Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, October 15, 2007

Al Gore's cause and the social cost of pollution

“A river runs through” my home town of Franklin, Virginia, and almost any day when I walk down to Barrett’s Landing I see someone fishing, sometimes a father with a child. It is a pleasing sight.

Therefore, an article in the local newspaper this week shocked me deeply (we should never be surprised at bad news, but often shocked). The banner headline trumpets, “Contaminants Found in Fish.” The Virginia Department of Health has warned that our local rivers are full of mercury and the fish should not be eaten. The leader of the local Riverkeeper program issued a lament: “A lot of people from this area supplement their diet with the fish they catch, especially the poor.” Southampton County still has a significant population of very poor people, so this is a serious matter, not to be shrugged off. The Riverkeeper spokesman pointed to the Everglades as an example; mercury contamination levels dropped sharply when the state of Florida shut down the nearby coal-fired power plants.

As a very early supporter of the environmental movement (I marched in the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970 and was a charter member of the Friends of the Earth), I remember very well that for some years the movement was derided as a pet cause of the privileged and leisured classes. One has not heard this accusation for a while. Its disappearance should be a timely reminder that the issue of global warming is not just about polar bears.