

This is ideologically biased. You mean "externalize RISK", which governments and NGOs do all the time too.


I prefer my phrase because it’s not sterile. My intention is to spread the ideology.

My comment isn’t addressing an economics class, it’s addressing an electorate.


it just seems to me to be only trading one kind of risk externalization for another. Simple top-down solutions are so very attractive, but are absolute folly for interconnected complex systems. The moral of the Tower of Babel. Or if you prefer a different ancient heuristic, simple utopian visions are always a Siren that will eat you.

Nassim Taleb's concept of scale seems to me could be one root cause. The farther away the deciders are to the implications of their decisions, the less accountability they have. The more local and "market based" systems are, the more accountability, or Skin In The Game they have, and therefore more robust the dynamic.

Example: Communism has worked wonderfully at the scale of the family for thousands of years, but has always turned monstrous at the scale of a nation.


Going by wikipedia: "Cost externalizing is a socioeconomic term describing how a business maximizes its profits by off-loading indirect costs and forcing negative effects to a third party. An externalized cost is known to economists as a negative externality."

I think the here bias is trying to hide with the more general technical term, that in this specific discussion, the third party which assumes the loses is the whole society.


I'm a little confused at how this happens. Dupont is just made up of people. Those people need to live somewhere, drink water, and do normal people things. Do they not realize what they are doing as they are doing it, and only become aware it's a problem after the fact? Because if they knew it was problematic from the start, they would almost seem suicidal.


People need to eat. Lack of money kills you this year. Some technical science-talk spread by ideologically opposed people about how you're going to get sick decades from now -- who knows if it's even true?


Its all about the money.


Dark Waters (movie) was a real eye-opener for me. Also a way to ingest information that I otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to take in. It's no surprise that cancer is so prevalent.


Are there any Home "Appliance" that make Distillation simple.

Instead of rather expensive filtering that requires you to buy filter every now and then in recurring cost.


I live in one of the industrial "hot zones" for these chemicals. In the 1960's a local tannery was the main employer in the area, and commanded a great deal of local clout. As a result, they obtained permits to dump industrial waste in various (30+) small dump sites around the area. This waste contained a variety of industrial chemicals, not the least of which was the 3M product Scotchgard, which was used in large quantity to waterproof leather, contains PFAS, and was buried feet from the surface, generally in nondescript forest areas.

A few years ago, when our local water authority began testing for PFAS, they found unusually high numbers specifically around one well-head used to supply municipal water to the area. Instead of disclosing the issue, the authority chose to use that well head only when the demand was high, which excluded times in which the water was tested. If they timed their testing to times of low demand, the numbers were under the EPA recommendation.

With significant grass-roots pressure in the area, many pending lawsuits, and lots of reporting and investigation, the municipality is taking the issue somewhat seriously. GAC filters were installed on the municipal supply, the company considered largely at fault has agreed to pay for the extension of municipal water to some (not all) affected areas that are still served by well water, in which the danger is particularly high. Some cleanups are occurring, while other sites exist under what are now housing developments.

There's story after story here, of people (especially those located in areas served by well water) with a history of cancer after cancer after cancer affecting their entire families. These are folks who after having their water tested, confirmed some of the highest levels ever measured in a water supply.

In all, the whole ordeal has been a wake up call for me, regarding the level of cover-up that happened and in some cases continues to happen surrounding waste disposal, especially for large companies that are considered the "economic life blood" of a given area. Looking over records, people have found strong objections to the practice dating back to the time it happened (some of the warnings eerily prescient) multiple cleanups that were funded but never occurred in the decades that followed, and a continual failure to acknowledge any risk surrounding the practice and dump sites for decades. There was a constant drum beat of "very smart people say that everything is fine."

As for me, my (municipal) water is GAC and RO filtered. I pay close attention to things I would not have considered before, like air quality. It's made me reconsider the source of the foods that I eat. It takes little work to take these precautions, the potential upside is pretty big, and the downside small.

I wonder if in the years to come, we're going to find significant causal links between aspects of our environment and maladies we previously considered a mystery.


My county water board does not have PFAS as one of their routine tests. Is this a standard in other counties?


A recent movie, Dark Waters, covers this same subject. Which seems a little coincidental.


Great. So the mind control fluoride crazies were (kind of) right all along.


Not to worry. All the fluoride they're intentionally doping the water supply with just fluoridates your insides to give you a forever body. Just kidding. It goes from the stomach into the bloodstream and straight up into your teeth to fortify them and give you forever teeth.


Yeah the difference being that PFOA is a carbon chain, whereas fluor in trace amounts can improve dental health.

So they're still wrong, fluoride is added to water in very small amounts, but PFOA/PFOS are other unrelated chemical byproducts. They only share the fluoride element.


See also the documentary The Devil We Know

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_We_Know


Are there residential water filtration systems that would be effective at filtering these out?

I have a water filter in my fridge but no real idea how well it works.


Can someone enlighten me on the legitimacy and scientific rigor of the Environment Working Group organization that published these findings?


Not to ignore the democracy problem but solely on the localized health issue, if you can afford a Berkey Water Filter, get one.


I looked on the Berkey website but couldn't find specifics about the mechanism that these filters use; is it simply reverse osmosis?


I helped a relative assemble theirs, they appear to be gravity fed activated carbon blocks.


Buying Berkey is overpaying for brand and marketing.


I love my off-brand filter I bought from St. Paul Mercantile.

I don't see the need to pay for a brand and logo on the filter.


Anyone know how hard it is filtering out PFAS?


What's the state of cheap nano filters ?


I kind of like ceramic ones (from Doulton / Berkenfeld). Well proven technology, invented by Victorians, and does a remarkable job at filtering most stuff.


oh man apparently some ceramics are air porous .. I'd like to know the material/chemistry behind the process.


can anyone confirm whether consumer grade filters like Brita help filtering these things out?


Yes, activated charcoal filters them.


It is constantly amazing to me that "cover up the existence of poisonous chemicals in your drinking water" is a viable position for a democratically-elected officeholder to have. What a world we live in.


Democracy is mostly a facade anymore, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong, we haven't gone completely south to a dictatorship--there are many protections in place to keep things from falling apart but nonetheless I feel as though we're in the decline in the respect of being democratic.

The underlying failed assumption in our representative democracy was that representatives would represent their constituents' interests and people would elect people who would represent their interests, all of course with hopeful protections for minorities. Obviously, this doesn't work.

We need to really set expiration dates on how long people can run campaigns and how long they can stay in a given office. Politics should be about solving problems and seeking continuous improvement of well-being for citizens in a given society, not convincing people they're happy, constantly lying, and playing manipulative popularity contests but that's where we are.


I think democracy was always problematic. Its original form, direct democracy, was vulnerable to the tyranny of the masses.

Representative democracy, long described as the solution, really isn’t. Representatives are self-interested, just like everyone else, and so we cannot expect them to be purely faithful executors of their respective mandates.

What we did not expect, and perhaps are now beginning to, is that human beings are endlessly resourceful when personally motivated. Laws, norms, and institutions are static structures, simple obstacles for people to overcome when they really want to. It has always been far more difficult to build defences than it has been to build new weapons to overcome them. This is the great challenge for lawmakers, judiciary, law enforcement, and anyone who is interested in the preservation of a free and open society.


To be fair, this issue was much debated at the creation of democratic rule in Greece. Their solution to the problem of ambition and resource guarding is “sortition”, which is a lottery in which a large fraction of the democratic body is chosen by chance rather than by popular election, skill or ambition. This was meant to be a check on the development of the type of permanent ruling oligarchy we see developing in the US.


Is the sortition method effective at combating this problem?


I have heard about sortition and its supposed benefits but I have never read anything about it used in a real life context. However, perhaps something related to sortition is the concept of visibly random groups [1], which is being tested and used in classroom settings. The paper goes into a lot more detail, but the essential benefit is that the usual cliques and friend groups get disrupted and everyone feels way more comfortable working together with all of their classmates.

[1] http://www.peterliljedahl.com/wp-content/uploads/Visibly-Ran...


South Korea had a very interesting experiment last year. They randomly selected about 500 people to decide what to do about nuclear power in South Korea. They were drafted to spend several months learning about the pros and cons of nuclear power and then voted on what the country should do. This is an extremely interesting model to me.

https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-South-Korean-president...


> Representative democracy, long described as the solution, really isn’t. Representatives are self-interested, just like everyone else, and so we cannot expect them to be purely faithful executors of their respective mandates.

That’s irrelevant isn’t it? You elect based on your own self-interest and expect your candidate to follow theirs. There isn’t a single “what’s best for society” anyway so the pull between competing ideas means the most popular ones win. With a tempering effect from the courts.

What we did not expect was political parties. These are in effect conjoining at least the legislative and executive branches.

Also the electoral college ruined things. Not for the trivial reason you may think but by eliminating runoff elections.


I think the parties part is the key, especially how it has infected the judicial branch as well.

Madison claimed that the defense against the tyranny of the majority was that

"...the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights [...] consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects."

It seems that parties, and particularly blind obedience to the head of the party (whether the president, the speaker, etc), has diminished the "number of interests and sects."

(Note, this is my understanding of Madison, but not as a scholar of US history.)


> What we did not expect was political parties

The founding fathers did. They saw how political factions brought about the bloody English civil wars, and many feared they'd tear the new nation apart. But some people like Jefferson saw them as a part of human nature, a necessary evil.

As of our second president (1797) we had a two-party system. But by 1812, the Democratic-Republican party gained control of both Congress and the presidency, and effectively destroyed the Federalist party, giving us effectively one party control of government (the "Era of Good Feelings" in which nationalism flourished in the afterglow of the war of 1812). But in 1830 the new Democratic Party gained control, and we've had two since then.


There isn’t a single “what’s best for society” anyway

A lot of people believe that though. They see democracy as the key to discovering this idea and bringing everyone on board with it. I’ve heard this position described as “mistake theory,” in contrast to conflict theory [1]. In other words, for some people the goal of government is to find the right balance of incentives and disincentives.

For others, government will always be a power struggle between mutually incompatible interests. Democracy makes little sense in such a situation.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/24/conflict-vs-mistake/


In the U.S. we can trace a lot of the damage back to Citizen's United v F.E.C.

See https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZS.html


The problem is that without Citizens United, all that kept the FEC from banning reporting on political candidates was that the law didn't extend there yet. Because what is a front-page article on a candidate if not an in-kind contribution? Why should the Wall Street Journal be allowed to run an article praising the most recent Republican candidate, if the Sierra Club can't publish a documentary condemning their policies?

People throw a lot of hate towards Citizens United. But the alternative was worse.


There are reasonable solutions to that problem such as extending the FCCs fairness doctrine to print media, etc.


Which was also ruled unconstitutional. And probably still wouldn't fix the Sierra Club documentary issue.


> What we did not expect, and perhaps are now beginning to, is that human beings are endlessly resourceful when personally motivated. Laws, norms, and institutions are static structures, simple obstacles for people to overcome when they really want to.

I wonder whether the staffers of politicians engage in game theoretic modeling, have red teams etc. to try to anticipate these kinds of exploits.


> tyranny of the masses

Seeing California's proposition process, I agree. It also shows how disfunctional representative democracy is.


Interestingly, the ballot prop exists in its current form today because in the early 1900s the southern pacific railroad basically controlled the entire state government. The ballot prop was used to solve the problem of capture of the government by a group of unaccountable elites.


Which works until the 'unaccountable elites' decide that the proposition is unconstitutional. Like Prop 187 [0], a (successful, at ~60% in favor) 1994 proposal to limit services provided by the state to legal residents only. (Agree or disagree with the proposal, "no your constitutional amendment is unconstitutional" leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And yes, this was federal court, but the incoming California governor aborted the appeal)

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994_California_Proposition_18...


While the California proposition process has had some terrible outcomes, it has also been a way for the people to force the legislature to do popular things that career politicians hesitate to do, like prison reform and legalizing weed.

And that's a good thing.


>I think democracy was always problematic. Its original form, direct democracy, was vulnerable to the tyranny of the masses.

Who deemed that a problem? The elites wanting specific decisions out of the masses.


Rule by elites is a problem for 99 percent or the people (though presumably when things get too lopsided, the masses rise up, so elites still need to keep a decent percentage in their favor).

Democracy is a problem for 49 percent of people.


Only if a problem is reduced to a binary state. A lot of folks here on HN work with computers where true is true and false is false and there is nothing in the middle - but that's not how the world works, nearly everything we deal with is non-binary in nature, both SF and Houston have housing regulations, but those regulations are vastly different and if you tried to group housing regulations by severity you'd have to be extremely reductionist to end up with two categories.

This isn't actually unique to democracy and might be less achievable in a democratic system but all of politics is supposed to be about compromise, those housing regulations might get loosened up, but that might lower land values and decrease the amount of spending allocated to law enforcement or park maintenance or a wide array of things.

I'd prefer a short summary of democracy to read closer to:

> Democracy, some people win, some people lose, most people grump.


Questionable. After all, it's often the elites whipping said masses up to fury, a trend which continues today in more systematic fashion.


They have to do that to build a voting bloc: Feign alignment with the disenfranchised masses to win elections. Then enact policies that reinforce their rancor.


The "well fare" system, AKA putting people on the take, and it's latest iteration "universal free money" are exceptionally powerful control structures.


Or vulnerable minorities who make nice scapegoats. See Indonesia, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, etc…

Surely you could have figured this one out?


All those countries had either dictatorships or representative democracies, and masses that give representative a "blank cheque" to do as they please for N years, and where elites lord over those people.

The very opposite of a direct democracy.


I'm pretty sure the Jews have something valuable to say about tyranny of the masses.


Exactly the opposite!

For one, Germany too had a representative system and elites governing. So what happened there wasn't some issue with "direct democracy" and tyrannical masses that a representative democracy would stop.

Second, even within Germany's non-direct-democracy system, the masses last voted for the various parties in 1933 in iirc, the Holocaust started much later, almost 8 years later. In fact, masses wise, Hitler didn't even democratically won 1933 elections. The last time the public had a chance to say anything, was a referendum in 1938, which wasn't on that matter at all (and which result was tampered by the party anyway -- there was "widespread intimidation of voters").

Hitler's Germany is hardly a case against direct democracy and the "tyranny of the masses". If anything, if people voted directly, Hitler might not have even gotten in power -- and his actions would be much more controlled and constrain, as in a direct democracy (ancient Athenian style) people decide for all matters, and can vote someone out of office at anytime, they don't give a blank check to some "representative".

And of course, the same horrible crimes could happen in the total opposite of a direct democracy, a downright dictatorship. And indeed, they did in Stalinist USSR or Maoist China.

So, thus far, we've ruled out representative democracy (Hitler), and dictatorship (Stalin).

Maybe direct democracy looks better now?


You're right, that was a bad example.

So let's look at Athenian-style direct democracy. You have the ecclesia, an assembly where any male citizen can vote on proposals and elections (like a more ad-hoc city council meeting and election in one). You have a bureaucracy of 500 randomly selected men who run the city government. Once a year, you can vote to exile any leader for 10 years. Slavery was big business and women had no rights. There were very few elected officials and they were chosen randomly for the highest offices. Think of random people with conflicting, crazy ideas being voted in and out regularly, as judges, as bureaucrats, as heads of state. There was uneven representation because you had to show up regularly to voice your concern, only about a quarter of the people had this time/convenience luxury, and of course most people weren't very educated, so their opinions and positions were often.... dumb. But anyone who was a male citizen could show up and vote on just about anything, and simple majority was the winnter. The assemblies weren't held accountable to themselves, and could vote to break their own laws. Trials lasted one day; arguments were given, and then an immediate vote by the jurors. Out of 1100 citizens chosen by lot to (effectively) govern, 100 were elected. There were age restrictions and short term limits.

It changed over time. Over 300 years they went from having a king to having 3 Presidents who were aristocrats elected every 10 years, to elected every 1 year, to literally assigning the Presidency to a random citizen by lot, with the military overseen by 10 elected generals with varying degrees of social/political power in addition to total military command. If the people didn't like the job they were doing, they'd be voted out, fined, possibly executed. Originally the 500 civil servants were chosen by class, with the highest class (richest) getting the top positions, and the poorest class couldn't be selected; but later they could be selected and even got paid (partly because the "random selection" just happened to represent a lot of rich dudes). Eventually laws were not just things decided by assemblies, but small pools of lot-assigned citizens who decided what the law would be.

Some researchers have suggested that direct democracy like this wouldn't work over a very large area. It can work in towns and cities, and small city-states, but there's just too many factors for it to be practical in a large scale diverse modern nation.


>Slavery was big business and women had no rights

That was the norm of the era and much much later. Democracy is not supposed to change the norms of its times, it's supposed to assist those who participate to represent themselves better.

Women didn't have a vote well into the 20th century, the poor non land owning people couldn't vote in the US until the 19th century, and slavery was a thing for almost 2 and a half millennia after ancient Athenian democracy, even in much more "enlightened" and "christian love morals" nations. Even representative democracy gurus like the "Founding Fathers" had no qualms with owning slaves. So hardly a thing to blame ancient Athenian democracy for not solving 2.5 millennia in advance.

We should focus on what innovative (or worse) it did bring to the table, not whether in other ways it was compatible with a baseline that held for 2.5 millennia more.

>There were very few elected officials and they were chosen randomly for the highest offices. Think of random people with conflicting, crazy ideas being voted in and out regularly, as judges, as bureaucrats, as heads of state.

That was not a problem, as it is in the modern world. First, life was much more public oriented, so the crazy ideas where tamed by interaction with others (and of course, knowning that you will randomly be replaced in the next term).

>The assemblies weren't held accountable to themselves, and could vote to break their own laws.

That's the whole point, isn't it? That you're not iron-bound to some law you've passed, if you decide it doesn't work.

Even worse, being iron-bound to some law a policitian you've voted for for different reasons (say, because they promised tax breaks), passed on another matter, but you can't do anything, because you only get to vote wholesale (their whole platform, take it or leave it, even if you just strongly like 1-2 parts of it), and can't change anything for 4 years.

>It changed over time.

Again, that's a plus - people can change the system directly, they're not thrown into a rigid system they have no power on.

The rest, it not being perfect, the rich having increased influence (e.g. class playing a role), etc, were artefacts of the power balances of the era. That was the case everywhere, and is still now.

>Some researchers have suggested that direct democracy like this wouldn't work over a very large area. It can work in towns and cities, and small city-states, but there's just too many factors for it to be practical in a large scale diverse modern nation.

Doesn't need to be an exact replica. It could be multi-level (e.g. direct voting at the city/small district level), with national referendums on any major law, etc. Today we also have the option to vote online with crypto etc.


>Democracy is mostly a facade

in the US anyway.

But I agree, the US government isn't functioning 1) as originally intended or 2) for the benefit of the majority of the people it 'represents.'

Although it's worth noting that 'as the forefathers intended' carries more weight than it typically should. Their intentions were mostly based on philosophical guess work, as they didn't have a whole lot of empirical data or existing republics/democracies to base their new government on.

It honestly seems like like they intended the US government to function a lot more similarly to the EU than what we currently have. Although the EU has its own sets of problems, but at the very least seems more representative of the people than the US government.


>Their intentions were mostly based on philosophical guess work, as they didn't have a whole lot of empirical data or existing republics/democracies to base their new government on.

They had plenty of examples to base their design on; democracy had been invented more than a thousand years before the US was formed. Like the vast majority of social institutions though, it was in the end based on fallible guesswork -- people like Thomas Jefferson were explicitly aware of this.

What they could not have planned for was the industrial revolution, corporate proliferation/globalization, the information revolution of today, and the scale of it all.


>it was in the end based on fallible guesswork

Right, that was my point. I wasn't suggesting they invented democracy.


> the US government isn't functioning for the benefit of the majority of the people it 'represents.'

American democracy was never meant to benefit just the majority. Which is why we have undemocratic institutions (such as the Judiciary). Minorities (both long-standing and ephemeral -- e.g. a race of people versus the losing party in an election) exist and should be protected from the majority and should be represented in government. Only long-term, widely-held political thoughts can truly dominate minorities in this country.

The fact that power swings from Republicans, back to Democrats, back to Republicans, and so on, illustrates that there is a very weak majority in this country and no consensus opinion on how to move forward.

> Although the EU has its own sets of problems, but at the very least seems more representative of the people than the US government.

From an outsiders perspective many aspects of the EU seem undemocratic and ad-hoc. Can you explain your view of the EU to me?


>The fact that power swings from Republicans, back to Democrats, back to Republicans, and so on, illustrates that there is a very weak majority in this country

That only holds true if you believe that the two political parties accurately represent the views of the people.

Political views are a spectrum of opinions. Boiling them down to one of two parties means you lose the majority of views. In the end you vote with the party that most closely resembles your opinions, but because the US has two choices, the party you choose doesn't end up representing your beliefs in a lot of cases. It just represents your beliefs more frequently than the other one.


> Minorities ... exist and should be protected from the majority.... Only long-term, widely-held political thoughts can truly dominate minorities in this country.

Indeed, which is why laws should be hard to pass and easy to repeal. The government should not be involved in anything which does not have the support of a clear supermajority. I would personally set the threshold at a minimum of 75-80% support required to enter a new law into the books, and at least 60% to keep it there following a formal challenge. I would also make the challenge automatic after about 20 years to ensure obsolete laws are pruned on a reasonable schedule.


"The fact that power swings from Republicans, back to Democrats, back to Republicans, and so on, illustrates that there is a very weak majority in this country and no consensus opinion on how to move forward."

I think it better illustrates how really these parties are mostly the same. As AOC said, the Democratic party is a center conservative party for the most part. Biden and Trump are a lot more similar than people would like to admit. Just look at Biden's comments about video games and you can see how much of a reactionary conservative he actually is.


I am not so sure it is far from its intentions. The founders knew and expected most politicians operating as fronts for various groups and making bad faith arguments and backroom deals. That is nothing new! Most of what they did was try to prevent the government from being wholly brigaded by one minority perspective, and if so it would be moved along after a short time.

So far, so good, despite warning signs to the contrary. Spielberg's "Lincoln" is particularly clear about displaying this dynamic at the country's most fractured moment.


I don't think they ever intended political parties to be even close to as influential as they are now.


Well they didn't foresee the formation of political parties. That alone upended a great deal of how the different bodies were supposed to interact.

Half of congress is now lead by the executive branch, which completely undermines the checks/balances between them, which is the basis on how the government is supposed to be function. Never mind the judicial branch, which also frequently votes on partisan lines.


Is it a fact that they didn't foresee political parties?

After all, the Whigs were founded in the UK in 1678.


> "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." - H.L. Mencken, The Smart Set (1915)

> Although it's worth noting that 'as the forefathers intended' carries more weight than it typically should. Their intentions were mostly based on philosophical guess work

Until the letter and spirit of the law are ironed out, it's hard to interpret what laws mean, specifically. A lot of rules, like how shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater is not free speech, are essentially interpretations of what the people who wrote the laws intended when they wrote it.

> It honestly seems like like they intended the US government to function a lot more similarly to the EU than what we currently have

That was, and is, the intent of having states be their own, you know, sovereign states, with their own constitutions, laws, and courts. Unlike the EU, the US has a common language, history, and currency, so centralizing and strengthening a federal government is easier, and has some advantages.


Shouting "fire" in a crowded theater is a misquote

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/its-tim...


>Although it's worth noting that 'as the forefathers intended' carries more weight than it typically should. Their intentions were mostly based on philosophical guess work

Not to mention they're just some random people, nation building or not. No rational reason to treat their work like some higher command centuries later.


> Not to mention they're just some random people, nation building or not. No rational reason to treat their work like some higher command centuries later.

We treat their work "like some higher command" because it literally is that. Their work (the Constitution) creates a framework that overrides anything enacted by contemporary legislatures. The reason that's so important is because we often (usually?) don't agree on what rules should be. America has large numbers of people who think guns should be banned completely, and also large numbers of people who think teachers should carry firearms. The Constitution is a meta-rule that mediates those disagreements. Of course, to the extent we don't like any particular meta-rule, we could amend it with a 2/3 vote. We don't do that because we don't agree on what the alternative meta-rule should be!

It's entirely rational for everyone to adhere to those meta-rules. Democrats in New York can't just decide to ignore the Second Amendment because once that's out the window, Republicans in Alabama have no reason to respect Roe v. Wade. Everyone tries to interpret the rules to sanction their specific approach, but declaring that we can just decide for ourselves what the rules will be, without reference to the meta-rules, would lead to total breakdown.


>We treat their work "like some higher command" because it literally is that. Their work (the Constitution) creates a framework that overrides anything enacted by contemporary legislatures.

That's just a choice (not even a popular ie. majority choice, just a choice pre-made by how the founding fathers set up the system, nobody is actually asked about it). It could be totally abolished tomorrow like such things have been countless times in past and present societies.

It's not a natural law or god given framework. So it's in that sense that it shouldn't be treated as that.

You write: "Of course, to the extent we don't like any particular meta-rule, we could amend it with a 2/3 vote. We don't do that because we don't agree on what the alternative meta-rule should be!".

But nobody was asked whether we "do that" not. It's not that we don't do it because "we don't agree on what the alternative meta-rule should be" and thus we are fearful of doing it. It would have been that if we had voted about it, and decided so. But instead, it's not that we don't do it, but that we're not allowed to even vote on doing it or not (well, US citizens aren't allowed that is).

>but declaring that we can just decide for ourselves what the rules will be, without reference to the meta-rules, would lead to total breakdown.

I don't know about that, seems to work for other countries with no holy "founding father" dictums.


> It could be totally abolished tomorrow like such things have been countless times in past and present societies.

It could! There is even a legal mechanism for doing so.

> It's not a natural law or god given framework.

It’s even more important than natural law! It’s actual law.

> But nobody was asked whether we "do that" not. It's not that we don't do it because "we don't agree on what the alternative meta-rule should be" and thus we are fearful of doing it. It would have been that if we had voted about it, and decided so. But instead, it's not that we don't do it, but that we're not allowed to even vote on doing it or not (well, US citizens aren't allowed that is).

You and your friends probably never voted on whether to frame one of your group for murder, but it would be entirely fair for you to assume that such a vote, were it to be taken, would fail.

We proposed and amended the constitution 11 times in the 20th century (not counting one amendment that was proposed in the 18th century). During any of those times, if anyone thought there was support for more sweeping changes, such an amendment could have been proposed.

> I don't know about that, seems to work for other countries with no holy "founding father" dictums.

Those countries aren’t 50 separate sovereignties connected by a basic legal compromise.


>No rational reason to treat their work like some higher command centuries later.

I think the "rational reason" over time really is that no one has come up with better ideas.

My theory is that we look at the past through the filter of a lens, and this lens typically only lets the brightest shine through. Like them or not, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin left behind writings that were objectively superior in utility to many of the other founders. If you ever had the misfortune of being obliged to do an analysis of something like the Lincoln-Douglas transcript, you really can see that one set of ideas is so much better thought out than the other. American blacks had numerous leaders, but the reality was that MLK had ideas that were simply objectively superior to many other black american leaders. Throw in the almost Periclean eloquence of most of the guys I highlighted there, and you end up with a bar that's impossibly high to get over. It takes a generational type of steward to meet that kind of a standard.

Which is why, over time, that standard starts to seem like a "higher command".

You can set new standards that are in opposition to the established ones. However, you really would need well thought out ideas. Those ideas would have to grow the segment of people benefiting from the current ideas in a society. Finally, to top all that off, you'd need a steward for those ideas with a fervent commitment to them, an almost Socratic wisdom, and a Periclean eloquence. All these conditions are difficult to meet. In fact, it's only natural that all these conditions will rarely be met simultaneously.

On balance I think this is good. I mean, at the other extreme we'd have the ideas of some user named MonkeyAnal on Youtube being taken as seriously as the ideas of Jefferson. Stability demands Jefferson's ideas carry the weight in that situation. At the same time, it is possible to attack Jefferson's ideas and change the standards he set. You just have to be Lincoln writing to Ripon, and not MonkeyAnal ranting on Youtube. Again, an almost impossibly high bar, I'll grant you that, but at the same time that bar provides certain safeguards.


The EU is theoretically more representative than the US government, by the processes involved in Parliament members elections, however voter turnout is low and falling (down to 42% in 2009 and 2014). Compare with ~56% in the US during Presidential elections, and ~50% for House of Representatives elections. In the EU it climbed back to 50% in 2019 when voters massively bumped up parties not so pro-Europe (Farage, Le Pen and Salvini). It seems to me that, as the EU is less transparent and accountable than most member nations's governments, many voters lost interest then are now actively trying to (reform/destroy/escape from) it.


> But I agree, the US government isn't functioning 1) as originally intended or 2) for the benefit of the majority of the people it 'represents.'

I disagree, and I think you need to take a look at three sets of poll results to understand why. (For all the poll results, keep in mind that voters skew more conservative than the overall population.)

1) A recent Gallup poll shows that the vast majority of Americans prefer free market to government solutions: https://news.gallup.com/poll/257639/four-americans-embrace-f.... Only in two areas did more people think the government should be primarily responsible: environmental protection, and online privacy. Even for healthcare, 53% though the free market should be primarily responsible, versus 44% for the government.

2) Since 1965, Gallup polling has shown that Americans consistently list "big government" as the "biggest threat facing the country in the future." https://news.gallup.com/poll/201629/americans-big-government...

Aside from a brief dip during 9/11, a majority of the country listed "big government" as the "biggest threat" since the late 1980s. Even during the 2009 recession, "big business" peaked at 32%, and is usually around 25%. In 2012, 72% of Americans listed big government as the biggest threat, and only 21% listed big business.

3) According to a 2014 Reason-Rupe survey, the majority of millennials want a "smaller government with less services and lower taxes." https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/assets/db/140488628178.... See chart on page 47. 57% of millennials want lower taxes and less services, versus 41% who want more taxes and more services.

In short, Americans distrust government, trust businesses, and don't want to pay high taxes. That's pretty much explains why we have the government we do. Half the country (Republicans) doesn't trust the government at all, and will push back on any new government programs or taxes. Out of the other half (Democrats), you've got several factions that are only loosely connected. A large faction comprises wealthier white progressives, for whom issues like gay marriage and abortion


Related podcast on free market healthcare in the US (Oklahoma Surgical Center) - which publishes prices online and hasn't raised them in 20 years:

http://www.econtalk.org/keith-smith-on-free-market-health-ca...


> Aside from a brief dip during 9/11, a majority of the country listed "big government" as the "biggest threat" since the late 1980s. ...

In part that's due to the incessant, implacable drumbeat from the you're-not-the-boss-of-me right wing (and their cheering sections in the wealthy and wannabe-wealthy) that government is always the problem and never part of the solution; that if we just leave people alone they'll act virtuously and civically, and so the invisible hand would supposedly take care of everything if we would just let it. Which of course is delusional.


Isn't this a little like saying "in part that's due to the fact that conservatives are persuasive"?


Yes. But I think you can also attribute some of it to “the rich* have weaponized conservative politics.”

They have the most leverage so a minority opinion can show outsized results.

*apply all appropriate modifiers about not all rich etc


I think this misperceives the nature of the American polity. 20-35% support secession of their state from the union, depending on region. https://images.app.goo.gl/8fwmTm44Q55ReEV76. For comparison, the Basque region of Spain is at 17%. That’s certainly not a position advocated by “the rich.” Is it so hard to believe that a big chunk of the rest are skeptical of big government?

Distrust of the government is deeply baked into American culture. Blaming it on “the rich” effectively denies that culture can be a thing (or assumes it can be easily constructed given sufficient monetary resources).


A related example might be the prevalence of downstate Illinoisans who support "seceding" from Chicago, despite the fact that downstate Illinois gets something like $3 for every $1 it pays in taxes, and Chicago less than $1.


How many dollars is your freedom worth? I don't think they distrust big government because it is receiving too much money.


Where's their leverage? In media, which is dominated by liberals? Or in academia, which is dominated by them even more overwhelmingly? Where exactly are all these powerful conservative voices? Is Fox News and Breitbart so much better at getting their message across than almost everything else?


Fox and Breitbart tell their audiences what some (sadly, too many) want to hear about Those Wicked / Lazy / Stupid Others.


> Isn't this a little like saying "in part that's due to the fact that conservatives are persuasive"?

At the risk of the No True Scotsman fallacy: Today's right wingers are more ethno-nationalist than Burkean conservative; they're persuasive mainly to others who are predisposed to believe the ethno-nationalist message and in the supposed superiority of their own in-group, which in the U.S. of course is mainly white Christian males.

(For context: I was an old-fashioned conservative Republican for most of my life. But then I worked my way around to the view that a corollary to the First Commandment is: Face the facts — live in the world wrought by the Creator, not the one that you wish existed. Then there's the notion that we're all created co-creators, to borrow a term used by Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner [0], working in the service of what you might call the Great Project, the continuing creation of a universe through natural processes, with the Summary of the Law being the two key rules for our effective participation [1], not unlike Conway's Game of Life [2]. Finally, life's experiences persuaded me of the wisdom of John Rawls's veil of ignorance [3], which incidentally seems to tie in nicely with the Golden Rule. All those things moved me decidedly away from conservatism, and eventually out of today's GOP entirely.)

[0] https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanac...

[1] https://www.questioningchristian.com/2007/02/another_way_to_...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life

[3] https://www.questioningchristian.com/2019/10/revisiting-rawl...


As I keep saying, we're using 18th century social technology to solve 21st century problems. Thus we are treated to spectacles like the Chief Justice of the United States reminding everyone that that the US Senate is 'the world's greatest deliberative body' literally at the midnight hour following a day of blatant partisan hackery punctuated with ceremonial roll calls, whose outcome is well known in advance and whose architects make sarcastic comments on their role in the process.

For the first time in history, we have technology that would allow every resident of the US to both receive transmit information more or less instantaneously; such delays as exist are not between our ears, nor do we lack for access to long-term knowledge or choices for how to share it. Vast libraries of knowledge fit in a pocket and participation in national conversations is not merely possible but expected; our every impulse and idea is recorded weighted, traded, and incorporated into a cathedral of civic participation.

At the center of this wondrous contrivance the national rituals are conducted, like psychic engines of historical propulsion whose operation is sacrosanct even as it propels us toward another iceberg, and woe to those who interrupt the comforting rhythms with anxious facts.


Democracy is more alive today than it ever has been in history. What you are seeing is democracy. I think in the west we've been taught that 'democracy' is by definition good, and therefore anything bad is 'not democracy'. But the reality is that people are voting for this.


Well, no, actually, people aren't voting for this.

Many people aren't voting at all, because they're excluded based on felony convictions, inability to meet paperwork requirements for voter IDs, etc.

Gerrymandering is extremely effective. The electoral college isn't intentional gerrymandering, but it has the same effect as gerrymandering: two of the last three presidents lost the popular vote. And where it's intentional, it's even more effective. In North Carolina, Republicans won 77% of congressional seats with just over 50% of the popular vote in 2018. In Ohio, Republicans won 75% of congressional seats with 52% of the popular vote in 2018.

In most areas, single vote per election systems prevent third parties from being viable. There's some evidence this encourages extremism as well: moderates aren't able to sufficiently differentiate themselves, causing vote splitting.

And after all that, if they're still not able to win unfairly, electioneers can just go into the electronic voting machine and change the votes.

And even if you manage to get the person the majority wanted to be in office into office, there's no guarantee that they'll do what they said they'd do that caused people to vote for them. I know lots of people (myself included) who view being forced to buy health insurance or pay a fine as a major betrayal by Obama.


> Many people aren't voting at all

Choosing not to vote is a vote.

> because they're excluded based on felony convictions, inability to meet paperwork requirements for voter IDs, etc.

Felony disenfranchisement hardly contradicts my point. And anyway, voter suppression and felony disenfranchisement are at all time lows historically, so my point stands just fine.

> Gerrymandering is extremely effective. The electoral college isn't intentional gerrymandering, but it has the same effect as gerrymandering: two of the last three presidents lost the popular vote. And where it's intentional, it's even more effective. In North Carolina, Republicans won 77% of congressional seats with just over 50% of the popular vote in 2018. In Ohio, Republicans won 75% of congressional seats with 52% of the popular vote in 2018.

Sure. My point isn't that our democracy is perfectly implemented. My point is that its current incarnation is its most democratic yet. Until Obama, candidates were basically selected by the fiat of elite groups. Obama, and then Trump, up-ended that system, making our democracy more democratic than it ever has been. For better or worse.


Choosing not to vote is an action - it's not a vote, and, to be honest, it's a rather stupid action if you have the freedom to choose a different action.

Yea America is broken, the two party system is broken - so start voting strategically for third parties that actually represent plans to fix the system - no your candidate won't be elected but you'll both pressure existing candidates and make new candidates eligible that endorse the voting reform you want to see.

I think, in this current age, we've actually got some decent mainstream contenders with solid voting reform plans and maybe, if no one who endorses your other values endorses those plans, then you should vote third party to encourage them to adopt them as well.

Also, bear in mind that voting for a third party is essentially not expressing your opinion when it comes to policy (assuming there is a candidate that aligns with your value) so this advice is pretty much solely aimed at those who would choose not to vote - also don't vote for Mickey Mouse, it's possibly the least effective way to protect the system because nobody cares about those votes.


> > Many people aren't voting at all

> Choosing not to vote is a vote.

Ugh, seriously, you didn't even bother to copy/paste the entire sentence? This is not how an intelligent conversation happens. Please don't do this.

> Sure. My point isn't that our democracy is perfectly implemented. My point is that its current incarnation is its most democratic yet. Until Obama, candidates were basically selected by the fiat of elite groups. Obama, and then Trump, up-ended that system, making our democracy more democratic than it ever has been. For better or worse.

Okay. I'm not sure I agree with your point, but if that's your point, who cares? It's a point without implication: even if things really are better than they ever have been, we still shouldn't stop trying to improve things. "Better than ever before" is still not "good enough".

And that's if we accept that your point is even true. I don't think that either Obama or Trump are examples of real populism based on ideals. Both are polished, effective facades intended to appeal to certain groups.


> Ugh, seriously, you didn't even bother to copy/paste the entire sentence? This is not how an intelligent conversation happens. Please don't do this.

I broke the sentence apart by points, and responded to each separately.

> Okay. I'm not sure I agree with your point, but if that's your point, who cares? It's a point without implication: even if things really are better than they ever have been, we still shouldn't stop trying to improve things. "Better than ever before" is still not "good enough".

My point is that if you think "what we need is more democracy" you're going to be very disappointed in the results.


> I broke the sentence apart by points, and responded to each separately.

No, you didn't. The sentence was one point, and your "response" to the first half of the sentence is only seems like a response if you ignore the second half of the sentence. I'm not going to dignify this silliness: you quoted me out of context, and have yet to respond to what I actually said in context.

> My point is that if you think "what we need is more democracy" you're going to be very disappointed in the results.

That wasn't remotely clear from your previous post, but it's pretty easy to show that you have no basis for saying that.

1. I don't buy that this is the most democratic point in US history.

2. The US certainly is not the best example of a democracy, and better examples of democracy have gotten better results.


> No, you didn't. The sentence was one point, and your "response" to the first half of the sentence is only seems like a response if you ignore the second half of the sentence. I'm not going to dignify this silliness: you quoted me out of context, and have yet to respond to what I actually said in context.

I responded to the second part of your point right afterwards. I responded to the totality of what you said. Read it again.

You may not have intended for them to be broken out as I did, which would just be to say you didn't intend to say "Many people choose not to vote" in isolation. That's fine - I still responded to the second part of what you said in conjunction with the first in the very next point.

> That wasn't remotely clear from your previous post, but it's pretty easy to show that you have no basis for saying that.

>1. I don't buy that this is the most democratic point in US history.

You "showing" that I have no basis for that is you saying that you don't buy it? Democracy is the manifest will of the electorate. I gave specific supporting reasons for my point here, you could try to attack those if you had an argument.

> 2. The US certainly is not the best example of a democracy, and better examples of democracy have gotten better results.

I didn't say that it was. But there are many examples of 'democracy' in the world, with a great many different outcomes. Democracies are only as good as the will of their constituents.


> Choosing not to vote is a vote.

Abstaining is not voting. I look forward to the day we have a national election holiday, when the US gets around to being serious about democracy.

> our democracy more democratic than it ever has been. For better or worse.

I agree wholeheartedly. The US public are upset to see changes (as they always have been), but don't seem to understand it's of the population's own making in recent presidential elections.


The original democracy was actually designed to appoint random representatives. What we are seeing is not democracy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition


Or, I want people in power that didn't want to be in power.


Because we aren't selecting random people from a district, we aren't a democracy? That seems like a strange opinion to have, especially since the definition of democracy is fairly vague, covering basically any system where the people have the authority over their government. And I'd say electing Obama and then Trump, over the screaming temper tantrums of the two separate parties, is good evidence the people still hold authority.


I don't agree. There are many different ways to implement a democracy. The choices aren't "democracy as it currently exists in the US" and "authoritarianism/monarchy/oligarchy/everything else". I also don't think people are voting for the current political architecture, or would be capable of voting for any other.


I didn't say that it was the only way to do it. What I said is that the US is currently more democratic than it ever has been. Obama, and later Trump, are the most truly democratic presidents we've ever had. They were chosen by the people, without regard to the traditional elite process that more or less determines the nominee.


In what way have past presidents been determined by elites more so than they have now? The US doesn't really seem any more or less democratic than it's been for the previous 100 years.

I agree this is what democracy looks like, though. Demagogues like Trump (if one agrees that he's a demagogue; many surely disagree) are a likely eventual outcome of it, though they also have an advantage in almost every other system.


> In what way have past presidents been determined by elites more so than they have now? The US doesn't really seem any more or less democratic than it's been for the previous 100 years.

The primary process has been dominated by elite party members basically since the inception of the country.


> The primary process has been dominated by elite party members basically since the inception of the country.

Having a “primary process” is a actually a very new, more democratic change; it hasn't existed since the inception of the country; historically, Presidential nominations conducted directly and exclusively by insiders; originally usually by the party’s Congressional caucus, later (starting mid-19th Century and into the latter third of the 20th) in party nominating conventions whose members were chosen exclusively (or, toward the end of the period, overwhelmingly predominantly) by insiders at the state parties. Primaries were introduced by some states in the late 19th Century but didn't become the norm until after 1968, as a response first within the Democratic Party to the controversy over the nomination of Eugene McCarthy by Democratic insiders, and just after that a reaction by the Republican Party to Democrats opening up their nominating process.


That is all entirely consistent with my point though.


I get what you mean in the larger sense, but here that would suggest there are masses of people who voted for poisoned water, which no one would do. You can certainly argue the polarization of US/ democratic politics in the time of the Internet has led to one side adopting a nihilism where they would prefer to die living "The way things were" than accept inclusive change.

And yes, I am definitely biased.


> I get what you mean in the larger sense, but here that would suggest there are masses of people who voted for poisoned water, which no one would do.

It may also suggest that they see things differently than you do, and don't believe that they have voted for poisoned water.

> You can certainly argue the polarization of US/ democratic politics in the time of the Internet has led to one side adopting a nihilism where they would prefer to die living "The way things were" than accept inclusive change.

I think that's an extremely reductionist, and honestly objectively false characterization of what's happened. And it is that very perspective that has caused them to do this in the first place. These people had real and genuine concerns that were not being addressed by anyone other than Trump.

Globalization hollowed out the middle of the country for the benefit of the coasts. This has been more or less the explicit economic agenda of the last 30 years. We can certainly debate whether this has been a net positive for the world, but there is no debate that it has been a net negative for the middle states in the US that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.


Obligatory Churchill quotation.


Democracy can only work when the voters are interested in making life better for _everyone_ and not just themselves.

The "fuck you, got mine" mentality that has developed is what will cause democracy to fail.


Lots of hyperbole there.

That mentality is more or less unique to one large generation in the US, it's not universal and not perpetual.

Also, there have been democracies for more than a thousand years that have withstood this sort of thing.


Which ones? (Genuinely interested, not being snarky)


I am betting Accujack was referring to boomers. And in particular, those of the conservative persuasion.

I could be wrong, though.


I think Arethuza might have been asking which democracies have survived the self interest that was being discussed? (I assume s/he is looking for democracies that didn't end in chopped heads.)


That may be. The downside of ambiguous questions. I made my assumption based on the "not being snarky" qualification.

And even then, got downvoted for it ;-). People identify so strongly with their political party.


> The underlying failed assumption in our representative democracy was that representatives would represent their constituents' interests and people would elect people who would represent their interests, all of course with hopeful protections for minorities. Obviously, this doesn't work

This doesn’t seem so obvious to me. PFAS is a perfect example. It’s used in literally everything from clothing to food containers, because it’s an engineering marvel. I want my elected official to push back on people who want to jump the gun issuing radically lower guidelines for PFAS unless we have rock solid evidence not only linking them to harm, but quantifying that harm in relation to the benefits they provide. I like my non stick pans and stain resistant clothes and carpets, and as an Asian man who can expect, statistically, to live well into his 80s in the United States, I want a concrete assessment of how much longer I’d be living if we took a different approach to PFAS. And I fully accept that DuPont will have to be the one to tell the government: “hey, we use this stuff in a whole bunch of products people like”—because who else is going to articulate that essential part of the story?

Regulating this stuff is complex. For example, banning leaded gasoline was undoubtedly a win. (Which the EPA did after extensive cost benefit analysis.) By contrast, the dangers of DDT, which was and continues to be banned, probably we overstated: https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/11/magazine/what-the-world-n...


The argument against term limits is that it empowers the ‘consultants’ and advisors who have the historic and institutional knowledge with none of the public scrutiny or oversight.


>Democracy is mostly a facade anymore, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong, we haven't gone completely south to a dictatorship

That's because it isn't needed.

If the elite can get the same benefits with less harsh methods, why go all dictatorship?

E.g. it's not like free speech by most has any consequence to their profits/tactics, so it's fine to exist. It's mere idle talk.

When it gets dangerous, it's jail time (e.g. Snowden, Manning), censorship, character assassination (of whistleblowers, etc), firing, etc.


Campaign duration limits run into the same free-speech issues that campaign finance limits run into. It's all well and good to restrict what the office holder is doing, but how do you stop "unrelated third parties" from "expressing their genuine political beliefs" without simultaneously stopping real unrelated third parties from actually expressing their genuine political beliefs?


>> The underlying failed assumption in our representative democracy was that representatives would represent their constituents' interests ...

For that to have a chance at working we need to get the outside influence out of government.

I propose that each state ban political ads funded by anyone outside the state - including the national parties. If you dont live there, your input is not wanted.

Another problem is that we ship our representatives off to Washington, away from us and surrounded by outside influencers. Not sure what to do about that, but it's a recipe for not representing the people who they ostensibly should.


america uses a first past the post voting system. Please don't assume that every form of democracy has the same problems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-past-the-post_voting


Absolutely! Other forms of voting systems have new and unique ways of failing.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/voting-methods/#VotiPara


Interesting article. Thnx for the link.


I generally think we are seeing the the sunset of a “representative” democracy in the United States.

Fake News and propaganda is unchecked and rampant. Public intelligence and understanding is at an all time low. Income inequality is at an all time high. Which leads to millions of Americans making their mind up based on emotions and not facts.

“Build a Wall” is not a logical decision.

“Abuse of power is not impeachable” is not a logical decision.

“Socialism is evil” as you collect your Social Security check and rely on Medicare is not a logical decision.

I fully expect another decade or more of racial unrest and outright politically sanctioned violence in the US as mass migrations pick up due to climate change and unrest caused by a resurgence of Nazism and “not one of us” movements.


"If by "democracy" we mean the form which the Third Estate as such wishes to impart to public life as a whole, it must be concluded that democracy and plutocracy are the same thing under the two aspects of wish and actuality, theory and practice, knowing and doing. It is the tragic comedy of the world-improvers' and freedom-teachers' desperate fight against money that they are ipso facto assisting money to be effective. Respect for the big number—expressed in the principles of equality for all, natural rights, and universal suffrage—is just as much a class-ideal of the unclassed as freedom of public opinion (and more particularly freedom of the press) is so. These are ideals, but in actuality the freedom of public opinion involves the preparation of public opinion, which costs money; and the freedom of the press brings with it the question of possession of the press, which again is a matter of money; and with the franchise comes electioneering, in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. The representatives of the ideas look at one side only, while the representatives of money operate with the other. The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money."

"...the Jacobins had destroyed the old obligations of the blood and so had emancipated money; now it stepped forward as lord of the land. There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, in the directions indicated by money, and for the time being permitted by money—and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact. The great movement which makes use of the catchwords of Marx has not delivered the entrepreneur into the power of the worker, but both into that of the Bourse."

- O. Spengler, "The Decline of the West", Vol. 2 (1928)


What a fantastic verse. I have never read this author.


I suspect it is a problem of information density and control that create essentially a societal logistical hell in decision making. There are too many damn things packed together for a ballot in the US's case for issues and any capacity for long term thinking is disturbingly /rare/ in general which means the foregone and horrifying get procrastinated without issue until somebody gets hurt - hell even a while afterwards. And that even those who attempt to practice long term thinking are generally pretty horrible at extrapolation and planning for side effects of "success" because that is a pretty hard task.

Direct democracy has downright massive logistical issues for everyone to learn sufficiently capable of being informed on the issues while adding more may diffuse power it also diffuses responsibility. Simply subdividing more doesn't solve problems as not only would it result in squabbling fiefdoms instead of concern for the whole and lose the advantages of large scale.

Even if we had a known and proven better solution getting it implemented over the status quo would be fiendishly difficult to bootstrap or carry /massive/ side effects like say literal Civil War or Coups and the latter usually make things worse since the winners are based upon their ability to do violence instead of their ability towards any constructive pursuit let alone to govern.

Compound that with the evolution of emotional manipulators - the demagogs and propagandists as an electorally dominant force and every special interest after their own piece of the pie. An educated populace helps as always of course but that is a very long term project. It is a "plant trees and decarbonize 70 years ago" sort of solution.

The kicker is that despite the paragraphs of advantages it is still better than dictatorships and oligarchies. Their bread ans butter are lies, cohesion and the ability to rationalize absurdities to make travesties.


I agree with your comment, but just for the sake of the argument, let's look at it like this.

The elected officials are also responsible for the functioning of the society in general. Sometimes you need quite the acrobatics to achieve that, I suppose. In this very case, what would happen if this report would circulate widely and become common knowledge among the population in a short time?

One outcome would be that safety measures and/or alternative water sources would be sought after. One other possibility is that no such short-term solutions are in sight, meaning, you, as the "democratically-elected officeholder" have no way of realistically supply clean water to tens of millions of people. I would bet chaos and panic would ensure. We're talking about health-related problems, and not only about the water having a bad taste.

So, in that view, I suppose that not every truth can come out to light. Some truths can simply be unbearable or have no immediate solution even though the people demand a solution to it. One other alternative might be to promise, publicly, that it will be solved. The years will pass, another promise, another elected official, and on and on.


This truth came to light and the world did not end. I appreciate your point, but I do not think the motivation behind suppressing this report was the benevolent desire to "protect the population from unreasonable panic or overreaction".


More importantly, based on this article, we literally do not know anything. How bad is this really? Is the draft report accurate ? Etc etc. let’s not jump to conclusions, let’s just be comfortable admitting we don’t know what’s going on.


Well, imagine that. I'm from Eastern Europe. How bad can it be around here since we don't get any kind of info or measurements? You can just hope for the best!


Lots of people think it's fine because it a way to "spite the libs", i.e. if it makes liberals angry, it must actually be a good thing:

https://cospringsrealestatenews.com/running-behind-the-ddt-t...

>I remember them with great fondness, and I’ve survived for over 60 years after breathing those fumes…

>We are all alive and kicking well. I have NEVER heard of anyone becoming sick, due to DDT. The reading I have done, showed the woman that declared it bad, never did any research regarding DDT. They took it off the market without proof. I am not a fond follower of the EPA. I think they are a complete mess. They would ban Milk if they had their way. I am all for bringing DDT back. It was a great product.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/05/business/energy-environme...

>“Why don’t you go live in Sweden and get the heck out of our country,” Mr. Blue wrote.” I will continue to roll coal anytime I feel like and fog your stupid eco-cars.”


I don't know. I've always scoffed at the Socialist paradise of Western Europe, but I've changed my mind after traveling to Denmark a few months ago. The government employs a lot of people, and they seem to make sure that they themselves work for the public good. The public. You know, people who all live in the country. Everything is clean and the trains are on time.

Let's not bundle everyone under "Democracy". Our system is becoming badly broken for many reasons.

* Citizens United (didn't even seem like a good idea at the time)

* Gerrymandering

* The Electoral College (seemed like a good idea at the time)

* Self-interest vs. principals and very basic patriotism

The latter one really bugs me. We would benefit a lot as a nation if everyone had to go through mandatory 6-week bootcamp. Not even service. Just hold a rifle next to your fellow citizen for a bit, and share some food in the chow hall. See how it is out there. Some team building at a national level.

Because, guess what. The Russians have a team. The Chinese have a team. We don't have one. We have a bunch of profiteers in Congress waiting for even bigger lobby and board windfalls after they are done.

This will only get much worse.


Why should we have to force socialize people in a context of killing others? We force socialize people in plenty of other contexts like 12 years of schooling, most of which is mandatory. That hasn't gotten people to play in a team. Why would six weeks be any different? The only thing that will come out of mandatory boot camp is resentment and hate towards the government, institutions, and people that demand it.

My parents and other relatives of their generation grew up in the type of culture you describe. They risked their lives and risked torture to run away from it. The six months of boot camp certainly didn't make the society more cohesive or the make the people trust each other. No one wanted to be there and people were still afraid of themselves, the police, and the government. If it wasn't on a different continent, in a different era, I'd think I'm talking about the US. Needless to say, forcing people to socialize against their will does not lead to social cohesion or patriotism. It leads to resentment. Especially when you force it on people who think that patriotism really is for scoundrels.


I’d argue that 12 years of schooling does get people to play as a team, it’s just that the team is smaller and more local. If I grow up in a smallish town in South Dakota I will go to school with and know people who mostly look like me. I won’t meet someone from a big coastal city and get to learn their worldview and how it was shaped. I won’t (probably) experience what it feels like to be in a minority role (as in race, political belief, etc). I will, however, grow up with people and maintain longer relationships with them. I will vote and act in the interest of my community’s shared beliefs.

I also think there are other intangible benefits to conscripted service aside from exposing people to a wide diversity of their country. We were able to end the Vietnam war because we had a draft. We’ve been at war with terror for 19 years with no end in sight. Too few families are affected now and the nation doesn’t have the will to stop this forever war.

I do generally agree that socializing in the context of killing people is probably not ideal. That said, a very small part of the military actually kills people. The vast majority of the military is either in a support role, or do not find themselves in a situation where they actually need to kill someone. So, I want to discount your first paragraph a bit. That said, I support the idea of a 2 year mandatory service which unlocks benefits like tuition (university, trade, etc). I don’t think that service needs to only be military - I would happily revive the Civilian Conservation Corps, use the Peace Corps, etc to fulfill that service.


I think if we had a draft we wouldn't be in all these wars but we also wouldn't have much of an army. Short of an actual attack against the US like pearl harbor I cannot see people actually showing up. When you have millions of draft dodgers out in the open, what can you do? It's impossible to even arrest them all. Wouldn't even be worth trying. I think our military leaders know this. That's why we have no draft and likely why we'll never have one again.

Why for for a country that doesn't even care enough about you to provide you healthcare? Fuck that.


If you raise a generation that is taught public service, and most importantly, sacrifice, perhaps we'd have medical care.

And the bar for sacrifice nowadays is seriously low. Six weeks of your time for your country, where you do not risk your life, is somehow a big ask.

Look at these divas in the Senate right now, walking out of impeachment proceedings where they are the jurors. You see, it's too much of a sacrifice. They are not vibing with the whole thing, dude.


I'd say that things that are worth sacrificing for dwindled and disappeared first, then the will to sacrifice went. Can't blame people for not wanting to sacrifice when all the good things worth sacrificing for are gone. Maybe if we start focusing on fixing problems at home rather than forcing kids that don't know better to prepare for a war they'll never fight, we might be able to create a society that has things that are worth fighting for. This all comes from the top down. It's the American oligarchs, after all, who have taken almost everything from most Americans, including health, education, and hope for the future. Can't blame regular people for not caring anymore in a society that doesn't care about them. No amount of forced socialization is going to fix that.


I didn't say conscription. Basic 6 weeks training with zero obligation to serve. I would imagine it would actually solve the recruitment struggles as many people will love it and join right away.


I can't see the appeal of being forced to do anything for six weeks. Not to mention that from the descriptions of boot camp I've read, it's a dehumanizing, depersonalizing experience. Even if I did enjoy it, I would resent essentially being made a slave against my will and being forced into it. I think that's a very common human response to being forced to do something.


You are "forced" to get a job after school. Few of us like it, but we have to do it. Also, an experience like this could potentially develop some humility in privileged human bio-waste. Jared Kushner comes to mind.


They meant "why _military_ conscription, because that's a _military_ context".


> Just hold a rifle next to your fellow citizen for a bit

But, importantly, next to a random smattering of citizens from diverse locations, not next to a bunch of dudes from your neighborhood.

Xenophobia usually doesn't survive exposure to the xenos.

> The Chinese have a team. We don't have one.

We're a confederation of states. That legacy has really, really had a lasting impact. But IMO, after the outcome of the civil war, we should have formalized that we were one nation first and foremost, and that our states were nothing but administrative subdivisions. But that opinion is on much shakier footing than some of my other opinions, so don't ask me to defend it. :-)


This is pretty much the end state for Neoliberalism (which has been the prevailing mode for both parties). There's such an emphasis on protecting business and capital, and almost none on protecting the people.


In your view, what happens to the people when business and capital fail?


Temporary ripples, but mainly not much. What happens? Opportunities for people and local geographies, innovation. Words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb ring in my head. Failure is healthy to the overall health of a system. When you hide risk and prop up failure, it blows up spectacularly. Never has there been so many bureaucrats benefiting from the benefit of the true harbingers of innovation.


The business disappears, people turn to a competitor or create new ones if the need is still there.

Business are allowed to fail, that's healthy for the overall system.


You are presenting an extreme. Business and capital will not fail if there is more emphasis on the people. We won't turn into Venezuela or communist Russia if business doesn't get 100% its way.


The same thing that's been happening for thousands of years -- we adapt. We gather together and support each other.

Capitalism wasn't the dominant mode for most of human history, and Neoliberal capitalism especially so (coming to prominence in the US in the 70s).

There are other ways to organize work/workers, for example into workers co-ops which have been shown to be efficient even at scales of billions of dollars of annual revenue.


They turn to populist leaders for help. Usually this means some variation of either socialism or fascism.


...and it's both Democrats and Republicans to boot! This seems like it should be an issue that someone can run on.


It just goes to show the priorities of the electorate. If one assumes people vote in their own best interest, the question then becomes, what are they interested in? Maybe not the physical health of themselves or their children...


Nobody runs on a platform of contaminating the drinking water and then covering it up, so you can hardly say that this outcome represents the interests of the electorate.


Plus there are a million things to worry about and everyone prioritizes the issues differently. I don’t want to drink water that will give me cancer in 50 years, but if the only candidate running on a platform to clean the water also wants to [insert some policy I strongly disagree with], they’re probably not going to get my vote.

Not to mention the entire USA, all 330 million of us, only get ONE president, each state only gets ONE governor, etc. Its hard to say “the US doesn’t want [blank]” when all of the candidates policies need to match such a large and diverse group of people.


Sure, but what about The Economy?


"Son, it doesn't matter if the oceans turn to acid, the land turns to desert, millions of species go extinct, or if billions of people suffer and die. All that matters is we make that line go up and I will get my bonus, we need to do everything we can to keep that line going up."

https://twitter.com/thefaceberg/status/1030550915348975616


Maintaining the status quo is an incredibly valuable position for democratically elected politicians to have. Joe Biden’s entire campaign is built on “I won’t change anything except spruce up the ACA a bit.”

Representative democracy involves various groups focusing attention on one issue or the other. When it comes to things like drinking water or food, people’s fear of “impure” food can cause public panic vastly out of proportion to the actual problem. Nobody is thinking “hmm, would I give up stain resistant carpets and clothing and non-stick pans for a negligible lower risk of getting testicular cancer?”

PFAS are, at this point, a cause for study, not a cause for dramatic action: https://www.consumerreports.org/toxic-chemicals-substances/p...

The two most studied, PFOA and PFOS are no longer produced in the US. The others are not well studied:

> But the health effects of the PFAS chemicals used instead of PFOS and PFOA are less known. As these newer chemicals accumulate in the drinking water in some areas of the U.S., scientists and state officials are trying to determine how they affect humans. At least some of them can be eliminated from the body more quickly than PFOS and PFOA and may be less toxic, according to DeWitt—but they still might cause problems, she cautions.

PFAS chemicals have been in wide use since the 1950s. Clearly they are reasonably safe. The question is whether the potential health benefits of reducing their use outweigh the cost of losing their advantages.

Here, there was no “cover up.” Nobody was hiding the measurements of the levels of PFAS in water systems. The question was whether the DHHS should issue a guideline that would set the PFAS target at a level 1/10th as high as what is present in many public water systems is not something that necessarily should happen. After all, how are they deriving that guideline? When you have exposure dependent chemicals, you can’t set the limits at the lowest levels where no harmful effects are detectable. (Remember how everything in California has a cancer warning?) There needs to be a global optimization process that balances benefits and costs. In that context, it was entirely reasonable and proper to refrain from setting such a guideline at this time.

(PFAS are just one example of things that trigger a panic completely out of proportion to actual risk. Another example is alcohol during pregnancy. The medical community in the US has taken the position, with the support of the government, that the only acceptable level is 0. That is even though women in Western Europe routinely drink moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, with seemingly little ill effect.)


This isn’t true when you look at the manufacturing sites in WV.


This sounds very much like something communist Russia did during the Chernobyl incident. Why are our governments so corrupt?


Power corrupts.


Nitpicking: Chernobyl happened in Ukraine, so initially communists in Ukrainian Soviet Republic covered things up, not Russian. But I imagine they did consult with Central Party Buro in Moscow.


They did. RGB prevented people from leaving the city or from people within the city to use phones to call out.


> "cover up the existence of poisonous chemicals in your drinking water" is a viable position for a democratically-elected officeholder to have.

I'm not sure if you actually read the article, but the EPA has known about this since 2001. Attempting to make this all about the Trump administration is quite myopic.

From the article:

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA said it has helped states and communities address PFAS and that it is working to put limits on the two main chemicals but did not give a timeline.

If you want to blame someone, blame the EPA for not doing anything for over 17 years.


I was referring to this quote from the parent comment (and the article): "In 2018 a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published."


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