Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Every Day, says Fran Alexander

CROSS CURRENTS : Earth Day every day
Fran Alexander
Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009
"We are like butterflies that flutter for a day and think it's forever." - Carl Sagan There are as many ways to acknowledge or celebrate Earth Day as there are people on the planet, so I hope everyone will commit to at least one activity or one action or one thought to this big ball on which we're whirling through space and consider your personal impact upon it. There are usually a variety of organized events to choose from on both sides of April 22, so hopefully sometime this week you'll give the old globe a personal nod of recognition. Fleas should not ignore the health of the dog, after all.

There is no subject, creation, object or idea we humans have ever come up with that does not in some way relate back to the Earth, yet we tend to behave as if people are somehow separate, like we can stop and get off when things get bad. Earth Day is a time to think hard about finding our personal niche in untangling some of the messes we all find ourselves in environmentally, both locally and globally.

A good place to start fixing problems is in learning a thing or two about the Earth's reaction to us. As part of their ongoing commitment to study, the League of Women Voters (which is having their state convention in Fayetteville on Saturday, April 25) is inviting the community to the Fayetteville Public Library's Walker Room for a couple free presentations on environmental issues by top-notch speakers.

A program from 10 until 11:30 a.m. will be given by Dr. Marty Matlock, who is with the university's Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability Ecological Engineering Group. He also works in ecosystem restoration projects and serves as an advisor for five national organizations as well as providing technical support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service in the Mid-East Peace Process.

Matlock's talk, titled "The Ethics of Sustainability," connects the dots as he weaves us with others across the globe in our competition for "ecological services." Those services range from provisions like food, water, fiber and fuel to what constitutes feelings of "well-being" for living things such as security, adequate resources and shelter, health, and good social conditions. These fundamentals really have to be in place before we as individuals or as nations can achieve freedoms of choice and action.

In a time when "sustainability" is on everyone's lips in discussing the economy, jobs, investments, quality of life and every other thing imaginable, it is important we learn exactly what we are talking about and the cost and ethics in sustaining varying levels of existence. Matlock is a very energetic speaker, who can convey concepts and information very clearly, and I can highly recommend his programs.

Later that day from 2 until 3:15 p.m., there will be a phone connection with and video program of Dr. Theo Colborn, founder of the Endocrine Disrupter Exchange (TEDX), "the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function."

Right off you may say to yourself, as I did, "Well that's over my head for sure!" But think again. We all learned about the endocrine system in school, that group of little organs in our bodies (pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, pineal, ovaries, testes) that pretty well control everything the brain doesn't bother with directly. These regulate vital functions like "body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and the ability to reproduce."

SEX! Do I have your attention now?

And what does this have to do with Earth Day? Well, quite a lot actually. Dr. Colborn and others are studying the effects on humans of industrially produced chemicals in the environment. One of their major studies is on gas drilling's chemical contamination of land, water and air. Natural gas extraction is expanding rapidly, and the Fayetteville Shale gas fields in central Arkansas are no exception in experiencing the same problems felt all over the country, yet we are hearing very little about what is actually going on environmentally. Frankly, there is a lot of head-in-the-sand denial about the impact of the poisoned water and toxins that are regurgitated out of these wells, and our governor and state Legislature are so smitten with the millions in taxes from gas production that they are "doe-in-the-headlights" blind and deaf to the consequences. There was not even a percentage of money set aside for fixing major environmental problems, if they even are fixable, especially before they harm or destroy lives.

As I have written before regarding oil and gas production, even as unbelievable as it is to the public, "all meaningful environmental oversight and regulation of ... natural gas production was removed by the executive branch and Congress in the 1995 Federal Energy Appropriations Bill. Without restraints from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, [etc.], the gas industry is steamrolling over vast land segments." This quote is from Dr. Colburn's TEDX Web site on chemicals (

Our state Legislature has just in this session allowed only people with industry connections to serve on the Oil and Gas Commission and also sustained these private industries' power of eminent domain to extract and transport resources. We need to clearly understand what these powers mean in light of our health and rights now and in the future, and what helplessness they impose on the citizenry to protect itself.

Earth Day is about now and about every day to come. And, as Dr. Matlock says, "Everything is connected, everything is changing, and we're all in this together." I hope you will connect too in looking for solutions.

Fran Alexander is a local resident and an active environmentalist.

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