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Fighting Our Environmental Battles: Words and Action!

by ericarunsamerica on November 9th, 2013

Hey Stony Brook!

This past Thursday, the Stony Brook Sustainability Studies Program in conjunction with the Humanities Institute held their latest lecture in the series of incredible talks scheduled for this fallDr. Sandra Steingraber‘s discussion of the environmental and health implications of fracking, which she dubbed: “Chemical Exposure and Human Health.” Steingraber‘s talk proved to be one of the most highly anticipated and highly regarded events of the entire lecture series, which features a variety of esteemed environmental speakers.

By the time I had arrived at a quarter after 4pm, Humanities 1006 was PACKED! Eager to hear from Dr. Steingraber, I hurriedly located a desk, flipped open my MacBook, and exchanged a few waves and “hellos” to friends who happened to be seated in my vicinity. Then, Dr. Steingraber walked in; the crowd (and I) hushed.

Introduced by Dr. Heidi Hutner; the Director of Environmental Humanities and Sustainability Studies here at SBU, as “The Rachel Carson of Today,” Steingraber launched into her talk with the disclaimer that she does not use PowerPoint slides; citing the reason that they do not facilitate open “discussion” between her and her audience. Instead of speaking at usDr. Steingraber included us in a powerful, dynamic conversation about environmental awareness, meaningful action, and the power of words.

Steingraber, an acclaimed environmental author and ecologist, (as well as, I learned, mother, runner, activist, and one-time jailbird) used her incredible mental acuity, environmental experience, and prowess with words to provide the audience with detailed, yet easily digested descriptions of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other methods used to extract the “unholy trinity” of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) from beneath the earth.

Did you know, for instance, that approximately 4,000 New Yorkers die each year from the extraction, transpiration, and/or combustion of fossil fuels? That methane–a greenhouse gas which is a principle component of natural gas (the stuff companies want to frack) as well as coal, solid waste, farm manure, rice farms, wastewater, and biofuel consumption, amongst other sources–has 34 times the climate-warming effects than carbon dioxide (another by-product of fossil fuel use; the stuff that comes out of many smokestacks and tailpipes) over a decade? That 30% of the natural gas extracted from the earth is NOT used as fuel, but to make plastic “stuff”: your water bottle, the siding in your car, fleece jackets, synthetic wood, your iPhone case… I could barely type fast enough; Dr. Steingraber was coming at us fast and furious with many such alarming environmental facts.

But, Dr. Steingraber said, there is a problem: Well-informed Futility Syndrome, a phenomenon first observed by a German psychologist during the Vietnam War. The principle is simple: The more you know about a problem (or problems) in which you feel as though you have no agency over, the more likely you are to ignore the problem(s). Instead of taking action, you feel rage, guilt, and grief. Alas, there is hope! Dr. Steingraber revealed a solution to overcoming these ill feelings which cause inaction: Instead of a trickle of information about environmental issues, people need to be INUNDATED. They need to feel obliged to help. The problems our earth is facing are truly that enormous.

Dr. Steingraber strives to accomplish this task with words. Being an ecologist, but also a humanist, Dr. Steingraber writes (and speaks) in a way that commands attention, dispenses big chunks of pertinent information, yet is easily understandable–and is enjoyable to read (or listen to/engage with). She urged us–students, in particular–to use words and action to spread the messages of our earth’s most prescient environmental problems to others. Last year, she created a website called  , which was used by thousands to write 204,000 letters protesting the inadequate regulations on fracking proposed by the New York State Department of Environmental Regulation (DEC). The 204,000 individual letters were hand-delivered (on paper!) to the NYS DEC office last January by Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Steingraber, and others. Thousands came to the office in protest of fracking! The mass of letters successfully delayed the DEC in passing any ruling on the dangerous and dirty practice!  

Currently, Dr. Steingraber is almost exclusively working on fighting fracking from her home upstate in the Finger Lakes. She attends rallies, writes for major environmental publications such as Orion Magazine, and makes public appearances to spread the word about the power of words. She is also a caring mother to her son, Elijah, and daughter, Faith; working to ensure that their future is toxin-free. Diagnosed with cancer at a young age, Dr. Steingraber successfully battled her illness, which only makes her more determined to make the world a cleaner, healthier place to live. As Steingraber put it, “Cancer is not a gift; it is a massive waste of time,” that we MUST stop the deadly flow of chemicals into the environment so that our health is preserved and so that we as humans may thrive. She is the author of myriad books written about the implications of toxins and their effects on human health, focusing especially on cancer-causing chemicals, known as carcinogens. Dr. Steingraber is also an avid runner, citing her afternoon jaunts as a peaceful time of day in which she “gets some of her best ideas.”

What can you do? Write! Currently, there is a proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import/export station and pipeline, which is to be built about 15 miles from the South Shore of Long Island: Port Ambrose. Given the dangers surrounding LNG (including one accident in which a giant explosion at a Staten Island facility killed 40 workers), and the fact that there is also a safer, cleaner wind farm proposed for the same location, we must take action! Like the regulations she detailed on fracking on  , Dr. Steingraber makes the information surrounding the LNG regulations easy to understand, alongside an accessible and clear online form in which you may compose and send your comments!

What else can you do? Unite! Join the anti-fracking rally planned for January 8, 2014! Governor Cuomo will be delivering his annual State of the State Address in Albany at one PM. Stay tuned to the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages, as upcoming posts will provide more information on buses leaving Long Island/NYC and going to Albany! As Dr. Steingraber explained, there is strength in numbers. we must take action if we are to stop the “toxic trespass” of harmful chemicals from fossil fuels and industry into our environment and our bodies!


(from left) Sustainability Studies Program students Jayme Liardi, Kim Diamondopol, and Sustainability Studies alum Nia Padilla catching up with Dr. Steingraber and Dr. Hutner after the discussion!


What Dr. Steingraber does is incredible; I’ve always loved writing, but never had I heard about the power of words as being so remarkable. It is clear that, although our planet is up against a lot, together WE can make a difference.

All for now. Remember to visit Dr. Steingraber’s website and make your public comment heard!

peace. love. run.


From → Erica

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