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E-M:/ EM: Cassini Launch Protest Letter

Enviro-Mich message from Phil Shepard <shepard@pilot.msu.edu>

I urge all list participants to email Pres. Clinton immediately to
protest the Cassini Launch scheduled on Monday and request that he
intervene to call it off. A sample letter that addresses some key
epistemological and rhetorical issues is appended below. Feel free to
use any parts of it that you wish to.
Is this relevant to the Michigan environment? You bet it is. If a launch
catastrophe should occur and NASA is wrong about their much touted
Plutonium packaging, then all mammals in the norther hemisphere
(including all of us) could well be gone from the earth (in 20-30
While a few misanthropic deep ecologist might welcome the elimination of
us humans, let's protest this for the other animals at least. (;o)
 (please forgive the black humor)
Best to all,
Phil Shepard
(517) 332-0761

President Bill Clinton,

I write to protest the planned Cassini launch on Monday. 

Having followed the run-up to this event, I am appalled at both the
decision to launch and the flagrant disregard of public risk perceptions
and democractic participation in the decision. One news article reports,
for example, that the decision to launch was made solely by the
President's (i.e. your) science advisor. This epitomizes elite,
technocratic, and paternalistic decision making at its worst.

Moreover, on the substance of the issues, you should know and understand
that supposedly scientific risk assessments and the decisions by
scientists that trade off public risks against supposedly scientific
benefits have often been proven wrong in the past, esp. on nuclear
matters. But in this case, if NASA is wrong and a launch explosion were
to occur, and the 72 pounds of peletized Plutonium were to be oxidized
in the higher atmosphere, enough Plutonium could be dispersed in aerosol
form to eventually kill every mammal in the northern hemisphere (several
times over). With those sort of possible stakes, don't you think the
public has a right to a say in a decision that could affect (actually
terminate) all of their lives?

The scientists are claiming this sort of argument is just rhetoric. But
their claim to (sole) possession of the "facts" is also rhetoric
(well-known in my line of work as Baconian rhetoric), and typical
scientific rhetoric at that. In fact, no one knows with reasonable
certainty (i.e. a level of certainty warranted by the human and moral
stakes of the decision) what will happen on launch or in the event of a
launch or reentry catastrophe. All of the experimental testing of the
Plutonium packaging establishes nothing more than a *probability* of
failure vs. non-failure. 

Given the scientific uncertainty involved and the very high level of
public concern, I urge you, as a matter of your solemn duty as President
of the United States of America (the only country I could imaging with
the balls to even consider such a stunt in the first place!) to call off
the launch immediately. The alternative could well be that you go down
in a very much foreshortened history as the "Doomsday" President.

Sincerely and with the utmost urgency,
Philip T. Shepard, Professor
Science and Technology Studies
Lyman Briggs School
Michigan State University
(517) 332-0761

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