In the homo ecos: library, you can find a whole range of ‘green classics’. These books (and magazines/films) are available to browse and borrow for any bookworm who considers themselves a friend of homo ecos:. For those people who do not enjoy the art of reading, our EVS volunteer Janny will read and review one sustainable page-turner every month.
This month: Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber
“Raising Elijah” by American environmental biologist Sandra Steingraber is many things at once. It is a green parenting manual. And a highly addictive page-turner. It is an introduction to environmental science. And a scary thriller that you should (not) read just before going to the supermarket or the toy shop. It is a political manifesto. A comedy and a drama about a woman trying to raise two young children in our increasingly polluted world.
In 10 Chapters with double titles such as “The Grocery List (And the Ozone Hole)” and “The Kitchen Floor (And National Security)”, Steingraber discusses ten different environmental themes, ranging from fracking to carcinogens in children’s toys. Each topic is linked to a personal memory or anecdote involving the author and her own family – particularly her youngest son Elijah, after whom the book is named.
Steingraber openly talks about her son’s asthma, her own battle against cancer, their decision to join an organic farming cooperative and their struggle to create a healthy environment for their children. The personal reflections work very well to make the reader realize why they should be personally bothered by seemingly far-away things such as the petroleum industry and wood hardeners. In each case, she links her own personal experience and choices to global concerns.
Parents could be tempted to see this book as a green manual for raising their children (be it a very scary one). Steingaber goes far beyond well-known tips such as “feed your kids organic food” and “books are better than TV” – she also mentions the many places where children could come into contact with carcinogens and neurotoxins (a hardwood playground leaking arsenic or a Curious George raincoat containing phthalates).
But the book is more than that. It is also very political. Steingaber is a very committed and loving mother, but she realizes that even the most caring and careful parent cannot protect their children from all the (health) hazards threatening them in our industrialized society. And so she for instance advocates banning all neurotoxic plastics – so that she as a parent doesn’t have to be the one disappointing her son by refusing to let him wear a suspiciously vinyl raincoat.
The story about the rabid bat illustrates her argument wonderfully. After discovering a bat in her children’s bedroom, the entire family is put through an amazingly efficient health care operation to make sure that they will not contract rabies – a disease which killed about 100 Americans per year in the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, the American government has reacted to this ‘national health crisis’ by catching stray animals and offering free-of-charge vaccins to anyone even suspected of having come too close to a possibly rabid animal.
So why does the government not act in a similarly aggressive way against pollutants that cause millions of dollars in health care costs, arrested development, learning disabilities and asthma? – Steingaber asks.