This Sustainable Life
448: Robert Bilott: The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare
Your blood contains PFOA, also known as forever chemicals. They cause cancer of several types, birth defects, and more.
Dupont and other companies produced this stuff after learning it caused harm and dumped it into our environment. As best we can tell, they chose enormous profits over the health of their employees at first, and eventually all Americans and all humans because this stuff takes millions of years to break down and accumulates in our bodies.
We know because Robert Bilott, today's guest, took on a small farmer's case. His cows were dying, we now know from water poisoned from Dupont dumping these chemicals. They pulled on the thread and the whole sweater unraveled. Robert's story became on par with those in the movies Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action.
The highly-reviewed 2019 movie Dark Waters featured Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins playing him, his wife, his coworker. The New York Times featured him in its 2016 magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare. The most personal account is his 2019 book Exposure.
In our conversation I tried to bring out what we who want to conserve our environment could use: what is it like to face something we feel is right, to fix a great problem, to act on our values, even when it seems like we will have to swim upstream?
Because regarding sustainability and nature, we all sense how much easier swimming upstream would be.
Or would it? The more I act, the more I find new role models like him who make the choice I feel right more clear. Listen for yourself. Would you like to feel about your life and family how he feels about his? Could acting even when it's hard help?
People often call my not flying or taking two years to fill a load of trash extreme. Not by the standards of role models like Robert. The more I act, the more I find people like him and the closer I feel to them.
Maybe I could fantasize about living in a world where I could act without caring who feels the consequences of my actions. Not really, because I find caring for others creates value, not ignoring them. In any case, I don't live in such a world. Everything I do connects me to others. I've come to find that connection improves my life, even if it means not flying or ordering takeout.
I've got a long way to go to reach his level of giving and his level of getting. He said he wouldn't change a thing.