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.