Sandra Steingraber

The Moral Crisis of Our Age

I'm a long-time fan of activist/scientist/cancer survivor/poet/writer Dr. Sandra Steingraber. Oh yeah.

Just watched a Bill Moyer interview with her here

& was moved to tears by her so-inspiring words/actions within 10 minutes.

Please watch.

This woman is a heroine. A mother, scientist, & also a person who is serving 15 days in jail for a trespassing offence - protesting fracking in New York State (non-violent civil disobedience, btw -- nothing violent or crazy, I assure you!).

Ms. Steingraber is simply brilliant, which I've known for quite some time. Also, she is integrity personified.

An amazing heroine for our time. I personally am moved by her words & actions well beyond what I can possibly articulate here.

Especially as a mother. What she says about her role as a mother in these unprecedented times, all mothers need to hear.

Please watch, listen...& then act!


p.s. what is the moral crisis of our age? The environmental crisis. Watch the interview all the way through, & hear Steingraber talk about the "end of the world symphony" & what your role in this symphony might best be. Do you want to be a "good German" ... or a member of the French Resistance? The choice is yours.

p.p.s. sooooo much wisdom is shared in this interview. You simply must watch it!!! (& then, share it around like crazy!!!!!)

p.p.p.s. thanks, DGR, for sending me the link to this interview!!

p.s. #4: a letter from Sandra S. in jail, here


Showing Up (take 2)

& I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about showing up, & while I sat in court today the thought passed through my mind that my life/Life seems to be all about showing up.

& I was showing up today [November 30th], I did show up, it was a court hearing about the proposed York-Durham incinerator being planned for right down on Lake Ontario, just-just-just west of the lovely (not) Darlington Nuclear Generating Station on beautiful Lake Ontario, & a whole bunch of us showed up – we did! – & it all took hours & hours & I had the thought quite a few times during all those hours that old Charles Dickens really got it right when he said the law is an ass.

The law is an ass, in many ways, & I am betting even those who earn their livings from it would agree with that assertion, but that thought will have to wait for me to pursue it another day perhaps…

& we don’t know yet what the learned judge will decide, but by golly he actually came right out & acknowledged & thanked those of us in the “audience” for our participation, at the end of the court session, which went on for 6 hours instead of the 2 we had thought it would take, with expired parking meters & time for lunch (& some wonderful belly laughs, what fun!) in the coffee shop in between

& during the lunch-in-between I’d picked up a copy of a local newspaper ‘cos it happens to have a photo in it that I thought it would be good to have

& I drove back to my small town Durham Region town & even though it wasn’t really “suppertime,” I was ravenous, & I thought wouldn’t a beer & a burger be nice?

so I went to my decent local restaurant (there aren’t so very many of them in my small-town Durham Region town) & ordered a beer & a burger & I looked through the paper that I thought I only bought for the article/photo of the $75,000 incinerator groundbreaking party

& by golly doesn’t it turn out to have an article about the proposed new reactors at Darlington, & the article is so full of bumph & bullshit that it almost causes me to lose my appetite

& then I’m looking over the book I happen to have with me Dying from Dioxin by Lois Gibbs of Love Canal fame, & I heard Lois Gibbs speak, once, at an IJC (International Joint Commission) meeting, ½ a lifetime ago, or I guess it only seems like half a lifetime ‘cos OMG such a lot such a lot such a lot has happened since then

& I read how dioxin suppresses the immune system (& simultaneously I’m hearing the song “Mercy, Mercy Me” – things ain’t like they used to be, radiation underground) & I’m thinking

“Holy Geez! I came here to GET AWAY from reality, but it looks like reality has chased me down once again, the Universe doesn’t always have the same plan as the one I have, reality is showing up

& I read about dioxin which is produced by municipal solid waste incinerators, by the way, MSW incinerators like the one the big brains (not) in Durham Region are about to have built, & how dioxin downloads into our babies through our breast milk(1), & our babies wind up with more dioxin than we Moms have (‘cos we download our own lifetime load to our babies)

& I read about how endometriosis is on the increase

& then I remember too that today is 2 years to the day from when I was arrested in the federal finance minister’s office along with 6 other activists, & later we were sentenced in this very-very courthouse I am now sitting in for this hearing about a dioxin-producing incinerator-to-be

& I’m actually wearing the same outfit – it’s my getting arrested outfit, apparently, my black jeans & my white shirt, & then I notice the dudes on TV are talking about “movember” & mustaches

& I think, Shit, yeah, isn’t this about prostate cancer awareness or something? (you see how little I pay attention to the “news,” & what’s on television), & think yes, Dave (who was also arrested in the federal finance minister’s office 2 years ago) is gone now, he died of prostate cancer two months ago, & I am absolutely 100% convinced his cancer was caused by his mother’s exposure to lead as a young woman(1), & now he’s gone, & we really couldn’t afford to spare him, you know? & he was only 56 years old

& then I drink some water (my beer is gone & I’d really love to have another but I know I really mustn't) & I drink a few sips & I think

Well, at least this water is not fluoridated, & probably doesn’t have a ton of tritium in it...

& I eat my dill pickle, the last thing on my plate, & I remember my pretty amusing dill pickle story that I love to trot out whenever I can, but you know what? let’s leave that one for another day too, shall we?

& I think again

Yeah. Showing up.

It’s all about the showing up, isn’t it??

& I wonder, are we all showing up?

Are enough of us showing up?


p.s. & I think I am showing up, on the whole, & it also sometimes seems when all I really want to do for a few hours is stay away, the Universe seems to have another plan in mind for me

show up…

p.p.s. couple years later I am adding this p.s. -- long long after I posted this, I came across this wonderful wonderful item that I now include every week in my e-mails among the "quotes for the week" I try (& sometimes fail) to update weekly:

“4 Rules for Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.” -- Angeles Arrien, U.S. teacher, author (1940 – )


(1) Sandra Steingraber’s book Having Faith – An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, Perseus Publishing, 2001, discusses dioxin downloading & maternal lead exposure & lead crossing the placenta.


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.


Darl. Hearings: Carrie L. (March 31st)

I presented my remarks to the Darlington New Nuclear Plant  Project Joint Review Panel right after Carrie Lester last Thursday evening. Her remarks were so ... articulate, I prefaced my own remarks to the JRP by saying I felt Ms. Lester had said it all & there wasn't much left for me to say. Thanks, Carrie, for letting me post your presentation!


~The Burden of Truth~

Greetings to the members of the Darlington New Nuclear Power Plant Project Joint Review Panel, and audience members,

My name is Carrie Lester, from Toronto. I am “Onkwehonwe” which is the Bearfoot Onondaga from Six Nations.

In regards to Nuclear Energy, as simply a human being of this planet, my Mother Earth, your Mother Earth, I am going to address the Burden of Truth as it applies to our health all of our health. My health; the health of my family and friends; the health of your relations, and my relations; the health of the soil, the air, the water in and around Lake Ontario, where I live, and where my ancestors on my mother’s side have lived for thousands of years.

Segoli – Ga’un’ghwa Desa’na:sga’qua gia:jih,

Ogwai Osida niwa geh seh dehn,

Onondagaega niwa go wehn jyoh dehn

(That’s my name, my clan, and my nation).

There was a time when there was no cancer sickness here on Turtle Island. It arrived with the settling of the newcomers, and their need to do things faster, better, more ‘efficiently’, but that detached from the connection to Mother Earth, with the continued industrialization of the land, as was being practiced on the other side of the world.

Toxic waste from industry has infiltrated our world, from so many different sources, that we here in an urban setting find it difficult to be able to pinpoint exactly where each industrial toxin has come from, and what each toxin will do to us; however, the people from places like Fort Chippewa in Alberta know exactly where their cancerous poisons are coming from: the Tar Sands.

I recently attended a funeral for a friend; no, let me correct that: I attended TWO funerals ... for friends of mine whom I had got to know through my children, their school, and after school activities. After attending both funerals, I discovered that there were two other funerals that same day, from the same neighbourhood. I also learned of three other deaths of parents whom I had only briefly known, but who had also died recently ... within the past two years. All of them were parents in their late forties / early fifties with children in their late teens / early twenties. They all died from cancer. They all had raised their families in that same neighbourhood for those twenty years.

This neighbourhood was not in Clarington, or Bowmanville, or Darlington; but it was in Toronto. It had been an industrial area during the Second World War, but had since become a rather prestigious neighbourhood, with many tear-down bungalows becoming two-story million dollar homes.

Just before hearing of the deaths of these friends, I had attended a film screening / book launch of Sandra Steingraber’s story called “Living Downstream”, which, if you are not familiar with, is the story of, in general, how we are ALL now living downstream from some pollutant, and in particular, it is Sandra’s story of her survival with cancer, and wondering when it will come to get her again. It is also a story of discovery for Sandra, as she begins to question her cancer, and other cancers in her neighbourhood, and then the clusters of cancers throughout her state, and neighbouring states, and finally that of the whole of America, with a brief look at Canada and then how it can be applied to any community throughout the world.

I had also been to another book launch right after the Living Downstream film / book. This one was called 'Sea Sick', and was about the condition of the earth’s ocean the one ocean that is surrounding us, and what we have to the lifeblood of our Mother, the Earth.

One of the daughters of my friend who had died posted a message on her Facebook, asking everyone who has been affected by cancer in one way or another to pass on her message of hope, hope for a cure to come this year so that nobody else has to die from cancer, from how she had seen her mother’s body ravaged with this cancer. And she posted this to all her contacts on her Facebook.

I responded by saying,

“... it's not so much that a cure is needed (although that would be nice) ... it's that we must stop the lifestyle that produces it. We've contaminated our Mother Earth so horribly in only 150 years of the billions of years that this world has been in existence. The Industrial / Chemical / Technological Revolutions have all got us to this point. The toxins are everywhere now ... not just in our water, air and land, but in the cosmetics and hygiene products, our clothes, bedding, paints, plastics, toys, baby products, etc, etc ... a ‘cure’ will not take away all these toxins burdening our bodies ...“

Now, this is the part of my talk in which I was going to list a series of facts about the nuclear industry, such as:

·Radiation is a carcinogen, meaning that it damages DNA

·Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and is a waste product in the nuclear industry

·Canada’s allowable (1) levels for tritium (2)are quite a bit higher than other countries: 7,000 bq/l, compared to 100 bq/l in the EU, and 740 bq/l in the USA.

However, all of those statistics you already know. You have your own panel of (dispassionate – according to me) ‘engineering experts’, and you have been hearing from the (‘passionate’) public for the past week and a half, who are individuals like myself, and non-governmental organizations who just want you all to see where all of this horrible experiment has gone wrong. It doesn’t matter how many allowable ‘bequerels’ or ‘milliseverts’ of this or that are in our water, or air, or soil. What matters is that we just stop putting it there. There is no safe, allowable level of radiation. Period.

We have been contaminating our Mother Earth with this cancerous element ever since ‘engineers’ and physicists learned how to split the atom. And what was it the ‘experts’ said at that time when they saw what they had done?

Well, to quote from Paul McKay’s book called Atomic Accomplice:

Einstein said, “The unleashed atom has changed everything, save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”

And Oppenheimer said, “Now I am become Death, Shatterer of Worlds.” – and his military munitions expert who wired the detonators for the Trinity bomb test said, “Now we are all sons of bitches!”

So what should I talk about instead? Well, how about: how we should move on from here? How about if our direction of discussion turns from: how much radiation are we willing to subsidize from an industry that will contaminate our family and friends with; to a life-style without such consequences? How about if we talk about renewable energy sources, and reducing our consumption of energy?

We are creative beings – we don’t have to destroy our Mother in the process. People have already come up with plans to have a 100% renewable energy grid by the year 2027 – that’s probably about the time that a brand new reactor would take to be built and be up and running, but it would be far less costly in financial cost, and in living organism cost. Who are those people? Well, one group that I know of which has well documented plans are the people from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, another is Greenpeace, and also the Pembina Institute.

We have the technology and the creativity to combine all these different energy systems: Solar, wind, combined heat and power, our own hydro electric plus imports from Quebec.

I work at a school, an elementary school. I am a teacher’s assistant. When I sit in on a science lesson and the topic comes to their Living Things unit, the curriculum states that there are Living Things and Non Living Things – Biotic and Abiotic. And that, my friends, is the problem. In Indigenous cultures around Mother Earth, there are no “non living things”. Everything has life, has spirit. To think otherwise, allows people to disregard the very soil, air and water of our Mother, this planet Earth, and contaminate her, and everything on her, and in her, and around her. I always point this out to the students in the class. The students are our future, but we are their present … and they take direction from us and trust us to do responsible and ethical things.

Mother Earth is NOT a stable, static being. She is continually moving and reshaping herself. She thrusts, and writhes, and twists, and turns. And if I may say so, she farts, and belches, and vomits. She needs to breathe, and stretch and grow. Confining her in cement and asphalt; drilling in to her to remove her organs, and her blood, and her oils and lubricants is the death of us all. She is fighting back at our brainless and thoughtless ‘control’ that too many of us thought that we had over her. She quakes and trembles continuously, all over.

A large seismic eruption may not happen here in ten or twenty or even fifty years. It may take a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years, but this radioactive waste is here forever, and it is a ticking time bomb. Even if we stop using nuclear energy all over the world now, we still have the horrible after effects of what we have built up so far. The thousands of tons of radioactive contamination that has been stored at the 500 or so nuclear plants around the world is still going to be a problem. It wouldn’t take much for those containers to be breached by any number of Mother Earth’s bodily functions, not to mention the decay of the container itself over time.

We need to wake up and stop the nonsense. Stop funding the destruction of our planet. Stop funding the death of your family and friends.

Thank you.

(2) National Network on Environments and Women’s Health, August 2009 – Women and Water in Canada: The Gendered Health Effects of Chronic Low-Dose Exposures to Chemicals in Drinking Water: page 30 – Tritium levels down from 40,000 Bq/L in 1970’s to 7,000 Bq/L in 2000’s.

Thinking Like a Grandmother

I am not a grandmother…yet. I do have two grown children who are definitely old enough to have children of their own…& who, I suspect, want to. I think their “biological clocks” are probably ticking…maybe even loudly. I know mine certainly was at their ages!


When I was their ages, there was a lot I (& most if not all parents) didn’t know about parenthood. We didn’t know then that all of our children were being born “pre-polluted.” We didn’t know about the wide range of toxins children are now born with – or that most of a mother’s lifetime body burden (a phrase not then in use) of dioxin (another word I never heard mentioned back then) passes into her first child in the breast milk. (I just looked over Chapter 12 in Sandra Steingraber’s wonderful book Having Faith – An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. Which brought tears to my eyes. But I digress…)


I was a pretty virtuous pregnant lady. I gave up smoking & drinking & cut my coffee consumption down to one cup a day (this was a challenge, & I should have given it up altogether, of course. Mea culpa). Of course I didn’t know then about possible lead exposure from paint (or other sources). Or possible pesticide exposure from nearby sprayed lawns & the corn field behind our house (atrazine was almost certainly in use & very likely also in our well water). I didn’t know that our supposedly wonderfully “safe” & tasty well water would soon become polluted (it probably already was) – or due to what variety of substances it would soon become … no longer safe.


I didn’t know then that radionuclides suppress our immune system (chemicals too. And the thinning ozone layer (excess radiation, essentially). And various other things. Even sugar!!). Or that our location in the general area of 2 gigantic nuclear plants (Pickering & Darlington) may have had health impacts on us as well.


I was, in a word, rather uninformed. And quite naïve, I must admit, too. In spite of having worked for several years for a federal government agency that, quite frankly, did not inspire confidence or loyalty or truth-telling. But that’s a tale for another day entirely; there really MUST be a limit to how much I will allow myself to digress here…


I think I’ve always been a pretty good Mom to my children. I fed them well & loved them to pieces. Read them tons of stories & ensured they got lots of “fresh” air (heh heh). Played outside with them in the snow when they were little, & always fed them “an apple a day to keep the doctor away” (didn’t know then about the pesticides in the apples, mind you…).


Now? Times have changed.


Now, I can’t help but wonder, how will I feel if/when they have children??


I think I will likely feel … ambivalent. I’ll feel great joy at the prospect of grandmotherhood, no doubt. Also, considerable trepidation.


The world is such an awfully mixed-up place, isn’t it?? A person hardly knows what to think about it all.


Or do.


Or say to one’s children, even, hmmm?


I recently went to a showing of the film “Toxic Trespass” in Toronto. Both the producer (Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg) & the writer/director (Barri Cohen) were there. I’d seen the film before, but I wanted to see it again with my “thinking like a grandmother” hat on.


It’s been a long time since I’ve placed much trust in our politicians/government to “look out for us.” This film illustrates graphically why we would be foolish to do so. Federal government agencies Health Canada & Environment Canada seem to be mostly into “minimizing & denying” environmental problems & their related health impacts. (This is so laughably an understatement to fellow long-time activists that I do apologize. Sometimes I find myself being the mistress of understatement…)


People who live in Windsor, Ontario know what I’m talking about.


And the people of “Chemical Valley” in Sarnia, also. (ecojustice recently produced a report entitled “Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley.”)


Jim Brophy sure knows about it. He’s the former Director of Windsor & Sarnia’s OHCOW (Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers) & has been trying for years & years to make our provincial & federal governments take some responsibility. (He’s now with Toxic Free Canada)


One thing I know is that we are not “supposed” to become emotional about such things. Being “emotional” is very definitely distinctly frowned upon. I’ve been up & down the block on that, trust me. I’ve been angry; I’ve been sad. I’ve even despaired, & I’ve been resigned.


I think the only way for me to be right now – as I contemplate possible grandmotherhood – is determined.


Determined to keep right on trying to influence & rouse people from their apathy.


As I said to a young Mom at the “Toxic Trespass” showing in Toronto, it’s fine to feed your children well (I’m all over organic food, needless to say) & protect them as best you can from bad air & poisoned water & nuclear dangers & lead exposure – & I strongly recommend that we all do so, to the very, very best of our ability.   ** see Collections posting for links to the Lead postings on this blog.


But if we are not also working simultaneously on policy change – & very frequently on government or regime change (certainly the case here in Canada!! But don’t get me started…) & efforts to make the world safer for ALL of us, I do despair for our grandchildren. All of our grandchildren. Even the grandchildren of the politicians & the corporate polluters & the bloodless, beaten down bureaucrats who carry out the government & corporate agenda.


ALL of them.


‘Cos we’re all in this darn old leaky boat together, hmmm? The air & the water & the pollution? We all get to … share it all, don’t we? None of these things respect our human-drawn “borders.”





‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” – Bertrand De Jouvenel