Listen, I get it. There's a lot going on in the world, and it's impossible to keep up with all of it. Even worse, unless your job involves digging through massive amounts of headlines each week (hello!), you're at the mercy of whatever news source you rely on when it comes to what stories end up in front of your face. With that being the case, you'd expect that, at the very least, you'll hear the really important stuff right away. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, insanely important stories build up for months, sometimes years, before they get the attention they deserve from major news outlets. We talk about a few examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
...where I'm joined by Creed screenwriter Aaron Covington and comic Vanessa Gritton. I'll talk about a few right now, too!
#5. The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis Started Two Years Ago
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By now, you've probably heard that the water in Flint, Michigan is a disaster. If so, it's something you most likely heard about sometime within the last few weeks or so. Which is crazy, because it's been a problem for almost two years now. Like so many other problems in life, the source can be traced back to money. As a cost-saving measure, the state decided to switch the city of Flint's water supply from Lake Huron, which they had to pay Detroit for, to the Flint River, a body of water so gross that locals just assumed it was polluted. They never needed to know for sure, though, because they didn't have to drink it.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images News/Getty Images
They didn't discover this river yesterday. There's probably a reason they never used it for drinking water.
People noticed problems almost immediately after the switch, complaining that the water tasted and smelled funny. Sometimes it was brown. That's gross. I'd honestly rather have my faucet unexpectedly spew horror movie blood than brown water. Residents were assured it was safe, but tests soon revealed that because the Flint River wasn't treated with an anti-corrosive agent (in violation of federal law), it was eroding water mains, leading to absurdly high levels of iron in the water. It's at that point that city officials ... still said the water was safe to drink.
Not only was that a lie, but the problem was also even worse than anyone realized at first. The pipes leading into about half the homes in Flint are actually made of lead, which anyone who's ever had a tasty paint chip slapped out of their hand knows is a way bigger problem than iron. Unfortunately, no one knew this until a group of researchers from Virginia Tech arrived to do their own tests on the water. This was in August, so almost a year and a half after the city made the switch. That entire time, residents were promised that the water was safe, even if they sometimes had to boil it before they could drink it. The now-former mayor, Dayne Walling, even drank a glass on local television to "prove" there was nothing to worry about.
He was incorrect, and for more than a year, half the city's residents, including thousands of children, were drinking water contaminated with high levels of lead. The effects of lead poisoning in children include learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lowered I.Q. Even worse, the damage is mostly irreversible.
For the record, the anti-corrosive agent that could've prevented most of this would've set the city back all of about $100 per day.
#4. The California Methane Leak Is As Bad As the BP Oil Spill
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Much like the water crisis in Flint, news of the disastrous methane gas leak happening near Los Angeles is just now starting to make headlines. And even then, it's not getting nearly the attention it deserves, given the gravity of the situation. From an environmental standpoint, it's every bit as catastrophic as the BP oil spill that dominated headlines a few years ago, but it's not getting a fraction of the attention that disaster received. That likely has a lot to do with the fact that it's not producing heartbreaking pictures of oil-covered seabirds and such.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Down with the slickness.
In fact, to see anything at all, you have to use an infrared camera, and even then it just looks like there's a fire burning somewhere.
The Smoke Monster became a real asshole after Lost was cancelled.
That doesn't mean it's not a problem. For one thing, while methane itself isn't much of a threat to humans, the chemicals that are added to make leaks detectable by scent are making people sick. Sidebar: Is there a reason that stuff has to smell like rotten eggs? Is there a reason we couldn't have associated an overwhelming smell of strawberries with gas leaks? If it's going to give kids severe bloody noses, it should at least smell nice.
The bigger concern is the environment. Methane has a significantly greater potential to wreak global warming havoc than carbon dioxide, and the Aliso Canyon leak has been spewing a lot of it into the atmosphere. A recent Time Magazine article estimated that the 1.6 million pounds of methane being released each day have the same environmental impact as driving 4.5 million cars. That's every day. Since October. It's January now, and the most hopeful guesses say we might be able to stop the leak by the end of February.
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Again, you can't see the damage it's doing, but the damage is real, and there's really no way of telling how far it will reach or who will ultimately see the worst of it. The craziest part is how the leak happened in the first place. The underground well that accounts for the source of the leak used to be outfitted with a safety valve. Way back in 1979, that valve was in need of repair. However, because parts were hard to find and the well wasn't deemed "critical" (meaning it wasn't within 100 feet of a road or park, or within 300 feet of a home), the valve was just removed and never replaced. If it was there and functioning, none of this would be happening.
#3. The United States And New Zealand Exported A Diabetes Epidemic To Pacific Islanders
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Quick! Name the most obese nation in the world! If you said "the United States," that's a damn fine guess, but a little off. We're the sixth-most-obese nation. The "winner" is the tiny Pacific nation of Tonga, where some 40 percent of the population is thought to have Type II Diabetes, and where life expectancy clocks in at a dismal 64 years. Some of that has to do with a culture that equates being overweight with beauty and financial well-being. Skinny people would weigh 400 pounds if they could afford it, you know?
That said, Tonga and most of the other island nations around them get a lot of help when it comes to keeping that weight on. You see, sometime around World War II, it was decided that Pacific islanders would be the lucky recipients of the world's worst cuts of meat. For example, the United States exports tons of turkey tails to the region. "The fuck is that?" you ask? Well, it's not actually the tail of a turkey, but rather a gland that attaches the tail to the rest of the body. It's basically a sack filled with fat and oil. Turkeys use it to make their feathers look pretty. Pacific islanders use it to contract diabetes.
Come on, it's turkey. How fattening can it really be?
Another deadly import comes in the form of mutton flaps from New Zealand. They're the fattiest part of a sheep and seen as mostly inedible by New Zealand's standards. In Tonga and the countries around it, though, it's considered a staple food in most households.
Nice use of the "Post-Apocalypse" filter.
Another staple: Spam. To Americans, that's bomb shelter joke food that occupies the tiniest sliver of shelf space possible at most grocery stores. Here's what typical store shelves look like in the Pacific islands:
How many kinds of Spam are there?!?!?!?
That's a whole lot of canned meat, which is basically all the worst parts of every animal pressed together into a disgusting (albeit sometimes delicious) cube. Along with turkey tails and mutton flaps, this is the kind of shit the people of Tonga live on. Some countries in the region have tried banning the importation of these products, so as to keep obesity from killing the region off entirely. Unfortunately, that would be a violation of World Trade Organization rules, and the Pacific islands want to be a part of that group very badly. Allowing their markets (and only theirs) to be flooded with low-quality meats that kill people are just a necessary evil they're going to have to put up with to make that happen.
I know what you're thinking. "They're literally in the middle of the ocean. Can't they just eat fish?" Sure, if anyone could afford it. Some of the best fish in the world comes from that region, but because the locals can't afford to eat it, most of it ends up being exported to countries like New Zealand. Hooray for fair trade!