The state of California has a Green Chemistry Initiative “to establish the blueprint for keeping California in the forefront of protecting health and the environment in a robust economy.” They are trying to reinvent how to manage chemicals via blog. What I fear they will wind up with is a monstrous new regulatory regime on top of the already Byzantine array of chemical regulations. Topics now include California doing its own version of Europe’s REACH. Here’s my blog contribution:

California should focus on 1) building knowledge needed to make better life cycle based decisions and 2) supporting entrepreneurship to implement advances. See Part II of my comments below.

But first, a satiric set of steps for the “final solution” for California:

I. Creating The Country Of Green California

1. Secede from the US and form the country of Green California (GC). The country’s motto will be “Sustainability Above All.”
2. Prohibit manufacture and import of any product without prior registration, review and authorization by the government of GC. A base set of test data is required – as in REACH – with the possibility of additional testing as the reviewers may want. Only products deemed to be “green” will be approved for use for a period of two years, after which a new review and probably additional testing will be required since the definition of “green” will have changed in two years. Staff will be drawn from UC Berkeley, who will define “green,” the base set of data that must be submitted, and make decisions to authorize sales as they think is appropriate. There will be no right of appeal. (A border wall may be required to prevent smuggling.)
3. Require all agriculture and manufacturing operations to be “organic” and sustainable, as defined by the staff at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, respectively.
4. Prohibit personal cars, as they are the scourge of GC’s environment. All existing personal cars will be confiscated and recycled. GC will use the scrap sales to purchase zero emission cars for designated essential government personnel. All other citizens must use mass transit.
5. Prohibit all waste disposal (except for incineration in permitted zero emission facilities for energy recovery). All materials must be reused, recycled or stored safely for future use and recycle. This will support a robust barter economy for GC citizens and reduce the amount of new products (that are authorized under CAL-REACH). Illegal disposal will be punished by deportation.
6. GC will be self-sufficient and sustainable in energy and water use. Each citizen will be given an annual ration of energy and water, proportionate to the population (after allocation for government use made).
7. Population reduction: It is expected that the above restrictions will result in a significant migration out of the country of Green California. In addition, illegal immigration is likely to cease because the economy of GC will be unstable for a significant period of time. If insufficient numbers of people leave GC, it may be necessary to limit the number of children to two per family unit.
8. Professors at UC Berkeley will report to the president of Green California on the options available to prevent further degradation of GC’s environment (e.g., air pollution, global warming) by other countries, such as China or the United States. The options will include both political (e.g., declaring war) and technical (massive fans along the borders) solutions and their net impact on the sustainability of Green California.

Final Solution: California becomes a self-sustaining island (an island, at any rate.)

II. Supporting the Future

California would best serve its citizens by supporting continued movement toward greener chemistry in two areas:

1. Building Knowledge: California has incredible public and private higher education resources. These should be supported fully and directed toward better understanding the ecosystem, developing new technologies (especially in energy generation and utilization), and educating the public so we can make better decisions and implement solutions to known and future issues. This initiative is focused on chemicals – man-made chemicals – but the issues in need of research and development extend beyond how chemicals interact in the environment and impact health. Scientific, medical, social, political, economic, technological actions all impact the ecosystems of earth. We need to understand how we can intentionally and unintentionally change the system to reduce adverse impacts. We also need to understand where the biggest threats to health and the environment come from because we can never eliminate all risks.
I do not believe “toxic” chemicals represent the biggest challenges we should spend our limited risk reduction resources on. The real issue is our ignorant misuse of chemicals – we inefficiently use chemicals as fuels, make consumable products we don’t really need and then release them into the environment without thinking about the consequences. California should build knowledge in all its citizens and businesses about product stewardship and life cycle thinking to achieve responsible development and use of chemicals in products.

2. Supporting Entrepreneurial Effort: Engage the business creativity resources in the state in a Sputnik/Man on the Moon effort by providing economic incentives to develop and implement solutions to our biggest challenge: sustainable energy. We need low impact energy sources and high efficiency energy utilization technologies. Support invention; don’t suppress it.

Do not create duplicative, expensive and inefficient review and approval processes that will drag down the already challenged California and national economies. “Toxic chemicals" are not a significant threat to public health – poverty is.

[Disclosure: I am a California native with a degree from the University of California, San Diego.]

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