Here’s My Question

A study recently published in The Archives of General Psychiatry adds to a body of evidence linking the growing incidence of autism to early-life exposure to pollution. According to the study, children with autism are two to three times more likely than other children to have been exposed to car exhaust, smog, and other air pollutants during their earliest days.

“We’re not saying that air pollutioncauses autism. We’re saying it may be a risk factor for autism,” says Heather Volk, lead author on the new study and an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. “Autism is a complex disorder and it’s likely there are many factors contributing,” she says.

Now, I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV. (Nor do I have a subscription to the Archives of General Psychiatry–I came across a reference to the study while reading another journal article.) I’m not a climate scientist either. So–just like the deniers who prefer to believe that climate change is a big myth–I do not possess the ability to independently review the evidence and judge its persuasiveness.

I understand the resistance to environmental regulations by those whose economic interests are affected–the oil and gas producers and others whose profits would suffer if we really got serious about carbon emissions. I know those interests have been heavily invested in a campaign of “disinformation” and that they’ve managed to confuse a lot of people who–like me–aren’t scientists able to independently evaluate the evidence.

But let’s just assume that the deniers are right–that 99% of the scientists who are able to evaluate the evidence are wrong, and the other 1% are right. Why wouldn’t it still make sense to clean up the air and water? Even the deniers aren’t arguing that pollution is good. We have plenty of irrefutable evidence linking air pollution to higher incidences of respiratory diseases. There are these growing links to autism and other disorders. And as anyone whose traveled in China can attest, bad air quality can be a real turn-off–I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys breathing black air.

Here’s the calculus as I see it: one the one hand, there is no doubt that continuing our polluting ways negatively affects our quality of life. There is evidence that it contributes significantly to a variety of diseases, and overwhelming consensus that it is warming the earth among those who actually know what they’re talking about. On the other hand, there is no benefit whatsoever from continuing to pollute–except to companies whose profits depend upon continued emissions.

On one side, cleaner air, healthier people, and the possibility of saving the planet. On the other side, big oil.

Seems pretty clear-cut to me.


  1. I believe part of the problem with deniers, aside from politics, bull-headedness and huge profits, is semantics. Years ago people easily understood the fact that we are “destroying the environment” but the use of technical titles confused the issue. Just as sex education isn’t teaching young people how to have sex, Global Warming and Climate Change references seem to be misunerstood, denied or go over heads of the general public. I didn’t understand all of the technicalities in Al Gore’s (yes, I said Al Gore) documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, but I gained a general understanding of both references and what is happening to the environment world-wide. This is NOT a political issue, it is the on-going environment changes – both natural and pollutants increasing the rate of change – that are the issue.

  2. I think Ms Kennedy initially states the most rational outlook on pollution (the one I happen to agree with, lol), that we should strive to pollute less because pollution is undeniably harmful.

    This sensible point of view was how lead got banned in gasoline, paint, etc – there’s no amount of lead that is safe.

    The extrapolation to global warming and the ‘99% of scientists’ breaks down though because:

    1) The earth hasn’t warmed at all in the past 15 years. No change, regardless of the mega-industrialization of China, a country with few pollution controls.

    2) The proposed state controls would have near-zero effect on temperature, though they would conveniently place the control of the world economy under the state. And almost all those scientists work for the state.

    So far the controlling nature of the US government has given us CFL bulbs, which though they contain mercury are considered ‘green’. The free market will produce a better, cleaner alternative, LED bulbs.

  3. The point of the initial posting is “let’s just assume that the deniers are right” and do the right thing, because not doing the right thing is killing us and our children. We don’t have to prove that pollution is killing us in one more or a hundred more ways. It makes no difference whether you are wealthy or have all the work you want if you can’t breathe and your heart is stopped. And if your children are weakened or disabled because industry cares more about money than people, or your grave is in the “greatest country in the world”, wealth is still pretty cold comfort to the ones who are left.

  4. This argument seems to avoid economics. If we want a pollution free life, we will have to go back to being hunter/gatherers. And don’t dare consider cooking any meat….that fire pollutes.

    So YES, there are benefits to polluting, if you consider the nice lifestyle of having an A/C, washer/dryer, refrigerator, stove, etc…it’s about HOW much we are willing to accept.

    This is a false dichotomy between “saving the planet” and big oil.

Comments are closed.