I made it to Salem without delay. The conference on Lessons From Fukushima starts tomorrow afternoon.
I had the good fortune of sharing the bus from Portland to Salem with an independent scientist who has worked for universities in the past and now works for an NGO.
She (the scientist) and I went to dinner and over good Indian food discussed the challenges facing researchers who study environmental issues, particularly in the hot topic areas of lead, mercury and ionizing radiation.
Her experience, which has much greater breadth and depth than my own, reaffirms the challenges I've witnessed confronting researchers who study environmental health.
Researchers at universities might explore the link between an environmental pollutant and health (e.g., lead and autism), but the researcher's career is over if s/he ever dares step into the public spotlight to discuss the industrial and/or commercial source(s) of the contaminant.
Death by lack of future funding is a painful way to go.
And perhaps we should not judge these scientists, because if they do speak out publicly, they will lose what little funding they have fought hard to get in order to study health effects objectively.
Furthermore, rarely do we hear the public crying out for more environmental research and so I can imagine that disciplining unruly scientists who speak up is relatively easy since a public outcry is unlikely.
Scientists who work at NGOs may have more freedom, but that freedom also translates into few resources (including laboratory equipment and space) and few dollars to pursue studies.
We concluded from our conversation that perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge is waking up the population from slumber so that environmental health becomes a priority.
The government doesn't really need to silence discussion of the implications of the findings that are published in journals such as Environmental Health Perspectives because so few people in the general public seem to pay attention or care.
Ok, I know that the people who read this blog probably care.
However, I can tell you that most of my students do not seem to care, despite my efforts to educate them on sustainability in the most holistic sense possible.
How can we help people realize that our very existence as a species is at risk as a consequence of our thoughtless destruction of vital resources, such as our air, our water, and our soil?
How can ecological well-being be a hot Facebook topic?