A four-year study by fifty scientists offers further evidence for the hypothesis that things happen whether you're paying attention to them or not:
The new studies identified toxic mercury contamination in mountain songbirds - the first time contamination was documented in wildlife not associated with water. Mercury is converted into a toxic form in water and mud, but the toxic mercury was also discovered in the song bird, which does not eat fish.These findings are sure to be controversial, since they fly in the face of what I've elsewhere called the "Refusing to Pay Any Attention Principle." This is an epistemological norm that makes scientific research and public policy easier, by reducing the number of possible effects that a given cause can have. The basic idea is that the importance of missing information decreases as complexity increases.
The songbirds may have been exposed by eating insects that ate tree leaves that converted mercury to its toxic form, scientists said. That "dry" route of exposure is new.
Despite this shocking new evidence that ecosystems are characterized by complex interrelationships and a high degree of context dependence, and are thus more susceptible to the toxic effects of mercury than was previously thought, BushCo wants mercury-spewing power plants to be able to buy pollution "allowances" instead of cutting emissions, on the grounds that this sort of market-based solution has been successful at "curbing the pollution that causes acid rain."
Putting aside the fact that acid rain and mercury pollution are incommensurable as threats, I'd dispute the idea that market-based regulation is a rational response to market-based pollution. When a system leads to disastrous results - widespread mercury pollution, for example - I think one is obliged to question whether it's a good system.
We don't politely ask meth labs to adopt a cap-and-trade system for their hazardous waste emissions, nor do we invite the Mafia to police itself. We correctly see these groups as antisocial lawbreakers, and we don't expect them to reform themselves. I see no reason to view polluting firms any differently. Their freedoms end where ours begin, after all. BushCo's "market-based solutions" should be recognized for what they are: a reward for criminal behavior.