Thursday, May 16, 2013

Prescriptions for overcoming "well-informed futility syndrome"

Sandra Steingraber has an unusual ability to make toxicology and environmental science understandable to an uninformed lay reader -- and Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis is consequently an impressive book. Here's her summary:
In the absence of federal policies that are protective of child development and the ecology of the planet on which our children's lives depend, we serve as our own regulatory agencies and departments of interior....

Thoughtful but overwhelmed parents correctly perceive a disconnect between the enormity of the problem and the ability of individual acts of vigilance and self-sacrifice to fix it. Environmental awareness without corresponding political changes leads to paralyzing despair....

We feel helpless in our knowledge, and we're not sure we want any more knowledge. You could call this well-informed futility syndrome. And soon enough, we are retreating into silent resignation rather than standing up for abolition.
Her son is named "Elijah" in memory of the Illinois abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy who was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837. This woman is serious about standing up for the truths she discovers in her work and parental experience.

And she's not into sitting around feeling helpless. In fact, on April 30, she completed a 10 day jail term for blocking the entrance to a natural gas facility that has invaded her 'hood, the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
“I would do it again in a minute. …Being new to civil disobedience, I’m still learning about its power and its limitations…

But I know this: all I had to do is sit in a six-by-seven-foot steel box in an orange jumpsuit and be mildly miserable, but the real power of it is to be able to shine a spotlight on the problem.”
Steingraber reminds us that we will have the quality of life and democracy that we can win from elites who want to exploit for profit both all of us and the natural world. The book is an accessible introduction to toxics in our daily lives, especially addressed to parents.

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