Notes taken by Gwen Marshall from 3/10/02 lecture with Ralph Nader speaker that was a part of a Xavier University lecture series on Ethics and Environmental Justice.

The following links take you to portions of the lecture listed on this page.

U.S. citizens do not comprehend the concept of commonly owned property
The human cost of pollution
Genetic Engineering
Participation needed for Democracy
Alternative Energy
Growing up Corporate
Ideas for solutions

U.S. citizens do not comprehend the concept of commonly owned property

U.S. citizens jointly own the vast wealth of the public lands, yet don’t seem to comprehend this ownership so they allow corporations to exploit this vast wealth for the corporation’s personal profits while paying lower rates for these raw materials than in third world countries. Part of why this “theft” is allowed is that U.S. schools don’t educate on the concept of public lands, common property ownership. This exploitation of the common property is part of the reason that the U.S. economy is able to waste over 70% of all of the energy it uses. One example of waste is the lighting of office buildings and a wide variety of commercial establishments at night when they are not in use.

The human cost of pollution

There is a cost for this waste in human terms, for example 400,000 U.S. coal workers have given their life to mining coal, from Black Lung Disease. Although it was known by their doctors that the coal dust was killing people, it was not until the 1960’s that legislation was finally passed to have the mine owners reduce the coal dust in the mines. Despite the lobbying work of the mine owners, the reason the legislation was passed is that some very ill coal miners went to Washington, D.C. to testify in person to demonstrate the effect of the coal dust.

Environmental degradation affects worker’s health, and kills more people each year than crimes such as mugging and homicide yet it doesn’t make the evening news. There is a disconnect between people’s understanding of the impact of pollution on our health versus people’s knowledge of street crime.

On the topic of the pollution of our air by the internal combustion engine – why don’t we have zero emissions buses and cars by now? A person viewing the General Motors exhibit in the World’s Fair in New York in 1939 would have every reason to assume that we should have very energy efficient transportation in the 21st Century, yet the CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) Standards in 2002 are down to 21 mpg. In 1980 cars were made that could allow the passengers to walk away from a 50 mph crash as well as get 31 mpg, so what happened? And what will happen to the Earth’s Atmosphere when the citizen of what are now called third world countries have as many cars as the U.S. citizens? Will the Atmosphere be able to absorb this input of pollution? Meanwhile in the U.S., policy makers like President Bush are still saying that global warming isn’t even happening.

So how do we get serious about the future of the environment? When will we deal with the fact that the pesticides are not working since pests are becoming more resistant to them and more abundant than in the days before pesticides or that current farming practices are leading to soil degradation where the soil is becoming in fertile? Instead of trying to lower the number of deaths each year from cigarette smoking corporations are working to create cigarette addition in third world countries. Instead of trying to help these developing countries, the global economy is encouraging these countries to allow companies to come in and pollute their land and water. This environmental degradation causes poverty. Gasoline with lead is still being used in other countries, when it’s already known that it’s not needed by the cars. Who is going to help end these problems, the corporations who cause the problems or the people who are having to live with the problems?

Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering is causing another form of corporate profit motivated pollution. This is not the old fashion breeding process because of the species crossing in genetic engineering. Those doing this work can’t answer questions such as what will be the impact of these products on the environment or people. Decisions are being made by corporations whose only interest is in maximizing profits. Corporate science is not peer reviewed and it is connected with the corporate D.C. lobbying network. Should we really allow corporations to control the genetic inheritance of our planet, or is this just a new form of slavery with the corporations owning the genes?

In India, during the 1994 push to create the WTO (World Trade Organization), a million farmers in India demonstrated in the streets against the patenting of seeds. Historically farmers have saved seeds from their own crops to plant the next year, but Monsanto wants to make sure this can’t be done without them getting royalities. One idea they tried was to create seeds that become sterile at a certain point in their development, but the outcry against this product made them see that this would not be a good, long term business plan due to the public relations.

Genetic Engineering is not regulated, so it is outside the framework of the law, yet our tax dollars are used to develop this technology. The corporations profiting from genetic engineering have had federal dollars given to them yet this whole issue never was subject to a genuine public debate. This issue, like the worker safety issue, doesn’t tend to make the evening news.

Participation needed for Democracy

We need to ask ourselves, how much time are we giving to democracy. This time can be spent on any of the issues of our choosing: health care, social issues, environmental or labor issues or what ever we choose. The point is that we need to make time in our “private” lives (job, recreation, sleep, eating and such) for a public life – participation in democracy. Corporations are spending a lot of time and media dollars pushing their agenda of getting people to consume more of their products.

It is the job of the citizens to evaluate what they hear and to develop a civic responsibility just as was done by our forefathers. Examples of their civic activism include: ending slavery, farmers taking on the railroads, women’s right to vote, and so on. These folks did their organizing in the days before faxes and email yet were able to organize 200,000 farmers in a year. The reason they were able to organize so many people to fight for a specific cause was that they made person-to-person contact whereas now most organizers try to reach people through impersonal means such as email and TV commercials. The internet is a great way to exchange and give out information, but motivation involves a more personal touch. For example in the 2000 election, the internet was used extensively yet it didn’t translate into increased voting. The Green Party is reported to have gotten a million new voters out in the 2000 election, largely due to work on the internet, but to go beyond this point, more personal contact is needed.

Alternative Energy

Why aren’t we using solar power, wind power or solar thermal? It’s because many of the companies developing these technologies have been bought up by the oil companies and they haven’t been able to figure out how to profit from the source, essentially the sun since it is “commonly owned.” It should be obvious that “solar” needs to be a significant part of the energy policy mix.

To make this happen, citizens need to attend their members of Congress’s town meetings and bring up issues like this to bring these issues into the political debate.

Who is mostly likely to solve our greatest problems, corporations or people?

To determine if people or corporations are most likely to solve our problems, make a list of the 10 worst social/environmental problems in the world then ask, are corporations helping solve these problems, making them worse, or are they indifferent:

1) cancer – How are carcinogens getting into our environment?
2) tobacco addition - Who’s promoting the product?
3) fossil fuels – their consumption and related carbon dioxide build up in the environment.
4) waste of food in relation to spoilage and consumption by rodents in storage
5) environmental devastation such as that caused by logging, mining, and water pollution – Who is encouraging the increased global consumption?
6) Dictatorships – Often it is easier for a corporation to get what it wants from them than if they have to win public support.
7) War and related violence – The weapons manufactures benefit.
8) Starvation & water pollution
9) Global infestations of diseases that are preventable or curable
– What are the drug companies doing?
10) Global warming, climate change.
The real “weapon of mass destruction,” 4 million lives a year are lost to environmental contamination.

If the major work of saving “the world” from environmental devastation and social injustice isn’t going to be done by the corporations, then who will do it? This work must be done by “the citizen” / “the people” who must work together to accomplish this work. So what needs to be done?

The Schools - Our public schools should be educating people to become citizens, the schools should not be turned into high priced “trade schools.” The citizenship skills that need to be taught are related to learning “how to fight city hall” as opposed to just becoming a victim of our own ignorance. People need to learn how to file a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for information or how to look at an elected official’s voting record.

The Media – We shouldn’t be giving away the air waves to companies that in turn use them to indoctrinate us with their trivia. Isn’t it time for us to raise our expectations for how our air waves are being used?. Shouldn’t our news programs be used to cover such important issues as people working full time but not earning a livable wage; or how people don’t have access to good, affordable health care; or the lack of affordable housing? Shouldn’t the people be shown that the huge military budget is being inflated by purchases that they don’t even want when social programs are being under funded? If we knew how much could be done to reduce environmental degradation, wouldn’t we demand it?

There are corporations doing the right thing, why aren’t we hearing more about them in the news? Why can’t we legally grow a product that can be turned into cloth, fuel and paper? (industrial hemp)

Growing up Corporate

Our country has so many problems that it doesn’t deserve and so many solutions it is not able to apply because of the corporate domination of our political and social life.

How can you tell if you’re ‘growing up corporate?’
- If when asked what you own, you neglect to include our common property,
- if you consider beauty that which is only skin deep and changeable by cosmetics or other “pay for beauty” means as opposed to what the person is really like,
- if you purchase auto insurance, renter’s insurance or sign up for a credit card without reading the fine print because you think there is nothing we can do but sign away our rights to go to court in the case of grievances anyway.
- You are growing up civic if you think for yourself and feel that you can work to improve our quality of life.

What will you say when your children, or your grandchildren ask, why didn’t you do something?

Ideas for solutions:

Have schools use a textbook that helps teach practical citizenship: Civics for Democracy: A Journey for Teachers & Students by Katherine Isaac. It is a project of the Center for Study of Responsive Law and Essential Information. Call Lois Riley (202) 387-8030 for more information on this book.

How to Appraise & Improve you Daily Newspaper is a booklet by a 21 year old student .

Good web pages for personal education: (& for global trade issues –

You can get on the mailing list for information from Mr. Nader.

You can ask your school, or your child’s school why aren’t they educating for citizenship.


We’ve been warned by our forefathers to control the mercantile interests. Advice given to college students – don’t waste your time, live as both a private and a public citizen starting right now.

Southwest Ohio Green PAC
(513) 761-6978