Sandra Steingraber, PhD, has devoted her life to advocating for the human right to a toxic free environment. In 2001, Steingraber received the Rachel Carson Leadership Award for her “outstanding contributions to the conservation and environmental movement.
Sandra was recently released from jail after her protest to stop a fracking storage facility in New York State. The following is part of a letter she wrote during her incarceration. I chose to publish this brave woman’s letter because she is a passionate voice of sanity in a mostly insane world. Please read and share widely. And then consider what you are willing to do to ensure that life on Earth is protected.
A Message to Fellow Mothers
April 24, 2013
My book, Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, was released in paperback this week. But, being in jail, I was unable to grant interviews or otherwise to participate in its promotion. That’s not a situation that book publicists appreciate, although mine is being very good about it. But, being in here, I feel that I am walking my words.
The fundamental message of Raising Elijah is that the environmental crisis is a crisis of family life, as it robs parents of our ability to carry out our two most basic duties: to protect our children from harm and to provide for their future. When inherently toxic chemicals – including developmental toxicants linked to asthma, birth defects and learning disabilities – are legally allowed to freely circulate in our children’s environment, we can’t protect them. When heat trapping greenhouse gases create extreme weather events that slash the world’s grain harvests (this is happening) and acidify the oceans in ways that threaten the entire marine food chain, starting with plankton (and this is happening too), then we can’t plan for our kids’ futures – no matter how much we sock away in their college funds or Tiger Mom them into athletic or musical mastery.
This crisis requires our urgent attention. And by attention, I mean sustained political action, not intermittent, private worrying. Hence, unless the kids can get there and back, under their own steam, then piano lessons, karate, Little League, play practice, SAT prep, and Scout meetings are cancelled until further notice. Ditto for yoga, date night, and book club (with apologies to my long-suffering publicist).
Look, one in every four mammal species is headed for extinction. The world’s available drinking water is becoming less and less available. Insect pollinators, which provide us one-sixth to one-third of the food we eat, are in trouble. The price index for 33 different basic commodities is rising, and financial analysts are predicting shortages of the kind that lead to social unrest. Meanwhile, the world’s leading and most powerful industry is preparing to blow up the nation’s bedrock and frack out the last wisps and drops of gas and oil – releasing inherently toxic chemicals into our communities to do so.
In short, we don’t have time for out-of-town sporting events. Consider this commentary in the preeminent science journal, Nature:
I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem that they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. . . Recognition of the facts is delayed by the frankly brilliant propaganda and obfuscation delivered by energy interests that virtually own the US Congress . . . This is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave. (Nature, 491, Nov. 15, 2012)
The author, Jeremy Grantham, was speaking to the world’s scientists, but his message is equally applicable to mothers and fathers. Consider that the World Health Organization has identified climate change as the number one threat to public health for people born today. Otherwise known as our kids.
Now, do you have time to participate in a civil rights–style uprising? Protecting our kids, making sure they have a future: it seems to be a basis part of our job description.
I am here in the Chemung County Jail on a charge of trespassing as a result of blockading a compressor station site belonging to the nation’s largest gas transportation and storage company. Inergy’s plan is to compress, liquify, and store fracked gases from out of state in depleted salt caverns under Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of New York State’s eleven Finger Lakes. This practice has led to catastrophic results in other states – including explosions and collapses. Even now, Inergy itself is chronically out of compliance with the maximum legal limits for its chemical discharges into this lake, which is the source of drinking water for 100,000 people.
This compressor station, which is less than 20 miles upwind from my house, is just one piece of fracking infrastructure among millions. I chose to take a stand here both because Inergy’s plans represent a direct risk to my children’s air quality and safety, and because my son was born nearby. The west shore of Seneca Lake is his birthplace, and the sound of green frogs twanging in the night was the theme song for my labor and delivery.
So, yes, my course of political action has taken me away from my own children in an attempt to redress this problem on their behalf, and during the first five days, when I was kept in 24-hour lock-up, I had no access to them. But I am convinced the tears of my children now will be less than their tears later – along with the tears of my grandchildren – if we mothers do nothing and allow the oil, coal, and gas companies to hurdle us all off the climate cliff.
I’m also aware that human rights movements throughout history – from abolition to suffrage to civil rights – included many people who were parents of young children. They were surely just as busy as you and me. They, like I, probably also kept a list labeled, “Things to do before going to jail.” Their list, like mine, probably included: making meal plans, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom, and finding a costume for the school play.
To fight against Hitler, anti-fascist partisans sent their children away to safe places in case they were betrayed. They were busy parents, too. They loved their children just as much as we do. The difference is: now there is no safe place for our children. We can’t hide them from the ravages of climate change.