Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wanting More

Thank you all for your well wishes. Yesterday night was a particularly bad night for me, and you don't know how comforting it was to read everyone's comments. I really cherish all of my blog-friends, even if I don't know you all in real life!

Anyway, yesterday I was in a kind of bad place where I was like, "What's the point of it all?" and "Why does it matter if we recycle if my friend just died?" But today I'm a little more in my right frame of mind, and the truth is, if we care about our loved ones, if we care about our children, or our grandchildren, or our friends, or our parents, we have to realize the impact the environment has on these people. My friend who passed away had leukemia that had been almost completely asymptomatic prior to Tuesday. Now, I don't pretend to know what gave her cancer, or what could have prevented it, but I do know that there are carcinogens all around us. In our plastic bowls, in our dryer sheets, in our household cleaners, in our hairspray.

Why? No, really, why? Because non-toxic solutions do exist. So why do we allow these toxins in our environment? Why do these toxins still fill row after row at Target? Why doesn't our government regulate this more stringently? Because, here's the thing. You can make a non-toxic dryer sheet. And some people might buy them. But by keeping toxic dryer sheets on the market, you are implicitly saying, "It's okay. There's nothing wrong with this dryer sheet."

I'm reminded of Jane Smiley's brilliant work, "A Thousand Acres." It's a retelling of King Lear, but there's a twist. It's set on an Iowa farm, and a great deal of the tragedy of the piece stems from the toxic environment of the Iowa farm. I'm not going to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it, but seriously, pick it up at the library. It's a fantastic read, and Smiley received the Pulitzer for it in 1992.

Our government currently seems to be ducking its head in the sand and ignoring the very real, very large environmental problems that exist. They cater to businesses by not enforcing stringent safety and health standards, by allowing known carcinogens to stay on the market, and then they turn around and cut funding for cancer research and other scientific endeavors. And it's bullshit. I'm sorry to swear, but it is. And we shouldn't put up with it, and yet, we do.

And I just want to go up to the American people and shake them. And say, this is not right. We don't have to just go along with this. Judith Levine put this so eloquently in an interview about her book, "Not Buying It." I'm paraphrasing here, because I don't have the book on hand but she said that we Americans don't want too much, we don't want ENOUGH. That instead of demanding more vacation time, or universal health care, or affordable daycare, or paid maternity leave, etc etc we're settling for an iPhone and credit card debt. And it's true.

Let's think for a moment how different it could be. What if, after September 11th, the government hadn't asked us to go shopping. What if they had raised taxes instead? Now, look, taxes aren't fun. But neither is government debt. So what if the government had decided to raise taxes for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or to increase homeland security instead of going into debt? Or what if the government had decided to prevent recession by increasing government jobs a la the New Deal instead of sending us all rebate checks. What if Americans woke up and realized that we're getting a very raw deal right now. That we deserve better than this. That education and health care and the environment are more vital to our happiness than this year's boots.

And that's why I'm an environmentalist. That's why I'm a non-consumer. I don't want less. I want more.

14 comments:

Cindy said...

Thanks for your heart-felt post! Sometime nothing seems to make sense. I am so impressed with your fortitude - instead of being cynical, you went right back to being an environmentalist after the senseless passing of your friend.

Also, I will definitely check out Judith Levine's book. The part you paraphrased speaks to me in every way. Thanks

arduous said...

Cindy, trust me, yesterday I was extremely cynical. Right now I'm just angry. I might go back to cynical tomorrow.

But yes, definitely check out Judith Levine's book. It's a fantastic read.

Chile said...

A great read, albeit an older book, is "Living More with Less". It changed my thinking from just wanting to live frugally to having really good reasons to live responsibly.

Lynne Eldridge M.D. said...

Thanks so much for your deep and convicting post! We should be asking for more. In fact, the only way things will change is if each of us does ask for more. Industry will continue to stock shelves with items containing carcinogens - if we continue to buy them. If we choose safer alternatives, industry will take note. Their marketing experts will see where the money is! Having lost too many dear friends to cancer, I feel your anger. With 90 percent of cancers having an environmental component, we should be able to do something. We just need to be aware. Thanks for raising awareness.

Lynne Eldridge MD
Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer"
www.avoidcancernow.com

Mouse said...

The irony is that environmental regulation forces creative business solutions, which forces technological advancement, which creates new industries, which pumps money into the economy.

Dasha said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

I gave up HFCS coincidentally on the same day I found out that my grandma died (breast cancer) but I have been less enthusiastic about that ban lately. Thanks for waking me up, I needed it.

Megan said...

Thank you for the inspiring words. I am so sorry for your loss.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I hear you. My husband has a form of Leukemia called Myeloma. Both are nasty, nasty cancers and I completely understand the cynicism and anger.

Try to keep plugging along. It's what I've been doing since he was diagnosed in September. And, blogging is my free therapy :)

ScienceMama said...

Great piece.

Good luck tomorrow. I'm thinking of you.

*Hugs*

Charles said...

Please accept my sympathies for your loss. It's a reminder that we need to cherish what we have today and not get lost in what we don't have. I hope that with time you heal and remember the wonderful times you had. Safe travels to you.

Beany said...

I agree with previous posters...great piece.

I started reading "Silent Spring" a few weeks back and I just cannot pick it up to finish it (I'm about 100 pages into it). I keep getting this "what's the point?" feeling. Here I had deluded myself into thinking that my little green goody goody deeds mean something when there is so much poison everywhere. Maybe the book ends on a good note saying "keeping fighting the good fight" or something. It just makes me angry...don't people care? Or some do....but why can't everyone?

I had some other point..but now I'm just mad and can't remember what it was.

The bean-mom said...

This was a wonderful post, Arduous. Thank you.

Good luck and safe traveling this week. I'll be thinking of you this week.

aclare said...

I'm sorry about your friend:(

I got the book you recommended. I'll let you know what I think.

Green Bean said...

Beautifully, beautifully written! What is the matter with us? Why do we stand for this? In Europe, most citizens don't and yet here in the great US of A, we just grin and turn on the TV. Thank you for such an honest post.