Turn those pink ribbons green

I’m going to make a confession.  I never could stand those pink ribbons.  I’ve never done a “Walk for the Cure” or bought daffodils for cancer victims or even picked a cancer-cure-themed postage stamp.

I’m glad to hear that the Komen Foundation has bowed to pressure and is restoring funding to Planned Parenthood, a worthwhile organization if there ever was one.

But in general, the idea of putting the energy and effort of well-meaning citizens behind “the search for a cure for cancer” just irritates me, because let’s face it, we know what causes cancer, and therefore we can do better than cure it, we can prevent it!  Maybe not 100%, but we can take it back to the modest rates that previous generations of human beings enjoyed.

For my grandparents’ generation, a diagnosis of cancer was frightening because it was so often a death sentence, but it was rare. Not one of my four grandparents came down with cancer, and I don’t believe their parents did either.  This isn’t due to some genetic serendipity, it’s just a fact that cancer rates in the first half of the 20th century (and every century before that) were way lower than they are now.

Cancer rates are skyrocketing now thanks to the environmental toxins that humans have introduced into our air, soil and water, and thus our agricultural crops, drinking water and the very air we breathe.  Rachel Carson saw the effects of DDT on birds, and gave the warning just before she succumbed to cancer.  

We may have removed DDT from the US market, but it’s still being used in other countries, and here it has been replaced by a whole host of alphabet-soup chemicals, each one more potent and carcinogenic than the last.

If you really want to make a difference in the war against cancer, forget about those ridiculous pink ribbons.  Use the power of your wallet and your ballot to insist that the government step up and do its job in regulating the industrial agriculture sector.

Or better yet, let’s allow the specter of industrial agriculture to fade away into the dustbin of the 20th century, and start a real “green revolution,” dedicated to the health and well-being of our planet and all her denizens.

What color is your ribbon?  Mine is green.

Leave a comment


  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’d love to see a campaign where everyone who objects to the appropriation and poisoning of our food, air, water, (let’s face it our entire planet), simply plucks a blade of grass or narrow leaf and pins it on as a simple, sustainable ribbon that indicates a commitment to greener living, and rejection of the status quo. The beauty of this would be that it is a gesture operating outside of consumerism – no manufacturing or money transaction needed. What do you think?

  2. This is such an important column! I totally agree. Koman for the Cure was exposed long before this latest debacle for being one of those “charities” where little of the money that comes in actually goes to cancer research. I for one was not surprised by its current easy buckling–first in one direction and then presumably in the other. We should all be fighting to prevent cancer–and all the other environmentally-produced ills–rather than color ourselves Barbie and put more money in the Right’s pocket.

  3. Watching my only sibling fight for his last breaths and then die of esophageal cancer at age 55 transformed me. I went from being an eternal optimist that thought cancer was a 5-letter word, worse than some 4-letter words by one letter, to a person trying to positively influence the universe by re-discovering and sharing my optimism each and every day. It is going on seven years since my brother Glenn (whom I never knew to practice faith), used most of his last conscious breath to say the Lord’s prayer. I cannot measure the “butterfly effect” of his life and death but I believe it reverberates into eternity and guides me to this day. As a species, we are executing an affront to the fabric of our being on many levels. Cancer has gone from rare occurrence to more like a growing body of evidence of our collective ignorance, sustained by greed, and surrounds us like mirrors forcing refection. As I stand and face that reflection, I find it easy to believe the poisons laced into our food, water, and air are ingredients of a conspirators profit formula beginning with consumerism and culminating in illnesses demanding expensive treatment. Even though the obvious is almost blinding, I fear its what we can’t see, here, taste, smell, or breath that may be exacting an even greater cost to human health. After some Google search effort, I cannot find data on how many electromagnetic waves likely simultaneously impinge upon us and through us every waking and sleeping moment. Knowing how many signals there are, radio, television, telephone, Internet, etc., with some broadcast signals reaching up to 500 miles, it is probably safe to say we have become experimental subjects in a giant microwave. Even low level electromagnetic waves surely “butterfly” excite our every waiting cell to some degree. Just the idea of the compound effect of possibly thousands of non-stop competing signals dancing through flesh and cosmos is enough to cause cancer. Imagine what the reality is capable of?

  4. leavergirl

     /  February 4, 2012

    I have been dealing with lymphoma for 17 years this spring. I used to have a fairly extensive web site on that subject — one of the first, way back when. Did tons of research. Doctors know very well that particularly herbicides and other toxins cause lymphoma, In earlier days, they would have me fill out a questionnaire as to what I may have been exposed, Now, no longer. And I have never seen any researcher or doctor deal in print with the issue, or even exhort anyone regarding the pollution. As far as I can tell, they just turned away from those results, and prefer not to think about it.

    As for those campaigns… please. If they cured cancer tomorrow, there’d be panic in the streets, so many people feed off it. Meaning having a livelihood that would not exist if so many of us were not ill with it. So I am not expecting a cure as long as this economic system persists.

    Also, I am convinced that this particular “disease of civilization” is a signal to us. Civ is a cancer upon the planet, and so it is perhaps not surprising that so many of us come down with cancer in our person. Cancer is a useful metaphor for what is going on in the global sense. What will it take for people to see it? Those ribbons are just another way not to look.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  February 9, 2012

      I so agree about cancer as the signature disease of our civilization, and a metaphor for all that’s wrong with us. Would love to pursue this further in an essay. Maybe we should try writing it together!

  5. John McMahon

     /  February 5, 2012

    While I agree that we must reconsider the adverse effects of industrial agriculture and its associated toxics if we want to address the increase in cancers, it is also important to point out that the increased use of artificial lighting at night, especially excessive and misdirected outdoor illumination that has come to be so pervasive, may be playing a role in a host of human maladies (among other undesirable consequences). The disruption of our circadian rhythms and the depression of melatonin production are just now starting to be understood in relation to human health.

    Here are several resource websites that offer specific information:

    From the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Lighting, “Lighting and Human Health Concerns”:


    New England Light Pollution Action Group, “Light pollution’s effects #4: Environmental & Biological Consequences”


    For a general overview of the light pollution as an environmental issue, see The New York State Conservationist (Dec. 2009), “Night Lights – Too Much of a Good Thing? Environmental consequences of night lighting” online at:


    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  February 6, 2012

      I hadn’t heard about this! Thanks for the info, I will check it out–

  6. Light pollution could negatively impact health, as could noise pollution and electromagnetic fields (cell phones, Wi-Fi, power lines, electric installations and appliances in general). The biggest concern though remains the chemical and radioactive contamination of air, water, and food.

  7. John McMahon

     /  February 9, 2012

    While I’m not dismissing in any way the ubiquitous pollution that originates from chemicals and radiation, we also need to consider the effects on both human health and natural systems of the emissions from coal-fired plants (which constitute over 50% of electricity generation in the US) that result from wasteful outdoor lighting.

    The fact that so much of our public and private lighting is simply sent into space to no purpose should make us think about how we might better use such lighting and reduce the collateral damage that comes from the production of the energy used to power it.

    For those of us who are facing the specter of shale gas drilling in our communities, the link between the damage wrought by energy production and its ultimate use has become even more disturbing.

    The solution, of course, is simply to redirect that light where it is needed (downward); and in the process we can reduce the amount needed to light things properly (and better enable the human eye to see by reducing disabling glare), thereby lowering lighting costs in the process.

    Light is like salt: the right amount improves things, but too much ruins everything on your plate. More is not better.

    Moreover, the images that we see of Earth at night from space — and that are often described as “beautiful” — such as:

    are actually clear evidence of how we wantonly waste energy since none of that light does anything but to illuminate the bottoms of airliners and to distract and confuse some species of migratory birds, often with fatal results.

    Such pictures are “beautiful” only in the same way that a sheen of spilled gasoline on a remote mountain lake is beautiful: it may catch the eye with its iridescence, but it indicates a much uglier reality.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  February 9, 2012

      So appreciate these comments, John! This is one of those things we Americans just take for granted, the light pollution every night. I hear from friends who go to remote places that the stars are just awesome, when you can actually see them….And the effects on health haven’t even been begun to be studied….Keep up the good work at getting this issue into the public eye!

  8. leavergirl

     /  February 10, 2012

    Some months ago, we had a blackout here for several hours in the evening. The night went completely dark, as I live in one of the areas still blessed with the dark sky (apart from rural lights). I wandered around with my kitties, happy as a clam, and I noticed in my body a deep relief. It was immediate and palpable.

    The onslaught comes from many places, and they all add up. Cutting the lights, however, would provide immediate results. Maybe we should coin a new term… night light-stress?

  9. John McMahon

     /  February 18, 2012

    Following up on leavergirl’s comments about experiencing a blackout, I’m sending along notice of a recent piece (below) from the Children & Nature Network (2/13/12).

    “SKY BLINDNESS & STARLIGHT” by Richard Louv


    “These days, for children and adults, sky blindness is common. In the
    journal Environmental Health Perspectives researcher Ron Chepesiuk
    reports, ‘When a 1994 earthquake knocked out the power in Los Angeles,
    many anxious residents called local emergency centers to report seeing
    a strange “giant, silvery cloud” in the dark sky. What they were
    really seeing — for the first time — was the Milky Way, long
    obliterated by the urban sky glow.’

    Two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than one-half of the
    European population may have already lost the ability to see the Milky
    Way with the naked eye.

    When air pollution and urban domes of artificial light obscure our
    view of the night sky, our mental and physical health pay a price.
    Stars or no stars, natural darkness has value; our biological clocks
    count on it. Researchers in Israel have linked the amount of
    artificial nighttime light to higher rates of breast cancer.”



  10. “Two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than one-half of the European population may have already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.”

    That seems like a very strange comment, as though people are having this new disease, sky blindness… when in fact, it is this culture that is stealing from people the ability to see the night sky. Let’s call things by their proper name, shall we? We humans do not have sky blindness. Our culture is dead set on obliterating the night skies, as it is set on obliterating everything else.

    Thanks for the chance to rant! I am heartened some of us are paying attention. In my not so humble opinion, I think we need to go beyond the Int’l Dark Sky people’s focus on proper lighting, though it sure is part of what needs to be done. But the real culprit is cheap electricity that is then absurdly thrown away, up into the sky. Nah?


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