Tag Archives: species at risk

Paul Watson Granted Bail in Germany, Battling Extradition to Costa Rica Over Anti-Shark Finning Operation in 2002


Read this story from the Toronto Star on Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd’s arrest in Germany and possible extradition to Costa Rica over outstanding charges stemming from an alleged 2002 incident while confronting illegal shark finning activities of the coast of Guatemala. (May 18, 2012)

Animal rights and anti-whaling activist Paul Watson, facing extradition to Costa Rica for a decade-old attempted murder charge, will be released on bail from a Frankfurt jail next Monday.

German authorities arrested the Toronto-born president and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society last Sunday on an international arrest warrant issued by Costa Rica.

In 2002, Watson allegedly tried to intimidate and kill the crew of a Costa Rican fishing boat, the Varadero, which Sea Shepherd said was illegally cutting shark fins off the coast of Guatemala.

Watson’s bail is set at 250,000 Euros (roughly $325,000), but must remain in Germany until the conclusion of the extradition proceedings, according to Frankfurt’s higher regional court.

The extradition case will now go before the Ministry of Justice, Sea Shepherd spokesman Peter Hammarstedt said.

Before he was arrested, Watson, 61, had been en route to Paris to promote the French-language book Interview with a Pirate, its author and Sea Shepherd France president Lamya Essemlali told the Star earlier this week.

In the days since Watson’s arrest, Sea Shepherd, known for its violent encounters with whalers and poachers, has waged a virulent campaign against its founder’s detainment and Costa Rica’s “bogus allegations.”

Captured on film and shown in the 2007 documentary Sharkwater, Watson’s boat confronted the Costa Rican poachers, spraying water from high-power hoses to frighten off the ship. The boats later collided, prompting claims Watson intentionally endangered the lives of crewmembers.

After reviewing the documentary footage, a Costa Rican judge dismissed the charges. They were re-issued in October, 2011.

Read original article: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1180744–paul-watson-granted-bail-as-sea-shepherd-founder-faces-extradition-to-costa-rica


Australia's Great Barrier Reef is just one of the world's coral reef's under attack by increasing ocean acifdification (National Geographic photo)

For Whom the Bell Tolls: Disappearing Coral Reefs, Ocean Species


In one of the most beautiful essays ever written in the English language, the 17th century courtier, poet, adventurer, priest and lecturer, John Donne, reflected on the meaning of a tolling funeral bell. His Meditation 17, when rendered in a modern idiom, reads like this:

“No man is an island unto himself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. When one man dies, it diminishes me for I am a part of all mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Ernest Hemingway used a few of these words for the title of one of his famous books. But “for whom the bell tolls” has another relevance today that is more poignant, one encapsulated by a visitor to Hawaii who casually noted that the islands’ coral reefs are dying.

Indeed, they are. And they are dying elsewhere, too: throughout the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Red, the Indian — everywhere there are coral reefs. Perhaps the most spectacular casualty is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Scientists give it another 10 years before its corals will no longer be able to adapt to warming oceans. Unfortunately, like most of the world’s corals, the Great Barrier’s corals use a heat-sensitive single species of symbiotic algae for energy. And the reefs are not mobile enough to migrate poleward 15 km per year to cooler water (New Scientist, Apr. 9/11). As these reefs die, so too will the myriad species of spectacular fish that make these ecologies so rich and beautiful.

Reefs, as marine biologists attest, are the oceans’ nurseries. With about a quarter of all marine species living there, they are key to maintaining healthy fish stocks and biodiversity. If these multi-hued corals turn into bleak and grey gravestones of death, then the impacts will be dramatic and global.

Ocean acidification, an even more serious consequence of the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning fossil fuels we burn, threatens the entire marine ecosystem. The 500 billion tonnes of CO2 that has dissolved into the oceans since the Industrial Revolution is now threatening the foundation of the marine food chain with rapidly dropping pH levels. If phytoplankton, krill and the micro-crustacea are no longer able to form their carbonate shells, then the entire system collapses, from the smallest of creatures to salmon and great whales.

But the funereal bell is tolling almost everywhere these days. About one third of all mammals, plants, fish and birds are expected to be extinct within a human lifetime, victims of a fatal combination of climate change, habitat loss, exotic species, disease, pollution, commercialization, greed or any of the litany of ills sponsored by human indiscretion and ignorance. Amphibians are suffering some of the worst declines. People now travel the globe to get a rare glimpse of the few remaining tigers, white rhinos, frogs and rare birds. Over-fishing has brought most large fish to the edge of extinction.

We still live mostly in isolation from the consequences of our actions. The industrial machinery that makes our consumer products, the fossil fuels that generate our electricity, the cars that drive us to work, the airplanes that skitter us around the planet add 70 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each day. In the myopia of our daily lives, we don’t notice that about 30 percent of that CO2 is absorbed into the world’s oceans to form carbonic acid. Our oceans are now 29 percent more acidic than they were 250 years ago, and by 2050 they will be 70 percent more acidic. The consequences are already being felt. Along Washington’s coast, for example, the water is now so corrosive that oyster larvae cannot form shells — Pacific oysters there have been unable to reproduce in the wild since 2004 (Strait Talk, Spring 2012). This increasing acidity will eventually threaten squid, starfish, shrimp, sea urchins, mussels and abalone. Even fish at the larval stage may be unable to survive. Hardy jellyfish will be the last survivors in an excessively acidic ocean (Ibid).

Somehow, by a perverse and dexterous trick of self-deception, we have failed to duly personalize the wholesale environmental crisis that surrounds us. The outer limit of ourselves too often ends at our skin, as if an imaginative handicap prevents us from realizing that everything else on our planet is a part of us, too. All the things we know and experience derive from the diverse wealth of nature that contains us. It is the frame of reference for all our understanding and meaning. Time, rhythm, perspective, size, shape, colour, sound, taste, smell, distance, relationship — our very sentience — are all anchored in nature. Earth itself is only unique because of the living species that enliven it. As our treasured surroundings are threatened, degraded or lost, a justified response should be outcries of trespass, theft, anger and outrage, not indifference or vague expressions of concern. Environmental destruction is an assault against our person. At the very least, the measure of our present situation and the weighing of our future prospects should warrant silent mourning and inward weeping.

Donne’s Meditation 17 is an apt reminder that each death on our planet diminishes us because we are part of the whole. Each species that is endangered or goes extinct narrows the breadth, depth and richness of our experience as human beings. Each loss shrinks and withers the quality of our lives. How ironic and tragic that, just as we are discovering the incredible intricacy, complexity and intelligence of nature, we are destroying this astounding miracle with unprecedented efficiency, as if the same bell that is celebrating life is also tolling its death.


New Documentary on Wolf Kills Connected to Alberta Tar Sands – “Cry Wolf: An Ethical Oil Story”


Check out this new short documentary sponsored by DeSmogBlog.com on the killing of wolves in Alberta – connected to a misguided plan to conserve caribou populations being impacted by Tar Sands operations. (April 10, 2012)

Over the last several years, Alberta has killed more than 500 wolves using aerial sharpshooters and poisoned bait in order to conceal the impact of rapid industrial development on Canada’s iconic woodland caribou…A team of DeSmogBlog researchers traveled to the Tar Sands region to investigate the dirty oil politics behind this fool’s errand. Here is our first report: Cry Wolf: An Unethical Oil Story.

Read article on video: http://www.desmogblog.com/cry-wolf-unethical-oil-story


Canadian War Games May Have Killed Orca


Read this story from CBC.ca on the recent discovery of a battered juvenile Orca discovered on a beach in Washington State, whose death may be linked to Canadian naval war exercises being carried out in the region around the suspected time of the whale’s death. (April 9, 2012)

The bloodied and battered corpse of a young killer whale whose death may be linked to Canadian war games has prompted an investigation by U.S. authorities.

The body of the southern resident orca — an endangered species in the United States — was discovered on Long Beach in Washington state in February, just days after HMCS Ottawa conducted sonar training exercises in the waters off Victoria, B.C.

A preliminary examination indicated significant trauma around the head, chest and right side of the orca known as L112, but results of necropsy and pathology tests and a scan of the animal’s head are incomplete.

Just hours after the navy sonar tests were heard, southern resident killer whales were spotted in the same area in the Haro Strait that divides Canada and the United States.

The law enforcement office of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has launched an investigation into the death.

Brian Gorman, with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, said investigators haven’t made a connection between the naval exercise and the death of the whale.

“That’s the first thing we have to determine. Depending on where this investigation leads, I suspect [the investigation] may extend to the Canadians or it may not.”

Gorman said the investigation will attempt to determine if there’s been a violation of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Read article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/04/09/killer-whale-military-investigation.html?cmp=rss




Retired NHL Star Scott Niedermayer Comes out Against Contorverisal Jumbo Resort Plan in the Kootenays


Read this story from BCLocalNews.com on retired NHL star Scott Niedermayer’s support of the campaign to stop the controversial Jumbo-Glacier Resort in the Kootenays.

VICTORIA – Opponents of the long-proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort near
Cranbrook went on the offensive in the B.C. legislature Tuesday, with
retired hockey star Scott Niedermayer joining a local aboriginal group
to press for its rejection. Niedermayer joined Kathryn Teneese, chair of the
Ktunaxa Nation council and NDP leader Adrian Dix to urge the B.C.
government to reject the proposed resort, on Jumbo glacier in the Purcell Mountains.

The project has been studied for more than 20 years,
and received a provincial environmental certificate in 2005. The last
step is approval of a master development agreement, which Forests, Lands
and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson could make at
any time. Teneese showed a video with testimonials of aboriginal
and other local residents, and released a study by Simon Fraser
University economist Marvin Shaffer that questions the economic
viability of adding another ski resort to the region.” (Dec. 8, 2011)

Read full article: http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/133922293.html?fb_ref=sidebarActivityFeed


New Zealand Oil Spill: Ecological Tragedy in the Making


Read this story from the Guardian on the ecological tragedy developing off the east coast of New Zealand as a supertanker loaded with 1,700 tonnes of fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel recently run aground on a reef full of rare marine life.

“Conservationists have warned of an impending wildlife ‘tragedy’…with populations of penguins, whales, seals and seabirds set to be hardest hit…A severe weather warning for the Bay of Plenty area on Monday has
heightened fears that the stricken cargo vessel Rena…will start to break up, with grim consequences for the local marine wildlife.” (Oct. 10, 2011)


Photo from http://alexandramorton.typepad.com

Salmon Farms Killing Sea Lions


If spreading sea lice, diseases and pollution weren’t justification enough for removing open net-pen salmon farms from BC’s wild West Coast waters, the latest outrage is the slaughter of California sea lions and their marine cousins.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in an unusual gesture of candidness, reported that between January and March, 2011, salmon farms were responsible for the killing of 141 California sea lions, 37 harbour seals and two Stellar sea lions – which are listed as a species of “special concern” under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. All these magnificent marine mammals were shot – another four animals got entangled in netting and suffered the horror of drowning – because they trespassed on salmon farms (Vancouver Sun, Sept 15/11).

Ian Roberts, a spokesperson for Marine West, a West Coast salmon farming corporation, said that, “Zero lethal interaction is our goal.” Well, a “goal” is neither consolation to a dead sea lion nor deterrent for a hungry one accustomed to freely roaming the open ocean. And “lethal interaction” is a euphemism for “kill”, slippery public relations jargon intent on massaging the gruesome into something that seems less brutal. Considering that these corporate salmon farms are camped in the middle of a marine thoroughfare for migrating mammals – and wild fish, too – the obvious way to ensure “zero lethal interaction” would be to get their net-pens out of the ocean.

But shareholders don’t like expensive solutions. The more profitable alternative is to tame the West Coast wilderness with enough “lethal interactions” that troublesome marine mammals are eradicated, a tragedy considering that these waters have been their natural swimming, feeding and breeding territory for millennia.

But “lethal interaction” is the chosen course of action, evident from the information released by DFO in early 2011. The Director of Aquaculture for its western office, Andrew Thomson, who has been “monitoring” the kills during the last six years, offers the comforting assurance that the number of “culls” are down.

“Cull” is an revealing word. Since salmon farms are not mandated to manage the populations of marine mammals, authorization of a “cull” is yet another example of DFO managing the environment to suit corporate interests. Of course, DFO doesn’t kill the trespassing sea lions and seals. Neither do the farm employees dirty their hands with guilt. In a gesture that is supposed to introduce an element of compassion to the slaughter and distance corporations from the blood of outright killing, the actual shooting is done by “licensed contractors”. This attempted evasion of responsibility is analogous to the CIA avoiding charges of torture by “rendering” suspects to dictatorships so confessions can be forcibly extracted by less civilized regimes. Guilt cannot be contracted to others.

Not that salmon farmers are without a twinge of guilt. Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, confessed that, “We don’t take this lightly.” Indeed. But her explanation that sea lions are “extremely intelligent” merely makes the act less defensible – killing highly sentient creatures carries more moral burden than killing dull ones. And her description of sea lions as “aggressive” doesn’t elicit an image of a hapless and beleaguered industry suffering the terrible adversity of being surrounded and viciously attacked by marauding aliens.

So, what are the poor, victimized salmon farms to do? The burden of guilt must be extremely heavy – but not heavy enough to entice them to the safety of closed containment or land-based farms. Removing their net-pens from the natural habitat of unmanageable mammals while suffering the deprivation of less profitability must be a much more painful prospect than enduring the anguish of distributing sea lice, spreading diseases, polluting, and killing seals and sea lions.

And how many seals and sea lions? DFO’s numbers are sobering. Of the 13 years reported, 1997 was the worst year for seals when 550 were killed – 500 were common at this time. The worst year for sea lions was 2000 when 250 were shot because they weren’t “intelligent” enough to know that salmon farms are lethal. For anyone concerned with this bloodshed, the consolation is that those were only the most bloody years. The killing of 180 animals in 2011 – plus the four that drowned – is excused by the rise in their population, a defence that uses plentitude to justify slaughter. Although more marine mammals mean more predation and more “lethal interactions”, more salmon farms don’t count. What is a caring corporation to do with a conflict between its financial interests and the perils imposed by a marine wilderness?

Well, they could be honest enough to show visitors some of the gruesome events that actually occur on their farms. The sharp crack of a rifle will rivet attention while the dull impact of a bullet exploding through bone and brains will be vivid and memorable. The slumping body of a dying sea lion staining the cold ocean with a last ooze of blood should be informative for those who want to experience one of the unadvertised workings of salmon farms.

This unmitigated cruelty, this obscene and atrocious act of shooting magnificent marine mammals simply underscores the profound incongruity and the environmental folly of placing open net-pen salmon farms in the wild, natural ecology of the West Coast. The two have never belonged together, and the extent and severity of this conflict is getting worse. Orcas are scared away. Any native fish-eating creature – herons, otters, mink, eagles – all become the enemy of salmon farms. The diverse, vibrant and stunning character of BC’s West Coast is being systematically neutered by foreign-owned corporations so they can use small-fish protein – a food needed by the world’s poor – to grow an expensive product that most people cannot afford to buy.

Subduing the wild West Coast to suit salmon farming is ecological madness. The most sane option – especially for the sea lions, seals and wild salmon – is to get the salmon farms and their open net-pens out of the oceans. They are the trespassers.

Campbell-Clark Government Goes After Wolves

Campbell/Clark Government Goes After Wolves

Campbell-Clark Government Goes After Wolves
photo: Ian McAllister/Pacific Wild

The Campbell/Clark government has done it again. Now wolves will be wiped out in BC because, it’s alleged (by ranchers), that their cattle are being slaughtered by wolves. Ranchers are friends of the government while wolves are not. The constituencies where cattle are ranched are constituencies the Liberals must win if they’re to win the next election.

Wolves are endangered such that Americans are bringing them back to National Parks in order to keep the species alive. Noble as that is, it’s rather a surrender to the same troglodytes who slaughtered the buffalo (bison) with the last vestiges now in parks, not on the plains, reduced to being objects of tourist’s cameras.

The wolf has had a terrible press over the years from writers of fairy tales to ranchers. In fact they are a magnificent example of highly developed animals that, in contradistinction to us humans, mate for life and are part of a pack led by an alpha male. Humans should have their sense of community.

There is a very strong moral argument, an argument ranchers deride as condominium conservationist stuff from the big city.

I have news for them. I live in Lions Bay where black bears abound and if they attack anything living aside from spawning salmon, it’s human beings. We get a “bear warning” in Spring which lasts until late Fall. Despite the danger, I know of no fellow citizen who would want bears murdered. I have seen several bears on our streets over the 11 years I’ve been here plus several coyotes and one cougar. Our view is that we’re in their habitat, not the other way around.

It is important to understand nature’s way of dealing with wolves. They will kill and devour ungulates (deer, caribou etc), invariably the weak ones, until their numbers deplete to the point that wolves starve and the ungulates replenish their numbers and on it goes as it has for thousands of years.

Into this mix arrived ranchers and cattle. This meant that when the ungulates were down, the cow became prey. As we will see, the number of cattle they kill is minuscule and wolves were a known part of life when ranchers moved in.

It’s rare that wolves attack anything other than small animals until winter when small animals are not around, which brings me back to the second question (above) “What the hell are cattle doing out on the range in the winter?”

For me, it’s as Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, “Déjà vu all over again”.

Over 30 years ago I became Minister of Environment and I immediately stopped the slaughter of wolves in British Columbia. When I left the ministry for Health, Tony Brummett, from the heart of rancher land in the Peace River region, and the great hope of the ranchers, maintained the moratorium as has every Environment Minister since until we reach the Campbell/Clark government which now encourages hunting and killing of wolves a 24 hour a day, 365 day of the year season.

A story about life as a member of Bill Bennett’s cabinet.

When the Tsawwassen overhead wire issue was being fought I spoke to several rallies and continuously asked where the Liberal MLA, Val Roddick, was, observing that usually you couldn’t shut her up.

A lady, an obvious government supporter, came up to me after one such rally and said “I’ll bet you didn’t go to these sorts of rallies when you were in government.”

My reply: when I banned the killing of wolves, a Socred backbencher, Cyril Shelford and his seemingly unending list of brothers arranged a rally in Smithers and I was dared to attend.

I did, and it was scary to see 500 or more angry ranchers wanting my scalp – literally.

I then said to the lady, “you probably think I was very brave?”

She allowed that she did to which I replied, “it had bugger-all to do with courage; if I hadn’t gone, Premier Bennett would have turfed my ass out of cabinet.”

I tell that story to demonstrate the size of the storm created by my decision.

In order to satisfy myself that the ranchers had blown the issue out of all proportion I sent a Kamloops man, once a Fish and Game officer, the late George “Sandy” Sandiford, to go on a swing throughout the appropriate parts of the province then give me his impressions as to whether wolves were destroying huge amounts of cattle.

After about four weeks he reported to me, in his characteristic way, “it’s mostly bullshit – what the ranchers really want is compensation for any losses, it being assumed that they were all killed by wolves”.

He recounted an especially forceful argument of ranchers, which was told as three separate incidents where wolves drove a herd of cattle onto a frozen lake and the ice fractured leaving the cattle at the mercies of the rapacious wolves. Three times this happened in different lakes!

You will, no doubt, be asking yourself “how did the wolves avoid drowning too?” and, “what the hell were a herd of cattle doing on the range in the dead of winter?”

In Anecdotal evidence not good enough to justify wolf kill in the Vancouver Sun, on Friday the 5th, the estimable Stephen Hume makes the obvious point that there’s a paucity of evidence that wolves are a serious threat to cattle. He points out a survey in 2003 (that it’s far back because the Campbell/Clark government has made the Environment Ministry into a phantom post in which to deposit MLAs who are so grateful to be in cabinet, thus they go along and make no discernible waves).

In that report it was estimated that 93-95% of cattle lost were due to a great many other hazards such as “disease, toxic flora, calving problems, bad weather, getting hung up in the ubiquity of barbed wire fences, hit by vehicles, or killed and butchered by rustlers. There is no evidence of any basic change in the circumstances since my time as minister.

As I said, what ranchers seek is compensation for every cow lost, it being assumed that a wolf did it.

The wolf is a marvelous animal with a great sense of community. The same cultural immorality that has wolves endangered would eliminate grizzly bears, black bears, coyotes, cougars. Tragically, it’s the same ilk that destroy sharks so that oriental gentlemen can get erections and have their restaurants carry shark fin soup. Their counterparts poach wildlife in Africa such as wildebeests. Elephants and Rhinos and nail tigers and elephants in Asia.

What this wolf kill demonstrates is not only the complete lack of understanding of wolves by the Campbell/Clark government but their willingness to pander to their supporters without any science to support them at the expense of an environment which, to them, is a nuisance and a hindrance to development by their corporate donors.

It’s not just wolves but the desecration of wild salmon by fish farms; the ruination of rivers and their fauna and flora so that their private sector pals can produce power we don’t need; it’s the destruction of Agriculture and Wildlife Preserves that fortify (as if fortifying was needed) the evidence that this government does not give a damn about the outdoors, the treasured legacy we received but, thanks to the Campbell/Clark government, will not be intact for the next generation.

(I refer to it as the Campbell/Clark government not to be a smarty pants but because it’s a fair description of 12 years of government in which Gordon Campbell was head for 11 and was supported by Christy Clark when she was a senior cabinet minister and supported by her by not uttering a murmur of dissent when she was an open line broadcaster and has done nothing to alter since she has been premier).

It must be remembered that this is a government that cares little for anything but rightwing philosophy, regarding the Fraser Institute as their guiding guru. Kevin Falcon, now the 2nd most powerful minister, said when Transportation Minister and said seriously “(the Chinese) don’t have the labour or environmental restrictions we do. It’s not like they have to do community consultations. They just say ‘we’re building a bridge’ and they move everyone out of there and get going within two weeks. Could you imagine if we could build like that?”

We pride ourselves on being “Supernatural British Columbia” as our government does all it can to destroy that heritage and do so as fast as it can so that like the omelet, it can never go back to its original form.

My opposition to this mob of disgraceful destroyers of our beautiful province is not just bewilderment, not just sadness, not just anger and disgust, but also of profound embarrassment that we the people have elected these bastards three times and might do so again.


Shades of Green: Parenting in an Uncertain Age


When Elijah was four years old, he wanted to dress as a polar bear for Halloween trick-or-treating so his mother, Sandra, sewed him a costume from an old white bed sheet. As she was making his costume, it occurred to her that global warming may mean the costume may outlast the polar bears. So she began to wonder how a loving and caring parent is supposed to explain the extinction of a species to a child. If parents are the heroes of children, why didn’t they do something to prevent it?

The continued existence of polar bears was not the only species that worried her. She knew that within Elijah’s lifetime, scientists are expecting one in four mammals to go extinct – for marine mammals the prognosis is one in three. And this doesn’t count species of fish, insects and plants. If iconic species such as tigers, whales, tuna, sharks, sea turtles and butterflies should disappear off the face of the Earth, what will this mean to children? How much will it shrink their experience, stunt their imagination and darken their expectation? If the world that adults bequeath to children is depleted and impoverished, will it diminish their respect for humanity and warp their values when they become adults?

These are just the first of the issues that prompted Sandra Steingraber to write Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. As a conscientious and protective mother living in the 21st century, these are the concerns flooding over her. If sex and the mystery of procreation are difficult to explain to a child, how does a parent explain climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification and global pollution, all of which are stories of de-generation and de-construction, of de-creation rather than re-generation? How does a mother dispel the anxiety that the life she is offering to her child may be less secure and promising than the life she was offered? How does she reconcile this prospect with the obligation of parents to protect their children from harm and to open their future to opportunity?

Raising Elijah is powerful because it asks the important questions that a responsible parent should ask. It steps outside the realm of thoughtless consumerism into the world of protective nurturing, giving focus and clarity to those hidden doubts lurking below surface worries. She cites disturbing US health trends for children – trends in Canada will be similar – that are the likely result of their exposure to toxic chemicals prevalent in air pollution, pesticides, heavy metals and miscellaneous plastics.

  • 1 in 8 is born prematurely, the leading cause of death in the first months of life and the leading cause of disability.
  • 1 in 11 has asthma, the most common chronic childhood disease and a leading cause of school absenteeism. Asthma’s incidence has doubled since 1980.
  • 1 in 10 has a learning disability.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 
  • 1 in 110 has autism or is on the autism spectrum. Causes are unknown, but exposure to chemical agents in early pregnancy is one of several suspected contributors.
  • 1 in 10 girls begin breast development before the age of eight. On average, breast development now begins nearly two years earlier (age 9) than it did in the early 1960s (age 11). Early puberty is a known risk factor for adult breast cancer. One of the suspected causes is estrogen mimicking chemicals found in plastics.

Once considered unusual, these “new morbidities of childhood” now appear almost normal or inevitable, writes Steingraber. The authors of a US pediatric health investigation, whose work was recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives, came to a more damning conclusion: “In the absence of toxicity testing,” they concluded, “we are inadvertently employing pregnant women and children as uninformed subjects to warn us of new environmental toxicants. Paradoxically, because industry is not obligated to supply the data on developmental neurotoxicity, the costs of human disease, research, and prevention are socialized whereas the profits are privatized.”

For a mother who is passionately protective of the health and wellbeing of her child, Steingraber finds herself trying to raise Elijah in a toxic environment of unavoidable risk. So she must take protective measures that seem strange in a culture that purports to be civilized. How much mercury-tainted tuna can she safely feed to Elijah? Because she knows that children are smaller than adults, their metabolic rates are higher and they are in a vulnerable growing phase, can she trust the safety of approved exposure standards? Is exposure to any toxin safe for a child? What industries are nearby that might render the air unfit to breath or the water hazardous to drink? What kind of toxins are being emitted from the rug on which her child is playing? Will their dog track in herbicides from the neighbourhood lawns? Can she be sure no residue pesticides taint their fruits and vegetables? Are genetically modified foods safe? The ethical and regulatory lapses in our modern industrial state have forced her into a defensive position laden with fear.

“The great moral issue of our own day,” she contends, is “the environmental crisis, an unfolding calamity whose main victims are our own children and grandchildren.” She suggests that it can be viewed as a tree with two main branches. “One branch represents what is happening to our planet through the atmospheric accumulation of heat-trapping gases. The second branch represents what is happening to us through the accumulation of inherently toxic chemical pollutants in our bodies. Follow the first branch and you find droughts, floods, acidifying oceans, dissolving coral reefs and faltering plankton stocks. Follow the second branch and you find pesticides in children’s urine, lungs stunted by air pollutants, abbreviated pregnancies, altered hormone levels and lower scores on cognitive tests.”

To a thinking and protective mother, the original Tree of Life is undergoing a disturbing transformation.