Well-Informed Futility

I’ve been reading Raising Elijah – Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. I’ve been a big fan of its author, Dr. Sandra Steingraber for a long while now.

The book is awesome. Steingraber is a fabulous writer & the book is simply a must-read for anyone who is a parent, might be a parent one day, or is an aunt, uncle, sister, brother, grandparent, or prospective parent/grandparent &/or who gives a darn about the human race. (Does this sufficiently take in everybody??)(1)

In Chapter 2, while discussing her experiences learning about the dangers & health risks of arsenic in pressure-treated wood in a playground structure at her daughter’s nursery school, she introduces the phrase “well-informed futility.” As she explains, the phrase was coined by psychologist Gerhart Wiebe in 1973 & “refers to a particular kind of learned helplessness.”(2) The way it goes is that when we get a lot of information about something we feel we cannot control or “fix,” we experience futility. Of course, futility leads to inaction, even though the very thing that is required is action. And, as Steingraber goes on to say, “Just down the street from well-informed futility resides denial.”

I’m pretty familiar with well-informed futility. I’m always dealing with, & writing about, rapacious corporations (not just rapacious but wildly, wildly planet-destroying!), venal politicians & apathetic, deer-in-the-headlights citizenry. I know lots & lots of people who long ago succumbed to well-informed futility & its evil best friends, denial, apathy & inaction.


Tiresome & frustrating, hmmm? Hugely so!

But I ain’t quittin’!

I no longer have faith or hope in the long-term prospects for our species (I’m not even so sure about the short-term ones!?).

But action sure turns my crank a whole lot more than cynicism, futility & apathy do!

Daily contact with Nature (through my daily walk or bike ride), activism & time spent with others who are not just sitting whistling Dixie (as they say) – these miraculously keep me joyful & “in the moment.”

After this morning’s walk, I returned to make myself some breakfast & turned on my beloved CBC Radio. Wow!! 

Fabulous listening on The Sunday Edition! A 1-hour special by former Toronto mayor David Miller called “The Green Streets and Rivers of New York City.”

It’s about “green” initiatives in NYC – & highlights the need for mayors & cities to take action on climate change (& other environmental issues), since, as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg points out, state & federal governments are certainly not doing so.

True story!

Well. As I repeat like a broken record, I may have lost hope – but I do still advocate action!


p.s. Do read Sandra Steingraber! Raising Elijah, Having Faith &/or Living Downstream. All are well worth some of your precious time, I promise you! Ms. Steingraber is a poet, ecologist, cancer survivor, concerned & loving mother, wonderful writer & passionate activist. (See her in the film “Living Downstream” too!)

p.p.s. & listen to the podcast of David Miller’s “The Green Streets and Rivers of New York City.” It’s here (you may have to add the date August 21, 2011 to get to the podcast).

Quote of the day’ with this post: “Ultimately, the environmental crisis is a parenting crisis. It undermines my ability to carry out two fundamental duties: to protect my children from harm and to plan for their future. My responsibility as a mother thus extends beyond push mowers and clotheslines to the transformation of the nation’s energy systems along renewable lines. Fine. With joy and resolve – and accepting the full severity of the situation vis-à-vis the world’s oxygen-making plankton – I hereby devote myself to the task. When I watch my children breathing in their sleep, it doesn’t feel like a choice. Happily, I’m in good company. And I have this quote for inspiration: ‘Recent studies indicate the U.S. and world could rely 100 percent on green energy sources within 20 years if we dedicate ourselves to that course.’” Dr. Sandra Steingraber in Raising Elijah

Runners-up: “A woman’s body is (a human being’s) first environment. Whatever contaminants are in a woman’s body find their way into the next generation. I think there is no better argument for the precautionary principle.” – Dr. Sandra Steingraber

“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” – Gaylord Nelson

“You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken, entrepreneur & author

(1) I particularly enjoyed Chapter 7 – “The Big Talk (and Systems Theory).” This woman is both brilliant & WILDLY articulate…& eminently, eminently readable.

(2) Raising Elijah – Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, Merloyd Lawrence, 2011, page 46.