Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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Where the market fails

Mercury poisoning is retarding our young people. There is little disagreement about this, in fact rpeate would argue that I am example #1. Mercury poisoning affects about 15% of babies born in the United States today, reducing their IQs by up to 24 points, nearly enough to bring an average individual down to the level of mild retardation.

The thing about mercury poisoning is that it's a global issue. Mercury is spewed forth into the environment, at this point primarily by coal burning power plants (Mmm...clean coal technology. Now with only 97% of the kiddie retardation. GO CHENEY!) and eventually coalesces into droplets that fall up to thousands of miles away from where the original pollution occurred. Then the droplets are made more toxic by bacteria in various waterways before being consumed by fish and introduced into the human food supply. At this point those fish could be 10,000 miles from where the original pollution occurred, and they might travel another 10,000 miles before finding their way on to a dinner plate. In other words they could come from anywhere.

Now more market-oriented people like iconoclast might argue that there are several potential solutions to this problem. One is for people to stop using power from coal burning plants. This solution is untenable for a number of reasons. For one very few people know where their power comes from exactly, and in fact that information is very hard to come by even if you research, because of the size of the grids we're on. Depending on the day and the circumstances your particular house could draw power from a variety of sources. For another there are virtually no "Clean Power" providers out there who will certify that they don't buy power from coal plants, unless perhaps you live near the Hoover Dam.

The next argument might go that people should avoid buying mercury tainted fish by having their fish tested before it goes to market. Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that a New York Times expose recently revealed that fishmongers routinely lie about the sources of their fish (claiming that farmed fish are wild), the cost of testing each fish for mercury poison would be prohibitive except to the very rich, and you can't test just one fish from each catch because the fish come from a variety of schools and unless the fishermen keep them separate on the boat there's no way to be sure that just because a few fish are clean they all are.

The final alternative would be not to eat fish at all, but I think we can safely ignore any sort of "Let them eat cake" logic. Fish are a very important source of protein for a great many people, and a staple for some poorer nations (already facing competition from commercial fishermen.) In addition if we let corporations poison our fish for profit and eat chicken instead they will start to poison our chicken and eventually we will run out of foods and be forced to eat the poison.

The only solution, then, to the mercury situation is governmental regulation. We need to order the power plants to produce less mercury pollution and do so NOW. There are technologies available that would allow plants to burn coal much more safely than they do now, and of course there are many non-coal power options available. We also need to start seriously engaging in conservation because if we don't these problems will continue to arise.

I am aware that America is not the only Mercury producer, but we are one of the main ones and more importantly until we clean our act up we can't pressure others like China and India to behave better. Has anyone else noticed how since the beginning of the Iraq war and the shredding of the constitution we no longer put the kind of human rights pressure on China that we once did?

I am sure that if some libertarian stumbles across this post they will dismiss it and mount some sort of argument resting on the privatization of the oceans or even the airways and how that will lead to protection. Such arguments are specious at best and malicious at their worst. The freedom to pollute our air and water is no freedom at all, it is an abomination. The libertarians are now laying claim to being the sane side of conservatism, with the religious right lapsing into wholesale madness, but the libertarians have a madness of their own. They want to entrench those with wealth into positions of essentially permanent power and ownership, creating an aristocracy of wealth. It is interesting to me how many conservatives lay claim to the theories of the founding fathers selectively. I am reminded specifically of Tom Paine, the radical, who pointed out that it is unfair to yoke the fortunes of the current generation to the decisions of the past. Just as laws put into effect a hundred years ago may not be worth the parchment they were written on, so a fortune descended from some ancient robber baron may not be deserved by his descendants.

I bring this up in relation to the mercury tragedy because I believe we have slid back into another gilded age. Instead of rich men running our country it is now rich corporations, and they seek to maintain not the leisure class but the insanely rich class. The difference being that the insanely rich class often works just as hard as everybody else, but lives in ludicrously oversized homes and flies everywhere on a private jet.

Nothing could be worse for us as a people or a country. Nothing could assure more misery and pain than the belief that those who have money always have money because of merit and that they are entitled to as much of it as their greedy mouths can gobble up. Those with money don't have to worry about mercury poisoning. They can have every salmon tested, every bass inspected. They can spew out as much pollution as their little hearts desire and be sure that they fill find a way to pass the buck downstream to those beneath them just as surely as the fruits of lower class labor are passed up to them.
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