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.


A Polluter TRAIN Headed Right For Our Children

Imagine this scene: Some maniacs have tied your children to a train track–then hopped on the train, released the brakes, and sent a mighty engine roaring down the track. Right for your children.

That’s what’s going on in Washington DC right now.

The train is, literally, the TRAIN Act of 2011, and next week, the House will vote on a bill (HR 1705) that was designed to cripple Clean Air Act regulations and intimidate the Environmental Protection Agency. The TRAIN Act requires a committee of cabinet secretaries to re-analyze the costs of public health protections. That’s right: RE-analyze. For a third time. Because when a bill is introduced, its costs are analyzed during the comment period, and again by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The TRAIN Act is a delaying tactic created to protect polluters’ right to pollute. We must take action now to stop this shameful bill.

The TRAIN ACT is busy work for politicians whose stated goal is to block any and all environmental protections–no matter what the cost to our children’s healthMercury, lead, arsenic, acid gases–these are the poisons spewing from coal plants that EPA, in any administration, is required by law, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate. These are regulations that save hundreds of thousands of lives, and cut health care costs by trillions of dollars.

On top of it all, polluters and politicians want you to believe that regulations kill jobs and cripple the economy. This is absolutely untrue.

We do not have to choose between jobs and clean air. We can have both.

Tell your representatives to do their jobs. Not create busy work–and blow smoke. Their job is to protect people.

Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It is poisonous. As a mom, I’m furious–and you should be too. Politicians can play politics with each other all they want. But they cannot play politics with my children.

Parents have a chance to make a difference, this week and next. Mothers’ voices will make a difference. Let Washington know that you are paying attention. Let Washington know that you want pollution to be controlled. Let Washington know that clean air saves lives.

Write to your representatives and let them know that they must stop that TRAIN speeding towards our children. Tell them to stop playing politics with our children.

PLEASE JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE and tell your local representatives to vote NO on the TRAIN Act.

Obama, Ozone, and Political Horse-Trading

President Obama has just announced a controversial decision(because we’re all paying close attention over the Labor Day weekend, of course) not to raise the ozone standards for air pollution–in spite of pressure from environmentalists and his own head of EPA, Lisa Jackson. He is responding, instead, to requests from House Speaker John Boehner, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; opposition to the regulation was focused on the expense  to businesses of meeting it, which they claimed was somewhere in the range of $20 to $90 billion annually.

I’m not going to jump into an Obama Bash here. Maybe it’s the sunny skies, but I’m remaining deliberately optimistic. Perhaps the president is getting ready to do some political horse-trading. By being responsive to business concerns about what opponents claim would have been the most expensive regulation to come out of E.P.A. by far, he can’t be called a Democrat who supports any and all regulations. The thinking might go: You can have those ozone regulations–which are set to be revisited in 2013, anyway–but I want those new mercury regulations for coal-fired power plants. We can afford those.

The flip side of my optimistic argument is that the White House is buying into the “regulations cost jobs” trope; many politicians now link “job-killing” to every use of the word “regulation”, regardless of the inaccuracy. So far, there hasn’t been any proof that the implementation of ozone standards would have cost jobs. In fact, it may well have added employment, and driven engineering innovation. Any way you look at it, this is a huge win for polluters.

Horse-trading or caving: we’ll see a clear trend over the next few months, as other pollution regulations come up for discussion. The ozone decision bodes ill for those who are opposing the upcoming Keystone pipeline, despite an impassioned letter from the governor of Nebraska. If the president is accepting the “jobs versus environmental protection” framework, he will be forced to choose jobs, and get that pipeline built. That jobs v. environment framework is not, and has never been, accurate. It is a spin imposed by corporate polluters and their lobbyists, one that is all too easily understood and accepted by voters–and it is gaining traction. Enviros have not done a good enough job explaining why and how regulations actually create jobs.

One thing is clear, regardless of the smog. Now, more than at any other time since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law, we have to keep the pressure up on Washington to remind everyone that clean air is a priority. Like they say in Texas, Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya. We have to support the president in doing the right thing–and pressure him relentlessly when we think he’s doing the wrong thing.

Join Moms Clean Air Force to send a strong message: Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It’s toxic. Let Washington know that we want regulations that protect the health of our children.






Is Amtrak Ready for Global Warming?

Three days after Irene slammed the East Coast, Amtrak reopened for business, and I boarded a train for a trip I have taken countless times over the last twenty-five years. The journey from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City, is a train ride I love, no matter how unreliable or maddeningly slow the service might be–and there have been some real doozies, six or seven hours for a trip that shouldn’t take longer than three hours. And that’s on the express. But after Irene, the passage held none of its usual charm. Instead, it seemed to border on an act of lunacy that we should still be riding that train at all.

The route is one of the country’s most beautiful, and most heavily traveled. It skirts the coast of Connecticut for many miles; I always sit on the east side of the train because the views are breathtaking. Over the years, I’ve gazed out the window as ospreys returned to platforms set up in salt marshes, their messy nests spilling off the sides. The nests were intact after the hurricane. Small, quiet ponds were covered with water lilies. Coves and inlets were calm, with kayakers joining the ducks and geese.

A few large motorboats were smashed up against boulders, reminding us of the folly of ignoring storm warnings.  Trees were uprooted and lay toppled by the side of the tracks. Cormorants standing on the skeletal remains of trusses fanned their capelike wings to dry. Bulldozers raked across sandy beaches, cleaning up for Labor Day crowds.

We passed sprawling power plants, their red and white striped stacks jaunty against the blue sky, and playgrounds, school bus yards, ferries, shipyards and day care centers, church steeples, beacons to sea farers, jutted over the landscape–all of life is laid out along this major artery.

But there is a new addition to the scenery. For many miles, the track is barely above sea level. We crawled along so as not to threaten construction crews hard at work all along the coast–on rigs, in cranes, in bulldozers. Even though we didn’t get the worst of what turned out to be a tropical storm, Irene–and her predecessors–had left her mark. Much of the track was shored up with riprap, boulders used to armor the coast against the pull of tidal surges. Slabs of cement were being lifted into place to protect stretches of tracks. Wire cage rock walls had been erected in some places.

It seemed almost laughable.

Any fisherman will tell you that a roiling ocean, even during something as common as a nor’easter, will shove boulders aside as though they were marbles. Child’s play. As we chugged along, two hours behind schedule, I wondered with some tenderness at how primitive is human hope–“Here,” we seem to be saying to the gods of storms, “take these boulders, take these cement slabs, but spare our tracks.” Who are we kidding? There is no reinforcement strong enough for the perilous severity of storm surges and rising oceans.

What are we thinking of, keeping such vital infrastructure so close to the sea? Of course we can’t just shut down the line and walk away. But we should be rebuilding only with future disruption in mind, and that will take more than wire cages full of rocks. Environmentalists study adaptation to global warming, discussing the opening of migration corridors for animals that will have to move northward to avoid killing heats, or to follow their food source. What about human adaptation? Amtrak’s troubles foreshadow trouble for life along the coast. We’re going to need more than a few tons of riprap to adapt to the storm warnings to come.

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