Casual and Embedded Disablism: NYMag and Climate Change

New York Magazine has a big story on how terrifying the climate change of the earth is. It’s long and scary and I kind of skimmed it honestly because I have deadline and moving to do. But the brilliant writer Emily DePrang pointed out this paragraph to me in which the author, for no particular reason, uses autism stigma to take a little swipe at Hollywood. My emphasis.

Other stuff in the hotter air is even scarier, with small increases in pollution capable of shortening life spans by ten years. The warmer the planet gets, the more ozone forms, and by mid-century, Americans will likely suffer a 70 percent increase in unhealthy ozone smog, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has projected. By 2090, as many as 2 billion people globally will be breathing air above the WHO “safe” level; one paper last month showed that, among other effects, a pregnant mother’s exposure to ozone raises the child’s risk of autism (as much as tenfold, combined with other environmental factors). Which does make you think again about the autism epidemic in West Hollywood.

There are two related problems here – one deep, one trivial. First, the author’s last sentence reveals, in its casual snide swipe, the depths of bias. I don’t use “casual” to minimize the impact here, but rather as a category of thoughtless writing (or speaking/action) that exposes the author’s underlying assumptions. The quip is 1) stigmatizing and 2) without evidentiary basis.

The deeper issue here, though, is the assumption that rise in autism, even assuming we accept that ozone = higher autism rate, belongs as part of the “even scarier” context about the earth turning uninhabitable. That’s a more nuanced and important discussion, but we can’t even have it when this author is operating from a place where joking about autism, ozone, and Hollywood as his go to quip.

Leave a Reply