From Barbara Demeneix
Steven Pinker (“The world after tomorrow”, Life & Arts, December 28) refers to the “approaching asteroid” of climate change. However, as well as climate change, there are at least two other “asteroid” threats: chemical pollution with its associated health risks, and loss of biodiversity.
Chemical pollution has now reached unprecedented levels, with every child born today “precontaminated” with hundreds of chemicals. Many of these chemicals interfere with brain development. Some, including the mixtures to which we are all exposed, have been associated not only with IQ loss (leading to learning disabilities), but also with neurocognitive and behavioural disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity. These disorders are increasingly common with rising trends noted worldwide. Professor Pinker argues, correctly in my opinion, that we are not blank slates.
Chemical contamination of amniotic fluid is affecting the brain development of future generations. We are continually learning how the environment affects gene expression, mainly through epigenetics. The early stages of brain development can be equated with a one-way street. It is impossible to press replay and start the process again. Brain development is the key to a child’s future intellectual capacity, with adequate neurocognitive function in children being an important determinant for learning abilities, educational attainment, quality of life, and adult health.