The Somali Pirates have a one sided portrayal in American news media – murderers and thieves that are making a mess of international shipping. Of course, the vast majority of people then get the impression that the world is full of black and white – bad pirates and innocent ship workers just trying to make an honest buck.
Like all stories, the players are far more nuanced. Somalia currently lacks a functioning government. This is an opportunity for international fishers and polluters to overfish the waters and dump toxic waste that destroys the shoreline. “The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland.” (1) Many of these pirates were originally fishermen and other people who made a living from the water. “Since the containers came ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.” (1)
So what does the United States and other nations do? Cut off the incentives for most of the impoverished people to become pirates by aiding the Somali people in protecting their environment and livelihood? Of course not. The international community suggests ships hire more mercenaries and do nothing to stop vessels using the water to violate international environmental standards. Very conducive to a safe and sustainable world.
Its the same problem with terrorism. Why to people become “terrorists?” Most do it because they are illiterate, poor, and easily manipulated into taking their anger out on who ever they believe to be the cause of their family’s suffering. The U.S. coming in an trying to stop terrorism with guns would be laughable if it wasn’t tragically devastating for all parties. This Onion headline sums it up nicely: link to article.
I finally got a chance to watch the PBS special on water pollution today. It really reinforces what I believe to be the greater health and environmental problem the next generation faces, and why I got into public health to begin with.
That is, when did we say it was ok for the government or whomever, to decide “yes, that is a safe level of toxic chemical A, B or C in your water, air, or environment.” Today, we allow these chemicals to have a chronic presence in our lives. Maybe that’s why we have so much chronic disease.
Our generation faces a brave new world. One in which point source pollution is no longer public enemy #1. We have chronic pollution [wiki endocrine disruptors] being put into nearly everything in our daily environment. And I’m afraid that we as a population won’t gain enough political will to call for solutions until it’s our sons, not just our fish, being born with ovaries AND testicles.
Here is the link to the full program. It is nearly 2 hours but after I finally made time for it, I’m glad I did. Full Program: Frontline, Poisoned Waters
And below are a few “sneak peaks” I found on youtube. They’re all quite short, so enjoy!
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith details widespread pollution of America’s waterways in the PBS Frontline documentary Poisoned Waters.
This great piece done for NPR gives a great overview of today’s water problems.
Back in the day, when the Clean Water Act was first passed, it addressed the issues of the day, like point-source water pollution. But today, much like many other parts of our damaged environment, our water is poisoned from all of us collectively.
Today, one big part of the problem are these massive industrial farms. “There were 570 million chickens grown on the eastern shore of the Delmarva Peninsula [Delaware] last year and they produced 1.5 billion pounds of chicken manure, and that’s more manure than the human manure from the cities of New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Atlanta all put together.”
And unlike people-poop, which is put through a rigorous waste treatment system before going back into our waterways, animal waste goes right into the neighboring waterway with no regulation whatsoever.
So around DC, lots of people are noticing “not only fish kills but they began to find abnormalities in the fish, one problem called inter-sex, which is female eggs in the male gonads of small mouth bass. That’s a very alarming thing.
“I mean elsewhere in the country they’ve found alligators with small penises, they’ve found frogs with six legs, they’ve found mutations that are, when you stop to think about them, are really horrible. If they happened to human beings, people would be up in arms, and these are warnings, the scientists now believe, about what’s in these waters.”
These same chemicals causing these problems are known to cause similar problems in humans. Men already have lower sperm counts. Babies have elevated levels of these chemicals in their bodies.
“You walk down the aisles of a grocery store and you’re looking at a lot of these products every day. These are products that are now built into our modern lifestyles. A matter of fact, it’s very interesting just the other day, the EPA announced for the first time, and this is a big change over the last decade or so, announced that they were going to ask a number of companies to check into the certain chemicals, 65 specific chemicals, in these kinds of products.”
Storm water run off is another problem Smith mentions. “… as we drive down the road, our cars drop oil and grease, hydrocarbons, but they also drop bits of metal and heavy metals – chromium, aluminum, mercury.”
Smith then compares two different models in the DC area. Tysons Corner, Virginia which grew OUT in the last 30 years and Arlington, Virginia, which grew UP. And all it took was a smart city council in Arlington. Now that’s small government that works!