First disclaimer: I’m NOT that hardcore. I don’t eat a strictly plant-based diet… yet. I ONLY take the bus when it works time-wise, or ride my bike when traffic volume and ecological impulses align. In other words: I refuse to helmet up for congested streets, and inhale everyone else’s car fumes trying to save the planet.
Secondly, while my environmental efforts are absolutely inspired by my kid, I have to keep most of what I study secret from her. That’s how scary the real-time converging-environmental-catastrophes movie we’re all starring in has become.
When my daughter was three years old, she sent $4 to save the polar bears. It was all the money she had, and in her mind the polar bears were then safe. I had to bite my tongue about how $4 would not stop the burning of coal, the melting of ice, or the drowning of polar bears. But the conviction that she had singlehandedly saved an endangered species, lit a fire in my soul.
However it’s not just polar bears — we are losing a species every 20 minutes. It used to be one species per million disappeared each year. But once we started shooting, polluting and procreating in earnest, annual extinctions climbed to 1,000 times that rate. Harvard Biologist, E. O Wilson, dubs what we are heading for the Eremozoic Era— the Age of Loneliness.
Once an animal gets onto the endangered species list, their chances of making it are very slim. Ask the European ortolan bunting songbird. While it’s illegal to trap or kill an ortolan, it isn’t illegal to eat them. As a tiny (they weigh less than an ounce) gastronomic treat they are being gobbled into certain oblivion.
Of course, the creature I most want to protect is my daughter. Children are now endangered by a barrage of toxic pollutants. Damage starts when they are budding embryos — floating carefree in amniotic fluid. It’s believed a quarter of U.S women have enough phthalates (fossil fuel-derived chemicals used in plastics, perfumes, hairspray and nail polish) in their bodies to interfere with their son’s genital development. Phthalates are also linked to asthma and cause preterm birth — 12.7 percent of American babies are born prematurely. Preterm birth rates are up 20 percent since 1990.
Thanks in part to organophosphate pesticides doused on food crops, one in ten American children suffer from ADHD. Pediatric neural development disorders are so rife, 22 percent of U.S school spending now goes to special education services.
But it’s not just children, since 1950 male sperm counts have decreased by 50 percent. This decline is linked to plastics like Bisphenol A (also a byproduct of fossil fuels) and pesticides. Rural American men have lower sperm counts than urban men – because of higher pesticide exposure.
Yes, this is turning into a mutant species horror movie. We, the people, are being biologically changed, by chemicals that disrupt our endocrine and neural development.
But here’s what really scares me: while I dedicate myself to knowing about these sorts of outrageous trespasses, I am surrounded by people equally dedicated to NOT knowing. Some people want to hunker down alone in the dark closet of ignorance. But we all know: the second rule of being in a scary movie is DO NOT hide ALONE in the closet.
My husband has drilled scary movie rules into our heads. As a family we know the FIRST rule is STICK TOGETHER. But when I relay to him gory details about what could be happening to his sperm count RIGHT now, I can tell he wants to leave the room. He does NOT want to stick together.
So over the years I’ve learnt to temper my outbursts about toxic nasties, now I calmly deliver little eco monologues, ending with, “What do you think we should do, honey?”
What I want to do is: run for the hills, go bush, get a farm, milk goats, till, hoe, harvest, hand shear sheep, card wool, spin, knit, weave… anything to take my mind off this haphazard altering of the planet and ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to go fetal position in the nearest small space.
But this is exactly the moment to crawl out of the closet of denial or ignorance, and stick together. Time to change movie genres, go more western, circle the wagons and become straight talking heroes who don’t stand for this kind of horseplay.
The most important job of elected officials is to protect the people. President Obama claims to think about the welfare of the average American every day he’s in office. So I say to him PROVE IT.
Keep the EPA strong. Make the fracking industry comply with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and disclose ALL the nasty chemicals they use – currently fracking is extremely UNregulated. Be the president who weans America off the oil nipple. Because from oil flow substances that are mutating our bodies into something evolutionarily different to what they were before fossilized carbon was discovered.
There are times I want to wallow in the paralysis of well-informed futility. Because no matter how much I blog tales of eco woe; educate myself and anyone who will listen; pick up other peoples’ plastic litter, irrigate my vegetable garden with recycled grey water, volunteer for environmental watch dogs groups, compost, and cry — will it ultimately be enough?
But I became an environmentalist because it’s the RIGHT thing to do, AND I refuse to take the ruination of the natural world lying down. Sometimes it feels like a David and Goliath battle. Environmentalists up against corporate chemical monopolies such as Monsanto and Bayer, or fossil fuel industry behemoths like Exxon Mobil.
But no one knows how this movie will end. So I get out of bed to protect the unknown — my daughter’s future.
I am aiming for happily ever after.
(This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post in September 2013 under the title, “The Dilemma of a Hardcore Environmentalist: Trying Not to Scare the S#*+ Out of My Family, or Succumb to Defeatist Apathy.”)