Monday, February 22, 2010

Marketing Environmentalism 3 - The Pitfall of Apocalypticism

Even Sir Isaac Newton succumbed to end-of-the-world speculation. Based on biblical  research, he predicted it would come in the year 2060. Who can forget the weirdness of Y2K? Recently we have been exposed to the ruckus over the Mayan calendar's 2012 doomsday scenario. Global warming champions exemplify another, if subtler, form of this syndrome. 

We have met the enemy and he is our apocalyptic self.

Perfectly well-intentioned proponents of the Global Warming Theory have fallen prey to this pseudo-religious fervor that never seems to entirely disappear from human thinking. Whether global warming is real (which it is) is not material to our well being in the here and now. There are more concrete, existential threats on our doorstep at this very moment and apocalyptic thinking is destroying our chances to do something about them today, tomorrow, next week.

This morning the American Heart Association reaffirmed its stand on the correlation between excess deaths from heart and arterial disease and air pollution. Click for the statement. 

It says, among other things, that air pollution: "is a serious public health problem because an enormous number of people are exposed over an entire lifetime," and "epidemiological studies conducted worldwide have shown a consistent, increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart and stroke deaths, in relation to short- and long-term exposure to present-day concentrations of pollution, especially particulate matter."

In April of 2009, Aruni Bhatnagar of the University of Louisville and Robert Brook of the University of Michigan organized a symposium, Environmental Factors in Heart Disease, at the Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans.

Among the deeply disturbing findings they and other participants in the conference presented:
  • A study of six U.S. cities found that people died earlier when they lived in cities with higher pollution levels. A majority of these deaths were due to heart disease.
  • A study of 250 metropolitan areas around the world found a spike in air pollution is followed by a spike in heart attacks. 
  • A study in Salt Lake City found that when a nearby steel mill shut down for a period of months, there was a 4-6% drop in mortality. The mortality rose to previous levels when the steel mill reopened. 
  • The risk of heart attack increases in parallel with time spent in traffic the previous day. 
  • Within 15 minutes of inhaling pollutants, there is a very rapid increase in blood pressure.
  • Aldehydes increase blood cholesterol levels and activate enzymes that cause plaque in the blood vessels to rupture. (Aldehydes are a toxic class of chemicals found in most forms of smoke, including cigarette smoke and car exhaust.)
Some epidemiologists believe that upwards of 1,000,000 excess deaths per year in the United States are caused by fine particulate matter alone.

We are also certain of the role that air borne pollution plays in the astronomical rise in contemporary asthma rates, especially in inner cities around the world. Direct yearly costs of asthma in the U.S. accounts for nearly $10 billion (hospitalizations the single largest portion of direct cost) and indirect costs of $8 billion (lost earnings due to illness or death).  

We are not certain of air pollution's effect on autism rates, depression due to circulatory and chemical issues, or the effect on those with pneumonia and otherwise relatively benign (in the developed world) pulmonary afflictions. Although the accusing epidemiological finger is pointing more directly at pollution.

So, we may battle over global warming, Left against Right, all we want. Meanwhile millions worldwide are dying prematurely, suffering with chronic conditions, or leading miserable material lives because of pollution. 

Focusing so much activist energy on global warming is a disaster. It allows us to say we MUST solve this enormous problem but "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," while in fact we do nothing. It allows the badly informed to indulge in thinking that leads them to dismiss the basically sound science of global warming. It allows those so inclined to pray to God, shrug their shoulders, and think of the afterlife. After all, life on earth is supposed to be a vail of tears, isn't it?

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