The situation comedy actress Jenny McCarthy has done great damage to public health by her wrong-headed thesis that vaccines cause autism. This is not true, as much research has confirmed. But now we have a scientific study that shows what really is causing the autism epidemic: exposure of the mother when she is pregnant to mercury, cadmium, diesel and other toxic elements in the air. In fact, women exposed to these elements are twice as likely to have an autistic child as women in low-pollution areas. The scientific paper is here.
Air pollution causes autism. Moreover, mercury in the air is even more highly associated with autism than the other poisons in the air. Mercury is a nerve poison that drives you crazy if you are regularly exposed to enough of it. The figure of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland comes from the Victorian era, when hat makers smoothed down felt (compressed wool) with mercury, with their bare fingers. After a while, they were looney tunes.
Now, you ask, why is there mercury in the air in some parts of the country? Mercury doesn’t just naturally float into the air we breath. It is in the main coming from coal plants. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency has for a long time given them a pass on this kind of pollution. Although 25 plants are the most egregious sinners in this regard, almost all coal plants emit some mercury. The mercury not only gets into the air but also into our water, becoming concentrated in fish and making us sick that way too. I suggest a follow-up study of women who both live in coal-pollution zones and eat fish during pregnancy.
Now, why have I paired up Jenny McCarthy with environmentalist Bill McKibben? It is because the founder of 350.org is among the more effective organizers for reducing the carbon pollution that is destroying our climate. He has been encouraging student assemblies on campus to vote to divest university investment funds from oil, gas and coal companies.
The problem is that carbon dioxide pollution is a tricky issue for the EPA, though there has been some progress in that regard. But the Sierra Club has been suing coal plants over their other kinds of pollution, with some success.
So here is something for McKibben, the Sierra Club and other environmentalists to consider: How about organizing families who live in coal pollution zones and whose children were therefore stricken with autism to launch class action suits against the coal companies. We could roll back a major public health problem (mercury and other poisons in the atmosphere that blight the lives of 1 in 50 children!) and also wipe 200 billion metric tons of CO2 a year off our ledger.
The 600 coal plants in the US are responsible for 40% of our our 500 billion metric tons of carbon emissions annually, that is, for 200 billion metric tons. We could meet international targets of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C. if we closed all of them over the next ten years and if we used our international financial muscle into pressuring China and India to close theirs (we are not shy about strong-arm tactics against Iranian oil, so why can’t coal be targeted?)
I wrote on Earth Day:
Dirty coal is killing us and killing the earth. Here is a short documentary.
Coal plants produce a lion’s share of carbon dioxide poisoning of the atmosphere, causing rapid global warming. In the case of the US, they are responsible for fully 40% of our CO2 emissions.
The single most important thing you can do for the earth is call your utility company and pressure them not to use coal, and lobby your city to develop its own solar installations, and put solar panels on your roof.
Close all the 600 coal plants in the United States and you’d dramatically reduce our 500 billion metric tons a year of CO2 emissions. (The supposed good news that our emissions have fallen from 6 to 5 billion metric tons annually is laughable, since 3, 4, or 5 billion tons a year will still radically alter the earth. We need to get it down to sustainable levels and hydrocarbons like natural gas cannot do that!)