Tobacco, lead, and atmospheric modification [i.e., global warming/climate change/air pollution]… what do they all have in common? It’s actually something incredibly fundamental.
All made or make billions of dollars for U.S. industry and created severe adverse health impacts for all Americans, in fact, for pretty much the majority of human beings… and the industrial conglomerates involved in producing and marketing the products that created these massive health problems fought tooth and nail against efforts to educate people and against regulations and laws to stop those impacts…and in the case of atmospheric modification and tobacco, they still are.
From the time of the Romans, people have known that lead has adverse health effects on human beings, but lead has attractive properties for manufacturers. It makes paints brighter and more durable, and in the late nineteenth century essentially all paints were lead-based, but studies showed the danger, particularly to children. As a result, in1922, the League of Nations banned lead-based paint, as did Australia, and within a few years, so did most of Europe. The U.S. did not. In 1943, a report concluded that children eating lead paint chips could suffer from neurological disorders including behavior, learning, and intelligence problems. Finally, in 1971, lead-based house paint was phased out in the United States with the passage of the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act. Even so, a study in 2000 found that 38 million housing units in the U.S. still had lead-based paint, if down from 64 million in 1990.
That wasn’t the only lead problem. In 1921, General Motors came up with a new gasoline formula to allow high compression engines – tetra-ethyl lead. Despite the fact that scores of employees producing TEL either died or suffered severe lead poisoning, GM and its subsidiary, the Ethyl Corporation, effectively lobbied against regulations and managed to avoid prohibition of lead in gasoline for another sixty years. By the time the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive in 1986, so much lead been deposited into soils, streets, building surfaces, that an estimated 68 million children registered toxic levels of lead absorption and some 5,000 American adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease. As lead affects cognitive function, chronic lead exposure resulted in a measurable drop in IQ scores of exposed children during the leaded gas era. And more recently, researchers have suggested that TEL exposure and resulting nervous system damage also contributed to violent crime rates in the 20th century. Within twenty years of the prohibition of TEL, average blood lead levels dropped so markedly that today less than a million children have lead blood levels of concern, although no safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known sufficiently small amount of lead that will not cause harm to the body.
As for tobacco… in 1912, Isaac Adler published the first medical monograph on lung cancer which suggested that the cause might be toxic effects of smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption. The first known controlled study, by Franz Hermann Müller at Cologne Hospital, appeared in 1939, and five separate and detailed studies appeared in the early 1950s, all showing the direct and adverse effects of smoking.
This was no surprise to the tobacco companies. As early as 1946, Lorillard [producer of Old Gold, Newport, and Kent cigarettes] had a report from its director of research observing that scientific studies linked tobacco use to cancer. Despite the fact that a confidential 1953 ‘Survey of Cancer Research’, written for upper management at RJ Reynolds, makers of Camel cigarettes, concluded that tobacco was ‘an important etiologic factor in the induction of primary cancer of the lung’, cigarette manufacturers buried the evidence and continued to oppose public and government efforts to link smoking to lung cancer.
The 1964 Surgeon General’s report, which officially recognized smoking as a cause of lung cancer, wasn’t a discovery, but an acknowledgement of 20 years or more of research, yet as late as the mid-1970s, Phillip Morris was still spending millions on PR claiming that second-hand smoke was not dangerous to non-smokers.
All of this is scarcely surprising, given that the annual world production of cigarettes is about six trillion and that the annual profit of cigarette manufacturers runs to around $60 billion. The industry clearly doesn’t care that cigarette consumption will result in six million deaths in 2015 or that, according to a report of the Surgeon General just released, the annual cost of smoking just in the U.S. now is $300 billion a year, of which $130 billion are direct medical costs.
Regardless of the rhetoric from deniers, climate change is real. Irrefutable evidence from around the world that includes record temperatures, the incredible shrinkage of Arctic ice coverage, rising sea levels, the overwhelming preponderance of retreating or disappearing glaciers, ,the marked increase in extreme weather events, and record temperatures all point to the fact that climate change is happening now and at rates much faster than previously thought. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) incorporates the work of more than 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries (and that’s one of the largest bodies of international scientists ever assembled to study a scientific issue) and has concluded that most of the warming observed during the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. IPCC’s findings have been publicly endorsed by the national academies of science of all G-8 nationals have publicly endorsed these findings, as have those of China, India and Brazil.
Yet in the United States, climate denial skeptics still abound, or seem to. Why might that be?
Well, according to various sources, the Koch Brothers, owners of Koch Industries, a privately-held fossil fuels based conglomerate with annual revenues estimate at $115 billion annually [enough to rank #17 on the Fortune 500], have so far spent almost $80 million in funding politicians and organizations denying that global warming/climate change now exist. Exxon Mobil has made over $10 million in traceable donations to shill or right-wing, fellow-traveler organizations that deny global warming, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, among others.
And interestingly enough, Exxon Mobil has been consulting with those folks in the tobacco industry on how to fight science, and they’re adopting the same tactics as big tobacco, and even some of the same consultants.
Given just these three examples, you might see why I tend to be rather skeptical when industry types, and all the organizations that they fund, assure me that whatever they’re doing really isn’t a problem… and, in fact, that the problem isn’t even a problem at all, just like lead and tobacco weren’t.