Environmental Crisis – Raising all of our Elijahs (a reprise)

The following post was written in 2012, but requires repeating. We have made some progress, but not near enough. The children are starting to pay more attention about the world they are inheriting, as evidenced by Greta Thunberg’s popularity.

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 (here in 2020, many of these are now being done, but they need to be accelerated):

– 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; (looking from 2020, I would add tidal as well; note wind and solar are now more cost effective than coal)

– 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. 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. While other issues are important – none of them will matter if we don’t fix these problems. The human and economic cost will dwarf any of these issues.

*Note: Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer meaning it is most often environmentally caused. She and a few other family and extended family members got bladder and other types of cancer, as they lived between four manufacturing plants. And, as Steingraber notes, she is adopted, so her cancer was not hereditary.

10 thoughts on “Environmental Crisis – Raising all of our Elijahs (a reprise)

  1. Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is poorly understood, and so the ‘solutions’ offered are usually just as poor. Here’s an analogy:

    The atmosphere is like a bucket with a few tiny holes at the bottom. Our greenhouse gas emissions are like a dripping tap over the bucket. Each drip is significantly greater than what the tiny holes lose. Each year where we increase or decrease the drip rate means the water level is rising in the bucket. At certain measurements, the temperature of the bucket will rise 1* Celsius. This is additive. Our global bucket has passed 1* C. It is approaching 2* C. Every. Single. Drop. adds to the level. At the current rate, we will reach 3* C by 2100. If each of us takes 100,000 of our closet friends into the woods, produce zero emissions, and eat nothing but sustainable berries and nuts, we are going to reach 3* C just after 2100. That dripping will continue.

    So here’s the point: greenhouse gas emissions must stop. And that means energy production must switch to non greenhouse gas emissions as soon as humanely possible. Without this change, the bucket will continue to fill.

    This idea that individual choices plays an important role in mitigating climate change was bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry back in the 70s. It is a means to DIVERT us from insisting we change our energy system wholesale. It is propaganda and spread far and wide by those who think advocating for reductions and changes to personal behaviours is meaningful. That is the Big Lie.

    • Tildeb, thanks for your comment. No question we must move more dramatically, as we lost eight years under Bush and four under Trump. We may already be behind the eight ball. Keith

      • The cost for such a transition was deemed an economy killer back in the 80s. By the 90s, the estimation was around 4 trillion. We now spend trillions per year just on damage from the worst of the storms and hand out trillions to big businesses with little concern. But addressing climate change?

        Now here’s the thing to pass along to your kids and grandkids: where is the best place to live as the world changes its weather patterns?

        Keep in mind that Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac hold the majority of mortgages in the US. Note that reinsurers have told US insurance companies that climate risk is now a factor, that mortgages deemed to be situated on land at too high a risk will have to pay either exorbitant premiums or no coverage will be offered. To compensate for recognizing this reality, FM and FM has been secured by public dollars and so continues to sell known at risk mortgages for properties that should not receive them. To date, this public liability for the US citizen amounts to about 100 trillion dollars. And that is just homes.


        From rising sea level and salt water encroachment in Florida to the vulnerable hills and canyons of California, from the hurricane threat throughout the Gulf Coast to the river valleys of the mid West, about 60% of US housing is situated in at risk settings, meaning not enough infrastructure work to mitigate the threat has been done. Entire towns are without any means of getting insurance and some are actually building subdivisions on higher ground and swapping these for lower lying homes with minimal mortgages… because this is far cheaper than trying to build the protective barriers needed to divert tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of miles of shoreline and river basins.

        Here’s the simple calculation that accurately works for the trillion dollar reinsurers: for each degree Celsius the atmosphere warms, divide the time frame by 5, meaning an area subject to, say, a 5 year flood will get one every year. A devastating hundred year flood event will occur on average every 20 years. Now do the same for another degree that we are fast approaching. You can see the cumulative effect quickly and easily. The same is true for fire and tornado and hurricane and drought and snow. For each degree Celsuis, add 8% more energy to the atmosphere and then calculate how often tornadoes will occur (a certain amount of energy in the form of water and temperature meeting up with air that produces a differential in those two elements is the fuel needed to start a storm process. It can unfold quickly, which is why we have some lead time that thee ‘conditions’ are ripe for tornados and warnings can be broadcast).

        None of this is based on ‘belief’ but on facts based on physics and chemistry. This is why a low level prediction of 3* C rise in global temperature by 2100 is not subject to any meaningful debate about changing light bulbs and reducing the use of plastic straws. It’s a game changer. Life will be much different then, whether we want to adapt or not.

        So, to be smart now on behalf of future generations means understanding what the problem is – rising temperatures – and incorporate what is being done about it – almost nothing. So… plan on that. Invest in information technology energy companies, for example (the financial Poo Bahs have no real clue why Tesla stock has quintupled in 10 months (it personifies the information technology industry with interests from medicine/neural bypasses for paralysis space cargo, from cars to global mapping, from air conditioners with no moving parts to AI), why First Solar, Vestas, and so on are growing exponentially. Pull money out of today’s walking dead fossil fuel companies and all the infrastructure companies they use. Carbon is dead already. Buy homes in areas that will be the least affected by expected disasters and make them as self sustaining as possible. Land is the real value and not the pretty homes that sit on it. Learn how to learn with smart education – not trained for jobs that will go the way of the dodo as our economy undergoes a rapid transition but positioned to remain at the forefront of a rapidly changing economy. There is a fortune to be made in this transitional time and they are situated to ride it if they can learn faster and better than someone trained only to be skilled with a dying technology. Prepare for this future rather than presume today’s ways are useful and relevant and people will be fine. Climate change is here. It’s unstoppable. All we can do is try to turn off the tap altogether… and it’s going to happen eventually because no industry that uses energy can compete with renewables and this is a lucrative time to get in on the action at ground level. yes, interesting times we live in but very exciting to build a new future in place of its rotting foundations. The future, believe it or not, is actually bright in so many ways even though the damage from carbon will irrevocably alter life on this planet.

  2. Note to Readers: Today on CBS Sunday Morning, they had a segment on the contagion of pediatric cancers in Franklin, Indiana. The number of Leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and various other cancers is pronounced. Two mothers joined together to define the problem and seek help. The story traces its roots back to two carcinogen chemicals being released into the ground in the 1980s. A clean-up effort stalled before it took care of the problem. What they learned is the chemicals drained into the neighborhood and the vapors from underground our exposing the kids.

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