When smoke ran like water

Book: When smoke ran like waterI’ve just read When smoke ran like water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution by Devra Davis. Its a real eye-opener about how industry distorts and manipulates evidence about the effects of pollution in an effort to keep their liabilities as low as possible and profits as high as possible.

Of course, an obvious example in Germany is the recent lobbying by the tabacco industry to avoid having a blanket ban on smoking in public places imposed by the government. Here, as in other countries and in other industries, the tabacco industry funds apparently independent research groups to produce reports which either play down the destructive effects of their products or emphasise the negative aspects that a ban may result in. Another common practice is to fund “independent” scientists who criticize and discredit research and those individuals working on that research, something which has actually ruined careers of scientists whose work conflicts with the marketing goals of industry.

What I did find interesting is that this sort of manipulative behaviour goes back a long way.

For example, as far back as the 1930’s, the American automotive industry (including GM, Goodyear, Firestone, Mack Truck and several other companies) started buying up and shutting down railway networks and replacing them with bus services. By the 1950’s they had shut down and motorized more than 900 of the 1200 electric railway transit systems in the USA. In 1947 GM and 9 further corporate co-defendants were convicted on a charge of monopolizing the sale of motor buses… and fined the princely sum of $5000, or the price of two small cars! No wonder cities like Los Angeles are today completely dependent on motor vehicles for transportation.

If you are interested in how industry manipulates politics and the markets to get its way, this book is well worth reading.