My buddies and I sometimes joke while cracking open a Pabst six-pack: Remember when all you had to do to be an environmentalist was cut apart the plastic ring carrier before throwing it away?
I must have been taught this sometime in early grade school, and I remember being very concerned that a seagull, like the ones I always saw flying over the Yellowstone County landfill, would get strangled in one of the rings.
But being a good environmentalist, as our society is slowly learning, goes way beyond proper plastic-ring disposal (which is still important, of course). The staggering breadth of ways human influence screws up the environment and our health is depressing.
But we wouldn’t get anywhere if we sat on our butts feeling sad. Take, for instance, the 1978 Love Canal disaster, in which residents of a Niagara Falls, New York neighborhood discovered that the site was on top of 21,000 toxic waste buried by the Hooker Chemical company. A reporter went door-to-door and found people exhibiting a host of birth defects, like enlarged extremities. Further investigation revealed an abnormal incidence of miscarriages. Children returned from playgrounds with chemical burns. A local mother, Lois Gibbs, led others in rallying together against the local government agencies and Hooker Chemical. Eventually, more than 800 families were relocated and reimbursed for their homes.
Environmentalist Kate Davies pinpoints the Love Canal protests as the birth of modern environmental American activism in her book The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement. Davies boasts one hell of a resume, from a doctorate in biochemistry to Greepeace work to managing the first Canadian local government environmental office in Toronto. Her expertise is in explaining complex topics in simple language, like her short story, “A Tale of Two Toxicities,” about fictional characters, Polly Klorinate and Al Kyle, which explains the dozens of ways we come into contact with hazardous chemicals every day. (Let’s just say that things do not bode well for Polly and Al.)
Davies is visiting Missoula to read and talk about environmental health. Given the ties between toxic chemicals and effects on reproduction, it seems appropriate that joining Davies is Florence Williams, author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. It could make for a sobering evening, or an inspiring one, or a lot of both.
And hey, remember to recycle your six-pack.