WSJ Best Writer - John Fialka

John Fialka of the Wall Street Journal was usually spot on. He was the best environmental journalist I know of, and I hope he'll publish from time to time from retirement.

He wrote on the need to change the General Mining Act of 1872 in 2007, before a hint that the 137 year old law was overdue for an end to mining subsidies.

He broke the story on USA Mercury "recycling" in April 2006 (exporting what we recover from lamps to alleuvial gold miners in Congo and Amazon river basins).

John Fialka is to environmental science what Alanis Morrisette is to love songs.

John Fialko retired, and leaves a huge hole in the environmental movement.

Western Medecine is probably the best in the world, but the origins of health science were in alchemy... western medical practices went through some strange scatalogical obsessions early on (feeding mercury to King Edward to improve his bowel movements), but what saved it was dialectic, honest confrontation, competition and challenge.

Progress in environmental health faces the same scatalogical challenges - witness USA's obsession with recycling standards (under RCRA) as compared with virgin ore mining (under Superfund). John was a writer I always looked forward to reading, I knew he would improve me as an environmentalist. Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman are still out there, but they are usually generalists who haven't demonstrated Fialka's killer cross examination skills on the worst of environmentalism's well-intentioned practices or revealed adverse consequences in a game-changing fashion.

The fragmentation of journalism is well documented. Blogs and twitters disinintigrate expertise into shiny provocative slivers. I think it's a good thing overall, given how seldom a Fialka came along and lined up the cue balls and avoid sing-songing. But it's going to require that the current generation of environmentalists follow strict and vigorous scientific method and divorce the dogmatists who thrive in any church, including ours. Fialka was the closest thing environmentalists have to Michael Servetus... the dude in the Catholic Church who tried to leverage the Church's value and infrastructure to promote the study of health, but who was intellectually drawn to the reformists.

History Channel had a brilliant (and cheap) documentary on Michaelangelo (a closet reformist intrigued by reformists and alarmed by the Church's punishment of people who translated the Bible from Latin into accessible language). It should be required viewing in environmental studies courses in college, which are poisoned by self-referential, back patting attaboyists.

This is not about just being contrarian to annoy people. This is about the urgency of the threat of global population and extraction on the planet. We cannot afford to spend money on sugar pills, as Plato warned in The Republic would get voted on in a democracy against effective but bitter medecine offered by philosophers. But the stupidest thing is bitter placebos, like fluorescent lamp recycling, leadfree solder, and bans on exports of electronics for repair. Spending limited environmental dollars to do environmental harm. Faith in bitter medecine because it's bitter should be the low-hanging fruit. Challenging it is like challenging the Church in order to save it, a reference that only true fans of John Fialka would really understand.

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