Sunday, March 07, 2010

Green Warning Signs

Recently, we’ve noticed several signs that our environment is undergoing dramatic changes. Some of the most salient signs are the mercury-ridden fish in all of our streams, the collapse of the Copenhagen Climate talks, the release of methane gases from the Arctic Ocean, and a great resistance to greener transportation and energy. In that vein, the auto show I attended recently revealed little interest or efforts in adapting our vehicles to the reality that the automobile and its infrastructure greatly affect the health of our environment. I thought after all that talk about electric cars and fuel efficiency I’d see a new day at the shows. But there were the same old sexy cars and trucks—except now they cost more, still had lousy gas efficiency ratings, and have far more driver-distracting gadgets than ever before.

Not all the signs are bad. Bald Eagles have been increasing in New York State since 1970 and many Brownfields are getting cleaned up. We got a few bucks (compared to other regions) for high speed rail, and some federal funds to clean up the Great Lakes. However without an accurate model of what a sustainable environment is, it is difficult to know how good these signs actually are. For example, are the animal and plant populations recovering quickly enough to establish themselves, or are they being sustained artificially? And we may be spending a lot of money and creating jobs for Brownfield cleanups, but have we located all the Brownfields, and do we know what poisons they are leaching and what environmental and health problems they are responsible for? I doubt it. A story gets out that something is being done and the public becomes complacent, mollified that things are going well. But Signs indicate that that they aren’t.

For some reason, we (Homo sapiens) tend to have an unreasonable reaction to many warning signs. Perhaps we see signs like those little numbers on a roulette wheel. Sometimes the wheel stops at your number, sometime it doesn’t. Maybe, just maybe, that great big wheel of chance won’t nail us. Maybe this is a sign that Climate Change is true or maybe it’s a sign that it’s just another case of these climate scientists fudging the data: “Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.” (3/4/10 NYT).

Maybe this story about fish contaminated with mercury doesn’t really mean much because they didn’t really test all the streams: “100 Percent of Fish in U.S. Streams Found Contaminated with Mercury” (3/4/10 – Natural Maybe we just won’t eat fish from streams or any fish at all.

What’s certain about environmental signs is that even when catastrophe occurs, like Hurricane Katrina, even when every fish still alive is contaminated, even when many of the predictions of Climate Change are not only coming to pass—but far more quickly than predicted—we ignore them. However, as many a hapless driver who has strayed into a construction zone will tell you, you can only ignore the warning signs up to a point.

1 comment:

got mercury said...

Sadly, all fish are now contaminated with mercury and according to the EPA, the number source of mercury in humans is through eating fish. An easy way to estimate your mercury exposure from eating fish is to check out the free online mercury calculator at Based on the current U.S. EPA and FDA guidelines, the mercury calculator is an excellent way to know your potential mercury exposure risk.