Before the election, I made a plea to prioritize care for the environment (take the long view) over the war in Iraq when casting votes. Now the war in Iraq is (maybe) winding down, while environmental issues that will affect us all in much more profound ways seem to be biting us back (again). Two stories in the Chronicle today left me feeling bewildered and very, very sad.
First, a story about how the EPA has been cooking the books for the Bush administration to meet business-friendly goals.
The Environmental Protection Agency ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols to set limits on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration’s free-market approaches to power plant pollution, a report released Thursday by the agency’s inspector general showed. [… and later …] “Mercury is a toxic metal … known to have a range of harmful health effects, especially on young children and pregnant women.”
According to EPA insiders, science took a back seat to politics in the creation of the report, and the agency whose responsibility it is to protect the environment became a puppet of the administration.
“I don’t think anyone has ever seen as much political influence in the development of a rule as we saw in this rule,” said one EPA staff member, who attended meetings between administrators and staff. “Everything about this rule was decided at a political level.”
That story was buried on page A11. The second story, which made front page, is about the shocking rise of autism in California (actually nation-wide, but the story is mostly about CA). “The number of autistic people getting services at the centers has increased from 5,000 in 1993 to more than 26,000 now.” (see graphic). And researchers are baffled. Part of the rise can be explained by increased awareness of autism, but the increase is far too drastic to be accounted for via awareness alone. Early childhood vaccinations are not ruled out (but see below). No one can prove anything, and yet someone must. Because the rise is generalized to a huge geographical region, explanations will have to be either environmental or social (e.g. too much TV rots your brain).
On the other hand, the article does point out that dropping the mercury-based preservative Themerisol from children’s vaccinations does not seem to have had any impact on autism rates. So maybe there’s no linkage between mercury in the environment and the rise of autism. But something in the environment is causing it. And the official stewards of our environment are puppets of big business.
I’m not making a direct causal connection between these two stories. I am making a connection between the awesome (and, I would argue, common sense) responsibility to maintain the health of our only human home and the ultimate consequences of failing to do so.