Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure to hear Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak on the significant environmental crisis that has been with us for some time and the impact past, current and future events will have on the environment and us in the future. I say pleasure, but in fact, she scared the crap out of me and everyone in attendance which was her purpose. Dr. Steingraber is an ecologist, author, cancer survivor and mother of two. Her most recent book about her son is called “Raising Elijah – Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” and it follows her earlier book called “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer.” She is a frequent public speaker and has testified in front of Congress, the United Nations and the European Parliament to name a few. Her first book has been made into a film by The People’s Picture Company of Toronto.
She tells her stories from each of her lenses, but her most impactful lens is the one told as a mother of two. I am currently reading “Raising Elijah” and would encourage each of you to read it and tell others about it. I will move onto her first book after this one. She attests that when you speak of these issues as a mother (or parent), it resonates with everyone as we all wish for our children to live healthy lives. She notes she has been able to bring pro-life and pro-choice believers together on these issues.
In her mind, there are two types of crises with the environment – the toxic crisis and the climate change crisis. The toxic crisis has been with us for some time and decisions and exposures from many years ago are still affecting people now. The climate change crisis is very real and, in addition, to the other issues it creates, it heightens the impact of the toxic crisis even more. Elevated temperatures and the impact on the ozone will only make current matters worse. From a mother’s perspective, the impact on our children is worse than it is on adults. She notes the obvious, but children are closer to the ground where many of the toxins reside, they have a much higher degree of mouth breathing meaning they will take in more air per pound, they put their hands in their mouth about ten times an hour plus they will be exposed for longer periods due to their age than adults to toxins. A few facts that will heighten the issue
– 1 out of 8 US children are born prematurely which is traceable to the environment; early births mean the lungs are not fully created, so life long breathing issues will result;
– 1 out of 11 US children have asthma (1 out of 4 in Harlem);
– 1 in 10 US children will have a learning disability;
– 1 in 110 US children will have some form of Autism; and
– 1 in 10 US white girls and 1 in 5 US black girls will have breast development before the age of 8, which translates into menopausal and other issues.
I wish to tell you these numbers are made up, but they are well-grounded. And, the higher propensity can be traced to toxins that have been allowed to exist in the air, water and even playgrounds. The latter will make you furious, but the pressurized wood we have in many of our playgrounds is loaded with arsenic, copper and chromium, so our children and adults with our pressurized decks, are exposed to these chemicals. Adding to that, it is measured that 60% of Americans live in areas where the air is unhealthful. So, from her perspective, “an investment in green energy is also an investment in cancer prevention.”
I went to hear her speak as she is one of the biggest opponents of hydro-fracturing or fracking to release and harvest natural gas. What I expected to hear is the impact fracking has on the nearby water where the chemicals used to fracture the shale gets in the water table. I also expected to hear about the significant increase in earthquakes in areas where fracking is done. These are a problem. Yet her major concern is what is released into the air and its impact on many today and in the future. Air pollution is what is causing the conditions in children and adults.
She notes the US is now doing and promoting Four Extreme Measure of Fossil Fuel Extraction – (1) mountain top removal, (2) tar sands, (3) deep-sea oil drilling and (4) fracking. All of these impact our environment greatly, but fracking gives her the most alarm. She advocates we must have a strategy to cease all new fossil fuel extraction now and invest in renewable forms of energy. Her point is any change will not impact the climate change for about 15 years, so we must divorce ourselves now from new fossil fuels.
What can we do? Reading from “Climate Change and Your Health – Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution,” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we should be doing the following:
– investing in more fuel-efficient cars and reducing the miles driven;
– developing fuels that are less carbon-intensive;
– providing good public transit and other commuting/ travel alternatives;
– increasing energy efficiency at industrial and commercial facilities;
– developing and retrofitting homes and buildings to be more efficient;
– using more renewable energy resources – such as wind, solar and geothermal – to generate electricity;
– ensuring that ozone and carbon-reduction standards are strong enough to be truly protective of public health; and
– working collaboratively with global partners to reduce carbon emissions from other countries.
The issues and solutions require concerted effort and input from all parties. This issue more than any scares me most if the GOP takes the White House. I feel we will not only lose momentum, but many of the policies of the GOP are the exact opposite of what we need to do. When Newt Gingrich has to disavow that he changed his mind on global warming when he appeared with Nancy Pelosi (I guess we are to shake up our Etch-a-Sketch to erase it from our memories) that is a telling point for me. The President is on the right track, but he needs to do more and he needs the Republicans to join him at the table and stop being ostriches with their head in the sand. And, once you read Dr. Steingraber’s book I hope you have a better grasp that we need a concerted effort now to save our children – our Elijahs. Forget the debt, forget the economy, forget social values – none of that will matter if we don’t fix this problem. The human and economic cost will dwarf any of these issues.