by Doctor Science
James Fallows at the Atlantic has been covering the ongoing terrible pollution problems in China. I think of Kevin Drum's discussion of lead and crime, and wonder if the high-crime American past is the Chinese future.
In Fallows' recent post on China's Pollution: the Birth Defect Angle he wrote:
I don't personally know whether heavy-metal and other pollutant burdens in China are in fact causing birth defects and cognitive disorders. I'm not in a position to judge the scientific literature. But I do know that the pollution level in China is terrible; that (even) the Chinese press is sounding the warning about the effects; and that in other parts of the world toxins have of course been shown to cause physical and mental defects and diseases. This is a very big problem in China, perhaps even bigger than people there yet know.He quotes a reader who points out:
While any country with a population as large as China's will have some number of children born with birth defects, there are persistent rumors that the horrendous pollution in China has led to a huge increase such births in China. This, combined with the one-child policy, has led to orphanages being filled with special needs children, some of whom have very complex and difficult medical needs. In addition, children remaining in families often have less obvious medical issues that affect their ability to live full lives.Another reader says:
[I wonder what] effect that this is going to have on China as it continues to develop....
I lived in [a former Soviet bloc country] in the early 90s. Environmental degradation was a huge issue, and one that everyone I met, whatever their politics, agreed had contributed to the collapse of the communist system. I bet the party officials in Beijing know that very well.
One must wonder, in addition to mild retardation, what other personality disorders can result from this disruption in normal development of the brain, from birth onward. Are they building a society where certain psychological disorders are the norm? Are we seeing this mass disorder and mis-diagnosing it as just the modern Chinese culture? [emphasis added]Kevin Drum argues that, in the US at least, we *have* mis-diagnosed lead poisoning as culture:
[M]urder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We're so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but [lead researcher Rick] Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn't an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.The evidence Drum presents says that Fallow's second reader is wrong about one thing. What we see in China and its culture *today* doesn't reflect modern pollution problems. There's about a 25-year lag between lead exposure and social problems, because exposed children have to grow up. An increasingly crime-ridden and violent Chinese society is a couple of decades away -- which should be a frightening prospect for everyone, not just the Chinese.