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GIVING THANKS TO SCIENTISTS!

Nothing like a national holiday for focusing the mind on giving thanks.

This year, though, my thoughts are bending in an odd way. I find myself giving thanks for things…scientific. Things that have made possible what I truly care about: loving connections. Here's what I mean:

*I'm thankful for the airplane technology that made it possible for me to zip out to the West Coast for several Moms Clean Air Force meetings, and tuck in a visit with my older son, who will be traveling to see his beloved grandfather in New Orleans. My own grandfather's generation did not have such easy, fast access to loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear Alex!

*I'm thankful for the technology that has made it possible for my son Theo to teach me some pretty important lessons about creative flow: Create it, share it, and create some more. Theo started writing music–recording himself, adding instrumentation and laying down beats, mixing tracks–on his simple laptop. He shares what he has written immediately, via email. Astonishing. He's taught me so much about fearlessness, about pushing boundaries.

Happy Thanksgiving, beloved Theo!

*I'm thankful for the simple point-and-shoot that has added an entirely new dimension to the way I see the world–and share it. And get instant feedback. The things my friends teach me are amazing. Suddenly, because of brilliant engineering, I'm able to express myself in ways never before possible.

Happy Thanksgiving, wise and generous friends!

*This weekend I'm going to visit with a family of four–not one of whom, for various reasons, would be alive without the brilliant medical technology scientists have developed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the babies who have been able to join us in this world because of scientists willing to push the frontiers of life!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the scientists whose brainpower has snatched lives from untimely death! 

*Speaking of friends, what about all those speedy but nonetheless sticky connections with friends and families that we've been able to rely on, via internet, telephone–all that gadgetry. No, it isn't the same as real encounters. But it has a lot going for it.

Happy Thanksgiving, via Internet!

*I'll go for lots of walks this week, and be grateful that we're breathing cleaner air now than we were forty years ago. Not clean enough–but so much better.

This was the year I realized a long-held dream of visiting India–but my first impression, getting off the plane in New Delhi, was to be stunned by how severe the air pollution was. Within minutes my eyes and nose were streaming. I'm sad to think how many children there are born with elevated mercury levels, how many must suffer damage to lungs, hearts and brains–and in China the problem is even worse. Americans must do their part to clean the air; other countries will do the same, eventually, because people will demand it. We share the air.

Happy Thanksgiving to the scientists and engineers who are making it possible to clean up messes we are making!

And yes, that's a complicated one, because industrial technology has made these messes. We frack for gas, we drill for oil, we burn coal. We pollute. More than necessary. But we want and need fuel. Scientists will find cleaner ways. Will we have the wisdom to take advantage of new science?

*And how about government officials who really understand and respect what scientists tell us about the health effects of pollution on children?

Happy Thanksgiving, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who is doing so much to make the world a safer place for all of us–and upholding the noble goal of "transcending partisanship" set out by….Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970, announcing the Clean Air Act!

*And here's something old-fashioned, with a new twist: Social activism. I'm grateful that we live in a country where we can demonstrate displeasure. Think of the computer technology that makes it possible for grass roots to become prairies overnight.

How remarkable that anyone with a cell phone can capture evidence of the shameful abuse of police power (I'm thinking especially of the police who opened brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Berkeley. Also shameful: the individual attacks on people in Occupy camps, by so-called Occupiers.)

Happy Thanksgiving, to all who adopt new technology for that old-fashioned fight for rights–and remind us of that most fundamental right, citizenship.

Trains, planes, cars, buses. Test tubes, incubators, transfusions, T cells. Cell phones, Skype, iPads, laptops. There is no end to the way science and technology have improved our lives. Come to think of it, I'm alive because of the science that revealed cancer early enough to stop it.

But when you get right down to it, the reason I'm feeling grateful to science is that it deepens our humanity. Science deepens our connection to the ancient wonders of our world. Science can show us the way forward, in cherishing our planet. And it can catapult us backwards. Science is neutral, neither good nor bad. We are not. We have a choice how to use the power of science. I hope we will use it in the service of the oldest of human values: connectivity.

Love, family, friendship. Life. No matter how complicated things get, aren't we lucky to be part of this vibrant wash of body and heart and soul? We're all in this together–scientist, denier, Luddite, futurist. We're all connected. It's for that I am most grateful.

Smogulous Smoke

In 1971, Dr. Seuss introduced children to resource management and environmental degradation. Well, of course he didn't use big boring words like that. Instead, he spun an entrancing tale, told by the ancient Once-ler, of a land of fantastical creatures–Swomee Swans, Bar-ba-Loots, and Humming Fish–who lived among the Truffula Trees (under which, no doubt, grown-ups might dream, as they read, of finding truffles). The Once-ler arrives in this paradise only to begin exploiting it, chopping down trees to create Thneeds, a garment "everyone needs."

The Lorax emerges from a stump to protest, but the Once-ler ignores him–because nothing should thwart private enterprise. His business thrives. His factories are belching "smogululous smoke"; the Bar-ba-Loots, who lived off the Truffula fruits, are facing food shortages and a mysterious stomach ache called the Crummies; the Swomee Swans have sore throats and no longer sing; the factories are dumping waste, "Gluppity Glup", in the water, so the fish no longer hum. Eventually, the land is ravaged, there are no more trees, and the sneed factories are forced to close down. It is the ending, though, that left such a deep impression on me when I first read the story, at the age of sixteen. The Lorax floats away through a hole in the smog, leaving behind a rock inscribed with one word: UNLESS.

Unless…we do something to stop ravaging our earth.

Universal Studios is releasing a new animated adaptation of The Lorax next year, timed to what would have been the 108th birthday of Dr. Seuss. Danny DeVito will give voice to the Lorax, Zac Efron to Ted, the boy who asks the Once-ler to tell him the story. There is also, somehow, to be a "love interest" for Ted. He will win her affection by showing her the one thing she has never seen: a tree. Go figure. Already, green blogs are lighting up with anticipation. Already, I'm feeling a bit grumpy about the need to tamper with an iconic book–but then again, perhaps this means a new generation will tune into the message of the Lorax.

When I became a much older kid, I read a biography of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who served for more than 36 years, beginning in 1939. Justice Douglas was an avid outdoorsman–he hiked the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine–and his love of nature was reflected in some of his most important opinions. He wrote a dissent in a landmark environmental law case in 1972, Sierra Club v Morton, about the intended development by Disney of part of the Sequoia National Forest, arguing that "inanimate objects" should have standing to sue in court.

"Perhaps the bulldozers of 'progress' will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, who has standing to be heard?"

Justice Douglas' opinion, proposing that trees be allowed their day in court, resonated with Dr. Seuss' question, Who speaks for the trees?

There never was anything subtle about Dr. Seuss's parable (or, for that matter, about anything that genius produced.) Its clarity was its charm.  Of course, the book kicked up controversy, particularly in the logging industry. Those were interesting times, marking the birth of a national environmental movement. Only a year before The Lorax was published, the U.S. celebrated the first Earth Day–at the instigation of a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, who had been horrified by the damage done by a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, with bipartisan support.

Nearly a decade earlier, in 1964, Shel Silverstein published a book that parents are also still reading to their children, called The Giving Tree. I always found this story depressing–a boy takes and takes from a tree, branches for swings, trees for snacks, leaves for shade–and then, cutting it down for lumber, the boy builds a boat. Finally, the tree has nothing left to give. By then, though, the boy is older, and needs little, just a place to sit and rest.

I read this story to my sons only once. The older one wept; the younger one was horrified. No more tree?  We didn't do that much better with The Lorax, which, if you really think about it, is also profoundly upsetting. It is left to the parent reading to the child to explain what that mysterious "unless" might mean. While that does provide a terrific starting point for conversations about how pollution threatens the world we live in–it also makes for some guilty throat-clearing, because after all, the children can do nothing, it is the grown-ups who are making these messes. "Unless", it turns out, is a message for parents. Unless we stop. And unless we teach our children to cherish the planet.

As I watched the trailer for The Lorax, it struck me that today's problems demand so much of parents of young children. Not only do they have to explain air pollution, water pollution, and waste–but parents are probably getting questions about global warming, an overwhelmingly difficult topic to navigate without causing anxiety in parents, much less their children. I would guess that most of us skip it. Had I known about global warming when my children were young, I would have been flummoxed as to how to broach the subject.

I'm curious to see how the latest Lorax speaks for the trees–but even more curious as to how he will speak to the children. And their parents. Perhaps environmentalists will learn a trick or two. After all, Dr. Seuss showed us the way once before.

WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT YOUR MEMORIES OF THE LORAX, YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN'S BOOKS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT, AND THOUGHTS ABOUT TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT POLLUTION.

Mother Love is a Force of Nature

Moms Clean Air Force has a newly designed website, and I’m delighted to welcome you to our community. We’re creating a movement for people who see air pollution as a straightforward, urgently important health issue.

Our goals are simple: educate people about why air pollution is still a big problem; raise awareness about what’s at stake politically; inspire people to take simple, fast action to send Washington a message.

We know moms are busy. But moms are also extraordinarily protective of their children’s health. We specialize in Naptime Activism.

Our bloggers take our message into their communities, reaching millions of readers. We network on Facebook and Twitter. Our growing community includes nurses, doctors, scientists, politicians, novelists, journalists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, knitters and bakers–concerned moms, dads, sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons.

Air pollution is harmful to everyone with a beating heart.

Air pollution contains toxins that harm people’s brains, lungs, and hearts. It is affecting our food and water. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic pollutants; Latino and African American babies suffer disproportionately from poisoned air. While there are lots of things we can do, as individuals, to keep our children safe at home, no one can control the air they breathe. We need regulations for that.

We’re all for respecting reasonable, efficient government budgets. But we don’t want our babies thrown out with the bathwater.

President Nixon’s Clean Air Act of 1970, and the agency he founded, the Environmental Protection Agency, have accomplished a great deal in cleaning American air and water. But the work isn’t done. The sky might be blue, but that doesn’t mean it is clean. In forty years, we’ve learned much more about invisible pollutants that wreak havoc on our health, causing neurological and developmental problems. Asthma rates among children are skyrocketing.

Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It is poisonous. Polluters are fighting for the right to pollute!

The Clean Air Act and the EPA are facing an unprecedented attack by some politicians and coal and oil industry lobbyists. That’s because emissions from coal-fired power plants are the single largest contributor to mercury toxins in our air.

Many responsible coal plant owners have done the right thing and cleaned up their toxic air emissions. It hasn’t hurt their bottom lines at all–they’re making record profits. The EPA has created thousands of jobs for Americans in the last forty years–in sectors from research to enforcement to engineering to new technology development.

Air pollution can be cleaned up. Please join Moms Clean Air Force to make our voices loud and clear. Send politicians a forceful message: Strengthen and enforce pollution regulations!

Polluters have power, money and political influence. But moms have love. And that’s the strongest force of all. Now we have to use it.

Join us at Moms Clean Air Force, please!

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