Round up the chemicals–for our children’s sake

When I was pregnant with my second son, born in 1998, I was living out in the country in a small house next to my parents’ bigger house.  My son was born in late August, and all through that third trimester I spent a lot of time outside.

In those years, my mother had the habit of having her pebble driveway sprayed with Round-up a few times during the summer to keep the grass and weeds at bay.  Since the pebbles came right up by the front door of our little house, the Round-up was there too.  I complained to her that it was toxic, bad for our pets, not to mention us, but it took many years for her to pay enough attention to this issue to rate health more highly than a neat appearance for the driveway.

I was thinking about this today as I read the news that finally, at long last, the medical research establishment is beginning to go public in announcing the link between the use of Round-up, skyrocketing rates of autism among children, and colony collapse disorder among bees.

My mother will remember that when my second son was born, we began to worry about him when, by his second and third month of life, he was still not making eye contact, and not returning a smile. He was a sweet, calm baby who slept and ate well, and loved to be cuddled…but unlike his older brother, who was laughing and smiling in his first month, he had a curious detachment about him that was unsettling.

Just like everyone knows someone with cancer, everyone knows someone who has had the hardship of bringing up an autistic child.  It’s a heartbreaker, and in those early months with my second son I was truly frightened that I might be in for that kind of ride with him.

And then, just like that, he started to smile, make eye contact, and all was well.

Could it be that his development was delayed because of the local spraying of Round-up during the last months of my pregnancy with him?

Recent research suggests that this is quite possible indeed.

It’s common knowledge that the Monsantos and Dows of the world use their immense fortune to suppress negative research when at all possible.

Source: U.S. Center for Disease Control

But at this point, with our bee population in serious crisis and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) telling us that 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with autism (a figure that does not include all the many, many children who are diagnosed “on the spectrum” with some form of mental impairment), it is impossible for the corporate honchos to keep the lid on this story any longer.

It is an international scandal, bigger even than the Big Tobacco scandals of a generation ago, because in this case there is no way that a defense team could argue that it is a child’s choice to expose herself to toxic chemicals.

France, Germany, Italy and other European countries have already taken steps to ban these harmful pesticides and herbicidesThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, finally acting under extreme pressure from concerned citizens, is in the process of “reconsidering” its approval for “Poncho,” one of the most dangerous pesticides, proven to have a negative impact on bees.

Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists this week had the courage to defy Big Ag and describe—I believe for the first time—the missing link between bee colony collapse disorder, human autism, and widespread toxic chemical use in agriculture.

In an article published Monday on Common Dreams, Dr. Moench wrote: “The brain of insects is the intended target of these insecticides.  They disrupt the bees homing behavior and their ability to return to the hive, kind of like “bee autism.”   But insects are different than humans, right?   Human and insect nerve cells share the same basic biologic infrastructure.  Chemicals that interrupt electrical impulses in insect nerves will do the same to humans.  But humans are much bigger than insects and the doses to humans are  miniscule, right?

“During critical first trimester development a human is no bigger than an insect so there is every reason to believe that pesticides could wreak havoc with the developing brain of a human embryo.   But human embryos aren’t out in corn fields being sprayed with insecticides, are they?  A recent study showed that every human tested had the world’s best selling pesticide, Roundup, detectable in their urine at concentrations between five and twenty times the level considered safe for drinking water.”

Just down the road from the house where I lived while pregnant with my second son are fields of corn that are maintained by a local farmer.  It’s nowhere near the scale of agriculture in the Midwest or California, but still, if the wind was blowing while they were spraying the herbicides and pesticides in the spring, or while they were harvesting the corn in the fall, we would certainly be inhaling a toxic brew, that undoubtedly found its way into our well water.

And that’s beside the voluntary Round-up spraying of the driveway, and the fact that in those days I was not aware enough to be making a strong effort to buy organic fruits and vegetables, and avoid commercial meat.

So all in all I must consider myself and my family very lucky to have so far avoided autism or cancer.

This should not be left to luck.  Allowing Monsanto, Dow and the other agricultural chemical companies to continue to profit from poisoning our land and our food supply is absolutely unconscionable.

It’s even worse than allowing the cigarette industry to advertise to young people, which we no longer permit.

The bees are the canaries in the gold mine, and they’re dropping fast.

Are we going to delay until the statistics tell us that 1 in 50 children in the U.S. are born autistic?

This is a national and international outrage that must be addressed now.

Our planet, ourselves: we must wake up to the destruction, before it’s too late

First the honey bee population crashed.  Then it was the bats, dying by the millions in their caves during the winter hibernation, of a strange white fungal infection.

Now marine mammals, including walruses and ringed seals, are turning up dying on the beaches of Alaska and the far north.  Unidentified skin lesions and sores are the visible evidence of an unknown disease that is ravaging them.

Meanwhile, climate change is causing unprecedented surges in the populations of destructive insects like pine borers, which are killing off millions of acres of forests around the world.

I could go on, and on, and on.

Truly, Derrick Jensen is not exaggerating when he says that human civilization is killing our planet.

Last weekend I watched the new film “End:Civ,” by Franklin Lopez, based on Jensen’s book Endgame.  I had put off watching it for several weeks, because I knew it how upsetting it would be, and sure enough, it was disturbing, to say the least.

For me the hardest-hitting part of the film was about human beings’ casual tolerance of cruelty; our willingness to stand by, indifferent, as our fellow travelers on this planet are systematically hunted or poisoned or displaced to extinction.

Part of this detachment of ours may be rooted in the way we tell the stories of how these deaths occur.  We talk about “colony collapse disorder,” for example, rather than narrating the way that entire hives of bees–which are highly evolved, communicative insects–fail to return to the hive one day.

They get lost out there–maybe due to cell phone waves or other forms of chemical interference, we don’t really know–and never come home.  Imagine this happening on a global scale, a whole species of productive, social insects lost, one by one, by the million.

In the same way, it’s far easier to talk about “cancer victims” en masse than to live through the suffering death of your own loved one.  How many vibrant, creative, hardworking people have we lost to cancer the last ten years?  In the last year?  In the last month?  Wangari Maathai and Steve Jobs, to name two famous, very recent cancer victims.  The list goes on and on and on.

But still we remain passive.  We may mourn the disappearance of the honeybees or the songbirds, but we don’t make the effort to connect the dots and come to a true understanding of the extent to which our way of life has been poisoning our planet since the advent of industrialization, and especially since the beginning of the 20th century, which is when synthetic chemical production really took off.

Before she died of cancer, Rachel Carson managed to break through the wall of indifference and make the case against DDT.  Thanks to her efforts, the bald eagle and many other birds have rallied and come back from the brink of extinction.

It’s amazing how resilient life is.  If human civilization would just back off and give our natural systems on the planet a chance, they would heal themselves, and go back to providing the healthy ecological web that made our success as a species possible.

Our planet, ourselves.  We need to understand, in the deepest and most urgent possible terms, that we cannot dissociate ourselves from the poisoning and destruction that is being visited on the forests, oceans, swamps and grasslands of this planet.

The “Wall Street Awakening” cannot be only about jobs, about fixing a broken economy and continuing on our merry path of global domination and “resource extraction.”  The analysis has to go deeper than that, and the change has to be much more dramatic.

All the jobs in the world won’t bring back the walruses or the ringed seals or the polar bears.  What use will jobs be when the ocean is a giant dead zone, and industrial agriculture collapses?  Will we be worrying about jobs when the forests that provide our oxygen are all gone?

We need to focus on what’s important and go all the way this time.  As I keep saying, our future depends on it.  And I am not exaggerating.

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