*

Saving the Planet One Story at a Time
menu +

Blog


Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream, newly published in second edition by Da Capo Press to coincide with the release of the documentary film adaptation.
This essay is one in a weekly series by Sandra – published at www.livingdownstream.com – exploring how the environment is within us. For more on the interactions between health and environment, and to take action, visit Clayton Thomas-Muller’s page, Home Lands vs. Tar Sands.


By Sandra Steingraber

When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1979, at the age 20, I drafted a list of goals. The first thing I would do, once I was sprung from the hospital, would be to pay a visit to Claire’s Boutique in the mall. There I would get my ears pierced. Next, I would hit the university library. There I would answer the question, Why me?

Neither task was difficult to accomplish, but one had a more predictable outcome than the other.

The ear-piercing achieved exactly what I thought it would: it upset my mother. Her reaction—arising from the particular religious practices of her German-American family—allowed me to be angry with her. And anger allowed me to rebuff her attempts to bond with me over what she saw as a shared medical experience.

I couldn’t have walked away from her otherwise. Mom was in treatment for breast cancer. There she was in her wig, her platelet count decimated by chemotherapy, distraught about my earlobes. I had predicted this. I knew that she would see the earrings as an unnecessary mutilation. As if we don’t have enough problems already, Sandy, that we can’t control.

Those words provided the pretext I needed to storm out of the house and head back to college, forty-five miles and a world away. I had lost the script to my life. I knew how to play the role of the supportive, unrebellious daughter alongside my mother’s brave performance as a cancer patient who could calmly accept bad news and carry on. But I didn’t know how to be a co-cancer patient.

In the library, I turned my attention to the medical literature on bladder cancer. What did we know about causation? Questions posed by my diagnosing physician—had I ever worked with vulcanized rubber?—led me to believe that environmental exposures must be part of the collective story.

They were. There was a trove of data going back to the nineteenth century. Dyes, rubber manufacturing, chlorinated water, air pollutants, dry-cleaning solvents: all were linked to bladder cancer. If not mine, then somebody’s.

But, outside of the isolated world of epidemiology and toxicology, there was very little recognition of this evidence. The word carcinogen never appeared in any of the pamphlets on cancer in my doctors’ waiting rooms. The medical intake forms I was forever filling out asked detailed questions about the history of cancer in my family but none about, say, chemical contaminants in my hometown drinking water.

I’m adopted. The wells periodically contain trace amounts of dry-cleaning solvent.

As we approach the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day—and the forty-eighth anniversary of Silent Spring’s publication—we are still far from a mature acknowledgement of cancer’s environmental agents. But there are signs of an awakening awareness. Provinces and municipalities across Canada have banned the cosmetic use of pesticides on the grounds that they are linked to childhood cancers.

The European Union has banned carcinogens from cosmetics. Here in the United States, calls grow louder for reform of the flaccid Toxic Substances Control Act, which has proved itself unable to eliminate suspected carcinogens from the marketplace. And I can now find the words carcinogen and environment in the waiting-room literature.

But, for me, the most telling sign of the times is this: my hometown hospital invited me to give a lecture on environmental carcinogens before an audience of physicians concerned about the proposed expansion of a hazardous-waste landfill. Mom came with me. I was the one wearing earrings.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

TIME TO STOP ASKING AND START ACTING

BY JOAN PROWSE

Producer/Director of GreenHeroes

Most people have heard of the Alberta Tar Sands. I was particularly struck by how far reaching Clayton’s message has been when I was in Germany at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers TV conference at the beginning of the month.

People I met there, including TV producers from Europe, the UK, Australia and the U.S. were well aware of the travesty taking place near the tiny town of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Photo credit : David Dodge

Awareness leads to action. While I have never seen the Tar Sands first hand, I edited the pictures forGreenHeroes Episode 5 - Oil Changers and was frankly overwhelmed that we could rake havoc on such natural beauty.

I’ve been to the Athabasca River and Canada’s North. This pristine part of the world, and the people and wildlife living there, needs protection.

Photo credit : David Dodge

I urge everyone this holiday season to share Clayton’s webisode with others. I also encourage you take part in our campaign by doing one of the suggested actions.

Mother Earth will thank you for it.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

We’re lucky at GreenHeroes to have some amazing talent behind every webisode we showcase.

This week’s webisode on Clayton Thomas-Müller features the musical beats of Plex, an award winning hip hop artist and producer originally from Edmonton, Alberta.

He was inspired as an artist to write the song below, called “Spare Change”, based on his experiences growing up near the tar sands and experiencing the interconnections between the oil industry and people’s lives.

The track highlights an inherent sensitivity behind his musical façade, and a deep interest for social welfare and positive change.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpfKu7NXD_U[/youtube]

“Although I believe it’s important to honor our past, mankind needs to focus on our future and the time to act is in the present. Clayton Thomas Muller may be the man to lead us into a new era of peace and harmony with the planet. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

A lot of people are talking tar sands these days, but you might not have a clue what it’s all about. It’s a rather sticky subject, leaving Canada with a not-so-flattering reputation as a big bad polluter.

But as time passes, and consequences are beginning to appear, the critics are being proven right; these tar sands are dirty, and they’re wreaking havoc on our Canadian landscape, its people, and the world at large.

The tar sands, found primarily in Alberta, are a mixture of sand, clay, and petroleum. Because the oil is contained in this mixture, it takes a lot of energy and waste to extract it for use.

Once extracted, the oil is shipped to other parts of the world, predominantly to the US through underground pipelines.

For Clayton Thomas-Muller and his team at the Indigenous Environment Network, putting a stop to production of oil at the tar sands is a number one priority.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KokiUgvlwc4[/youtube]

[/caption]The tar sands is the largest industrial project in the history of humanity, and producing oil from them releases three times as much carbon dioxide emissions as regular oil production. But what many don’t realize is the destruction goes beyond mere CO2 emissions.

The tar sands are one of the fastest causes of deforestation. Add water depletion to the mix (it takes up to 5 barrels of water to produce a barrel of oil) and you’ve got a recipe for an oily disaster.

Those living downstream are living proof of the linkage between health and environment. Exposed to contaminants in their air and water released in the process of extracting the oil, these communities are beginning to show chronic distress from breathing in nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide, including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease, in addition to an increasing prevalence of cancer.

The case is set for what Clayton calls ‘environmental racism’; First Nations people are disproportionately affected, and Clayton will continue to speak out for environmental justice.

Want to have your say? Need ideas on how to put a stop to this dirty practice? Have ideas on improving your community’s health and environment? Visit our Home Lands vs. Tar Sands campaign page!

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

The health of our earth is linked to the health of its inhabitants. This fact is no more evident than in communities affected by environmental disasters and destruction. Clayton Thomas-Müller, a campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network, discovered this intricate linkage in his work campaigning against Canada’s tar sands.

Production of oil in the tar sands means acres of deforestation and water pollution; producing 1 barrel of oil requires pollution of 2 to 5 barrels of fresh water.

It is also the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

After discovering the devastation in front-line communities downstream, affected by health risks such as cancer, Clayton decided to speak up for the right for all people to live, work, and play in a healthy environment.

As a voice for front line communities, Clayton actively vocalizes for the rights of indigenous communities and those affected by environmental racism, communities uprooted by industrial displacement, corporate exploitation and the resulting toxic contamination. You too can be a voice, asking for healthy environments for all. Act now.

“What we need to do as humanity is re-evaluate our life, our relationships with the sacredness of mother earth, our relationship that has been devastated by industrial gain”
– Clayton Thomas-Müller

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

We were inspired by Vandana’s passionate fight to preserve heritage seeds, protecting small farmers who rely on the renewal of their seeds year after year, often times fighting off GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from large corporations.

In Canada, there’s a rally to support Bill C-474, which would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”

The bill would stop GE (genetically engineered) wheat and alfalfa from being produced, because it cannot be sold in certain markets, such as those in Europe, which are world leaders in banning GE products.

It’s timely, then, that we get to hear from Bob Wildfong, Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada, who recognizes the importance of keeping seeds local, natural and diverse. Feeling inspired? Plant the seed in your local community.

By Bob Wildfong
Seeds of Diversity Canada

We have to take notice that there’s a crucial missing piece in the growing local food movement. It makes sense to grow our food close to home, but we also need to grow our seeds close to home.

Just after World War 2, there was a strong desire to create domestic self-sufficiency because people remembered bad times when they couldn’t get food across borders and worldwide shipping was disrupted. Our federal government spent millions of dollars developing Canadian-bred varieties of fruits and vegetables, but most of those are now just relegated to seed banks.

During the past 50 years, our food system has shifted to a massive export-import system and seed production has globalized too.

Now, most of the seed varieties that are sold and grown in Canada are actually bred and produced in other parts of the world. Canadian varieties are not easy to find, because we’re too small a market in the global wholesale system. So our local food is mostly grown of non-local varieties.

We can support Canadian local food and local seeds by supporting Canadian seed growers, home-grown Canadian seed companies, and rekindling our identity as a land of abundant food choices. See a complete list of Canadian seed companies, and the fruit and vegetable varieties that they sell at www.seeds.ca

- Bob Wildfong, Executive Director, Seeds of Diversity Canada

www.seeds.ca
www.semences.ca

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, you can plant the first seed: Share your story of how you’re planting seeds for change in your community, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

By Talia Erlich

Environmental Artist

I’ve been working for the environment using art for two decades now, and I often design interactive installations or events (such as the Toronto Tree Festival) to ‘seed’ ecological consciousness or ‘bloom’ a green organization.

My ‘SEED ANGEL’ performance piece for Vandana Shivawas a call to visually represent and to honour the international green hero.

I first heard of Vandana Shiva through my work with Seeds of Diversity Canada (stay tuned for a blog post from its director!). I learned to appreciate the value of the ‘small stuff’ and people like Dr. Shiva who have been on the deck of a modern day Noah’s Ark story.

Until recently, only a few thousand people here in Canada understood the threat to food security, amongst other things, and have been heroically saving heirloom and rare seeds. They have effectively been a living gene bank for the rest of us.

Maintaining the right to save and share seeds has also been an ongoing struggle as agri-business and genetically modified technologies vie for market share and patents around the world. Advocates from across the environmental spectrum recognize the value and dangers if the people lose this basic right.

For a long while I’d been dreaming of a contemporary version of the ancient rite of seed sowing, so this was an opportunity to try a small gesture and also thank one of the giants of the seed-saving world. Dr. Shiva jumped right in and added a prayer from India that is recited when seed is sown: ‘May the seed be exhaustless’.

In her subsequent lecture at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), she commented about the importance of cultural forms in sync with ecological action, and I felt affirmed that art can weave strong threads in the fabric of sustainability.

I welcome collaboration and the inspirations of others on creating these new forms.

Has Talia planted a seed of interest in you? Do you want to share your creative spirit with others and change the world with your art? Write to greenartstudio@gmail.com or visit her blog, Tali’s Green Log. For more ideas on how to join Vadana Shiva in action and to sow seeds in your community, visit our campaign page!

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, you can plant the first seed: Share your story of how you’re planting seeds for change in your community, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

Vandana Shiva’s work is about promoting the world’s small farmers, reclaiming seeds in their native form and providing us with healthy choices in our food supply. On the other end of the spectrum is the industrialized food system, or, food as most of us know it in North America.

To fully understand the magnitude of harm our food system is causing us, we have to look no further than our own bodies and environment.

Exposing these dangers is the mind-blowing documentary, Food Inc., which takes us on a ride through the factory farm and pesticide-ridden production of our food.

From food-borne illness and obesity to genetic engineering, Food Inc. will forever change the way you look at food.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0[/youtube]

Most of us know little about where our food comes from and haven’t bothered to ask.

So this story comes at an opportune time, uncovering what’s actually going on in the North American food industry, an industry more consumed with profit than with the health of our communities, farmers, environment, and bodies.

What Vandana Shiva fights against, and what Food Inc. ultimately exposes, is a food system out of the hands of farmers and consumers, and controlled by a few major corporations.

The film is not all pessimistic, though. Just as Vandana Shiva sees a hope for the future of natural crop diversification and small farmers, Food Inc. has a positive outlook and an empowering message for consumers.

There are stories of courageous farmers and people standing up against the corporations to bring real food to the table. As consumers, we have immense power to shape our food supply; every dollar we spend on our food is a vote.

We’ve got some great ideas to plant the seed in your family and community, and help shift towards a sustainable food system. Food Inc.’s got 10 simple ideas of their own to take action on this issue:

1. Stop drinking pop and sweetened drinks.

2. Eat at home instead of eating out.

3. Help ensure food labels are complete and easy to understand to help make healthy choices.

4. Stop the sale of soda and junk food in schools.

5. Go without meat at least one day a week.

6. Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides.

7. Protect family farms and visit your local farmer’s market.

8. Make a point of learning where your food comes from.

9. Tell the government that food safety is important to you.

10. Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections.

You can watch Food Inc. through December online on CBC’s website. Let us know what you think about the movie by leaving a comment below.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, you can plant the first seed: Share your story of how you’re planting seeds for change in your community, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

Rebecca Gerendasy is executive producer and co-founder of Cooking Up a Story (CUpS), one of the first online television series and video blogs about people, food, and sustainable living.

CUpS offers a variety of original, short form video programming, and written posts that examine our food system, up close and personal. Cooking Up a Story features some of the leading thinkers and doers in the sustainable food movement, people such as Dr. Vandana Shiva as profiled in this post.


BY REBECCA GERENDASY

Executive Producer & Co-founder of Cooking Up a Story

In this video interview, Dr. Shiva explains the science of agricultural biotechnology (genetic engineering), and the dangers it poses to the world’s food supplies. Trained as a physicist, Vandana Shiva is one of the world’s leading environmental and social activists defending the rights of poor indigenous peoples, and helping to preserve native cultures.

As a woman, and a pioneer in the sustainable food movement, she has courageously taken her stand among the peasant farmers of India, and indigenous people throughout the world, as a fierce defender of nature, and of women’s rights.

This is more than about the safety of agricultural biotechnology products, as Shiva points out, it’s also about the ability of all of us to have a choice of the foods that we eat, for our farmers to be able to freely use their own seeds, and to grow food in the manner that they choose.

In developing countries like India, biotechnology introduces higher costs of production to the farmers, and makes them highly dependent upon a small number of companies to purchase their seeds, and required chemical inputs. Increasingly, farmers whose crops fail to produce anticipated yields are propelled into a cycle of debt that cause, at least some, to commit suicide.

Dr. Shiva continues to bring to the fore, among the most pressing concerns facing society today: the rights of developing nations to develop their own food sovereignty; conservation of the biodiversity existing in nature; the incorporation of newer agricultural methods to sustainably advance food production while preserving key indigenous farming practices; and ultimately the right of a people to enjoy shared access to their own seeds, to farm in ways that conserve finite natural resources, and to advance the economic and social health of their local communities and nation states.

- Rebecca Gerendasy, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Cooking Up a Story


You can watch all 3 parts of Vandana’s CUpS here. To plant the seed in others and to help actively promote her mission for a sustainable food production system, visit our campaign page!

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, you can plant the first seed: Share your story of how you’re planting seeds for change in your community, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

BY MELANIE REDMAN

Back in April, I went to see Vandana Shiva speak atOCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) in Toronto. I arrived to the event about one and a half hours early to get good seats. As I approached OCAD to meet up with my girl, Maggie, I saw Vandana Shiva standing in the grass with a few people giving an interview. I’m not sure why, but I hid behind one of the colourful legs of the building, and watched her speak.

She looked like a part of what she calls, “nature’s perfect design,” with her vibrant-coloured clothing and long, flowing hair swept up. Having seen her speak several times and having followed her work for years, I decided to come out from behind the pole and stand there, in the open, gazing at her as she spoke.

I didn’t care if she saw me, as I hoped she would know that I was standing there in awe and in solidarity of her important work toward the sustainability of this planet and our human communities therein. Just then, I saw Maggie approaching, so I snapped back into the task at hand – get good seats!

“COOPERATION IS NATURE’S DESIGN. EFFICIENCY IS NATURE’S DESIGN.”

When Vandana Shiva spoke, she came back repeatedly to the idea that the earth has given us a perfect design to work with (after all, she was speaking at a college of art and design), yet somehow, we’re allowing the interests of a few to dominate the needs of many. Monsanto’s control of seeds was only one of the many examples she gave.

I was very pleased that a good portion of her talk was solutions-focused, and very, very positive. She discussed the organizations she works with, and the global movement to save seeds, in hopes of preserving some of the diversity that nature has given us.

“ONE SEED CAN CHANGE THE DIRECTION IN WHICH YOUR LIFE GOES.”

One of the saddest points of her talk was to remind us of how many farmers in India have committed suicide in the last decade. Official government statistics put the number at 200,000. And that, folks, is more than a tragedy.

During the question-and-answer period, she was asked how she can face these massive problems every day with hope. Vandana Shiva responded that it’s easy, because earth is such a perfect design, she’s always amazed, delighted and filled with hope for the future. Besides, as she alluded to earlier in the talk, earth will always be around in some form or another. It’s our species that will pay the price for the way we’re living.

“WE’RE ON A PATH WORKING AGAINST THE DESIGN OF THE EARTH.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I3xg0GUu1U[/youtube]

This post originally appeared on Folks Gotta Eat

Join the movement to save seeds and works towards a sustainable food production system. For ideas on how you can plant the seed in others, visit our campaign page!

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, you can plant the first seed: Share your story of how you’re planting seeds for change in your community, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

TOP