Sandra Steingraber is a mother, a biologist, a cancer-survivor, and the author of several books on the dangers we are facing from the environmental toxins that surround us. Her most recent book, “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in An Age Of Environmental Crisis” is a call to action – Steingraber says it’s time for parents to protect our children from harm and to plan for their future.
“When the air, food and water surrounding my kids is filled with toxic chemicals and I can’t prevent them from entering the bodies of my kids, I’m really not their protector anymore. And when climate change threatens to destabilize the planetary ecology on which my children’s future depends, I can’t plan for their future.”
Steingraber puts out a call for parents to become fossil fuel abolitionists, in the same way that abolitionists called for the end to slavery during 19th Century America. Although fossil fuels drive our economy in much the same way that slavery drove the economy at that time, it’s time for parents to actively fight for the greater good of society. Our children are part of the ecosystem of the planet, and if we continue down the path of fossil fuel addiction, their well-being will be sacrificed on the altar of the economy. No responsible parent would willingly choose to put the profits of the oil, coal, and gas companies ahead of their children’s future.
Psychologists have identified “Well-Informed Futility Syndrome”, when people are presented with the facts of a large, multi-faceted problem like climate change and rather than being moved to action they feel intolerable guilt and fear that cause either a paralysis of action or a denial of the problem. The way out of Well-Informed Futility Syndrome, it turns out, is not to ask people to make small inconsequential changes, but to present a solution that is as big as the problem. In terms of the climate crisis, this requires admission of the fact that “business as usual” can’t continue, and we need a whole new redesign of the way we as a society do things. Steingraber says it’s time to call on parents to be heroes, starting with forceful engagement in the climate debate. She deliberately doesn’t provide a blueprint for how to respond because everyone’s skill set and temperament are different. Instead, she poses the question to each parent out there: “What response to this crisis do your temperament and skill set provide?” It is time to for each of us to speak out of identities that we already have.
My experience, two years after being moved to action on this issue precisely for the reasons that Steingraber identifies – to protect my children from harm and plan for their future – is that action is so much more fulfilling and life-giving than sitting on the sidelines with overwhelming fear and guilt. And, as Steingraber points out, it is parents responding to a threat that gives children hope, even if the threat is large.
One of the ways I’ve responded to the climate crisis is by becoming involved in Citizens Climate Lobby, whose purpose is to create the political will for a stable climate and to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power. To learn more about CCL, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out these links:
To listen to a half hour interview with Ms. Steingraber on CBC Radio’s The Current last Friday, click here.
Here is a trailer for a documentary based on a previous book of Steingraber’s, Living Downstream: