Ignoring Science at Our Peril

Jane Brody in The New York Times:

ManIgnore the warnings of scientists at your peril. That is a very valuable lesson our nation can learn from a horrific weather-related tragedy that befell London in 1952, bathing the city in toxic smog that claimed the lives of thousands of people. Had London acted as had been suggested after a nearly identical disaster struck Donora, Pa., four years earlier, many deaths could have been avoided. The yellow-brown “killer fog,” as it came to be called, reduced visibility to two feet. Thousands of tons of sulfurous coal smoke and diesel fumes were trapped over a 30-mile area by a cold, moist temperature inversion, covering London with a blanket of poisonous air. In less than a week, the fog killed about 4,000 people, and another 8,000 died prematurely in the months that followed. British scientists had been warning of such a disaster, but alas, the protective measures they suggested were approved by lawmakers but never implemented. To make matters worse, the government ignored its meteorologists’ warning that an extraordinarily dense fog was about to descend on London.

It took nearly four years for Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act of 1956 that restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and helped homeowners convert from coal to less harmful ways to heat their homes. The parallels of this catastrophic weather event to current concerns about climate change are hard to ignore. Already as the world’s climate warms, there has been an increase in devastating droughts and life- and property-destroying wildfires, mudslides and floods.

All the while the polar and Arctic ice caps are melting and, despite dire warnings from highly reputable scientists, the current administration is taking little action to protect its citizens from future climactic disasters that scientists say are sure to come. Instead, there has been a push to bring back coal and rescind regulatory measures that helped to clean the air and water of pollutants. Likewise, a loosening of regulations and appointments of agency administrators with strong ties to the industries they oversee threaten the safety and healthfulness of the foods and beverages we consume and feed to our most vulnerable: children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity. Agencies tasked with protecting public health are under fire and working with diminished resources.

More here.