Thursday, September 15, 2011

 The Heinz Award and What I Plan to Do With It

 by Sandra Steingraber

I'm thrilled to receive a Heinz Award in recognition of my research and
writing on environmental health.  This is work made possible by my residency
as a scholar within the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca
College.  Many past and present Heinz Award winners are personal heroes of
mine--and Teresa Heinz herself is a champion of women's environmental
health--so this recognition carries special meaning for me. 

And it comes with a $100,000 unrestricted cash prize.  Which is stunning.

As a bladder cancer survivor of 32 years, I'm intimately familiar with two
kinds of uncertainty:  the kind that comes while waiting for results from
the pathology and radiology labs and the kind that is created by the medical
insurance industry who decides whether or not to pay the pathology and
radiology bills.  Over the years, I've learned to analyze data and raise
children while surrounded by medical and financial insecurities. It's a
high-wire act.

But as an ecologist, I'm aware of a much larger insecurity:  the one created
by our nation's ruinous dependency on fossil fuels in all their forms. When
we light them on fire, we fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases that
are de-stablizing the climate and acidifying the oceans (whose plankton
stocks provide us half of the oxygen we breathe). When we use fossil fuels
as feed-stocks to make materials such as pesticides and solvents, we create
toxic substances that trespass into our children's bodies (where they raise
risks for cancer, asthma, infertility, and learning disorders).

Emancipation from our terrible enslavement to fossil fuels is possible.  The
best science shows us that the United States could, within two decades,
entirely run on green, renewable energy if we chose to dedicate ourselves to
that course [1].  But, right now, that is not the trail we are blazing.

Instead, evermore extreme and toxic methods are being deployed to blast
fossilized carbon from the earth.  We are blowing up mountains to get at
coal, felling boreal forests to get at tar, and siphoning oil from the ocean
deep.  Most ominously, through the process called fracking, we are
shattering the very bedrock of our nation to get at the petrified bubbles of
methane trapped inside.

Fracking turns fresh water into poison.  It fills our air with smog, our
roadways with 18-wheelers hauling hazardous materials, and our fields and
pastures with pipelines and toxic pits. 

I am therefore announcing my intent to devote my Heinz Award to the fight
against hydrofracking in upstate New York, where I live with my husband and
our two children.

Some might look at my small house (with its mismatched furniture) or my
small bank accounts (with their absence of a college fund or a retirement
plan) and question my priorities.  But the bodies of my children are the
rearranged molecules of the air, water, and food streaming through them. As
their mother, there is no more important investment that I could make right
now than to support the fight for the integrity of the ecological system
that makes their lives possible. As legal scholar Joseph Guth reminds us, a
functioning biosphere is worth everything we have [2].

This summer I traveled through the western United States and saw firsthand
the devastation that fracking creates.  In drought-crippled Texas where
crops withered in the fields, I read a hand-lettered sign in a front yard
that said, 'I NEED WATER.  U HAUL.  I PAY.'   And still the fracking trucks
rolled on, carrying water to the gas wells.  

This is the logic of drug addicts, not science.

I also stood on the courthouse steps in Salt Lake City while climate
activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison for
an act of civil disobedience that halted the leasing of public land for gas
and oil drilling near Arches National Park.  Before he was hauled away by
federal marshals, Tim said, 'This is what love looks like.'

After two months of travel, my children and I arrived home to the still
unfractured state of New York.  After stopping at a local farm stand to buy
bread, tomatoes, cheese, and peaches for dinner, we celebrated our return
along the vineyard-and-waterfall-lined shore of Cayuga Lake.  I watched my
son skip stones across its surface.  Under his feet lay the aquifer that
provides drinking water to our village.

This is what security looks like.  Please join me in the struggle to defend
the economy and ecology of upstate New York.  Bring what you can.


1.  M.Z. Jacobson and M.A. Delucci, 'A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,'
Scientific American 301 (2009): 58-65.

2.  "The Earth's biosphere seems almost magically suited to human beings,
and indeed it is, for we evolved through eons of intimate immersion within
it.  Many of us are animated by moral and religious impulses to treasure and
respect the creation that sustains us.  We cannot live well without a
functioning biosphere, and so it is worth everything we have."  Joseph H.
Guth, Law for the Ecological Age,Vermont Journal of Environmental Law,
vol. 9.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Welcome to our New Blog with listings of Upcoming Events

Welcome to the New Blog of Friends in Unity with Nature! We are slowly transferring data from our website to this blog for up-to-date information, easier maintenance and the ability to interact. Our look will improve as we go along, so stay tuned . . . .

For now, here are our upcoming programs:

Screening of the Academy Award Nominated Documentary

GASLAND Followed by Q & A

When: Friday, April 8, 7-9 pm
Where: 15th Street Quaker Meetinghouse
15 Rutherford Place (15th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves. in Manhattan)

Presented by:
Friends in Unity with Nature • United for Action The Quaker Arts CommitteeNeighborhood Energy Network • Tri-State Food Not Lawns Sane Energy Project*

The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination.

A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND.

The movie GASLAND has also been sweeping the country, alerting citizens everywhere to the true price of natural gas, and mobilizing them in defense of the land that they love. If you haven’t seen it, now’s your chance. If you have, it’s a great way to come together with others who are equally concerned for the beauty, health and integrity of our natural environment.

Q & A
After the film, a question and answer period will address the repercussions of fracking in New York City’s watershed and the proposed natural gas storage and transmission pipe line entering Manhattan at the Gansevoort peninsula. An opportunity to take action and discuss sustainable alternatives will be offered to attenders.

*Sane Energy Project℠ is an advocacy coalition composed of the following volunteer groups: Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, NYH2O, CDOG, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, No Gas Pipeline, Sierra Club and United for Action.

The program is free and open to the public. Donations for the upkeep of the Meetinghouse are gratefully accepted.


Screening of DIRT! The Movie (with a special interlude for young children)

When: Thursday, April 14, 7-9 pm

Where: 15th Street Meeting House
15 Rutherford Place (on15th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves.)

Co-sponsored by Friends in Unity with Nature and the Quaker Arts Committee

DIRT! The Movie—80 minutes; directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow—takes you inside the wonders of the soil. It tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility--from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.

The opening scenes of the film dive into the wonderment of the soil. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us, "dirt is very much alive." Though, in modern industrial pursuits and clamor for both profit and natural resources, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. "Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt."

DIRT! the Movie--narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis--brings to life the environmental, economic, social and political impact that the soil has. It shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and are able to harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil.

DIRT! the Movie is simply a movie about dirt. The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: "When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked." But more than the film and the lessons that it teaches, DIRT the Movie is a call to action.

"The only remedy for disconnecting people from the natural world is connecting them to it again."

What we've destroyed, we can heal.

Q & A will follow the movie. The movie is free—or pay what you wish as a donation for the use of the Meetinghouse.