Thursday, 10 January 2013

I wrote a book about the dangers of lead pollution – but the fools wouldn’t listen!

There’s an article in this morning’s Telegraph about a link between the rise in leaded petrol consumption between the 1940s and early 1970s and the exponential rise in crime between the 1960s and 1990s (it took a while for lead-affected babies to grow up and start committing mayhem, hence the delay).

“A series of newly highlighted studies, includes one by Howard Mielke, of Tulane University, who looked at concentrations of lead at a neighbourhood level in New Orleans and found that police maps of crime corresponded with earlier high levels of pollution.” (Read the whole article here.)

Of course, it sounds utterly daffy and eco-alarmist, but back in 1979, I’d come up with a plot involving London schoolchildren going on a city-wide killing spree (violence in schools - and football hooliganism - was rocketing at the time). Casting around for a device to explain the sudden eruption of violence, I came across the theory that long-term lead pollution could be causing behavioural problems and learning difficultiues among city kids. As the memory of Britain’s ghastly 1976 sweat-fest was still fresh in my memory, I conjured up an abnormally hot London summer to trigger the chemical reactions within the children’s brains to allow me to produce 199 pages of disgraceful, indefencible ultra-violence (I’ve just read an online review which starts: “Holy shit, this is a vicious book!” Why, thank you!).

I’ve always distrusted attempts to blame the inability of some children to concentrate or to control their emotions on anything other than poor – or simply distracted - parenting, bad teaching, a lack of moral leadership, or the baneful effects of television (and, now, the internet and smart-phones). Of course, there are cases where bad behaviour can be traced to medical causes - but I suspect they're relatively rare. Certainly, there might very well be “something in the air” – but we’re talking about attitudes and influences rather than pollution.

My scepticism naturally didn’t stop me from using lead poisoning as my main plot device (shamefully, I may have mixed it in with food poisoning, just to be sure of touching all the modish fear-bases of that era).

What worries me about the use of maps that seem to prove a geographical link between seemingly unrelated phenomena is that cause and effect often seem to get reversed in the analysis process. For instance, liberals have been banging on for decades about the link between poor housing and criminality, as if the former somehow causes the latter, whereas it’s far more likely the reasons criminals don’t look after their homes is the same reasons that make them opt for a life of crime in the first place – i.e. they’re lazy, immoral and socially inadequate.

I suspect that any geographic correlation between urban pollution, criminality and failing schools will be found to be due, in the main, to the fact that kids who can’t obey rules belong to parents (usually singular) whose lack of willingness to abide by the rules (or sheer bad luck) means they live in high population density areas where lots of buses are needed and where a large portion of the cars are either older than the norm, or never get serviced, and therefore belch inordinate quantities of crud into the atmosphere.

However, just in case there's a chance that someone will one day attach a memorial to the front of this house describing me as a Green Energy guru, humanitarian and eco-warrior, I'd like to state for the record that, as far as I'm concerned, I always knew there was a link between lead pollution and criminality, and I did my best to warn humanity about it. (Just make sure they put a line through the "o".)

1 comment:

  1. There is also an article in the D.Telegraph:"UK is violent crime capital of Europe," and goes on to say that this was particularly so between 1998-2007.
    Yet leaded petrol consumption has been falling for decades.
    How very odd.