The River, the river, the river is on fire, don’t get the water, just let it burn. Well this isn’t quite the anthem people had in mind on June 22, 1969, when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire but I like it. Well that’s significant, water catching on fire, it almost sounds like something Jesus would do, but I digress. The events that led to this day in history are direct results of many generations of pollution being dumped into the Cuyahoga River in Ohio the resulting chemical combinations caused; well you guessed it, FIRE.
What’s important to remember is this is the beginning of something wonderful; soon after this people all across the United States set themselves into action and organize to protest the pollution of our wonderful planet. The results are the first ever earth Day. That wonderful day where we give up a few creature comforts, plant some flowers and say where green. Naturally we get back to our lives only a few moments later, but hey that’s not the point.
Cheer up, I’m only kidding; the first earth day was the beginning of an environmental movement which continues to this day. It led to many legislations which have been continually updated. Among these acts are clean air and water, which as the name implies, cares about the quality of the air and water. These laws also make it illegal for companies to dispose of certain chemicals, and what chemicals they are allowed to dispose of are heavily monitored. In short the environmental movement created by the aftermath of the fire created laws where there were none.
So we know what happened in 1969, we know what earth day is about and yes we even its still celebrated today, but what does that mean to us? Well silly Goose I’ll tell you, but first a story. It involves a woman, some call her a muckraker of sorts, and her name is Rachel Carson. She is the author of ‘A Silent Spring’, a book which became popular during the environmental movement. The book highlights how mankind was poisoning the environment and killing off many animal species. In short she reveals how one action has ripples and can create unintended side effects way down the line. Thanks to Carson and the environmental movement many products and chemicals which were once legal became illegal or highly regulated.
So as I said, what’s this have to do with you? The answers simple, Do you like Green Eggs and Ham? I’m not talking about food colored either; if you answered no then we’re on the right track. Regulating what man puts into the environments means we’re regulating what we ingest. Lets say you live in Tonawanda, where they have coke for iron, you breathe in some pretty nasty chemicals, and subsequently have a greater risk of developing cancer. Now let’s talk water, everything on this earth that is alive needs water, everything. Water also has the natural ability to flow, that’s why people have used it for travel for thousands of years. When it travels it takes whatever’s in it with it, hence pollution travels. Now if companies and people were allowed to pollute like before than this could be a problem.
Remember that oil spill? Yeah that one, BP, You know me, they soiled all of the Gulf of Mexico, but silly rabbit, the oil slick didn’t stay in one spot. In fact it found its way across beaches all over. It ruined Louisiana’s fishing season, killed millions of birds, fish and other wildlife, and had serious economic consequences. Yeah that’s what water does, it travels and if BP wasn’t a lesson in how far and fast then I don’t know what to say.
Pollution while devastating to everyone can sometimes be a little more selective on which it picks on. Sometimes women get the short end of the stick. Contaminated water is dangerous to everyone, but especially dangerous to women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding. In addition water borne diseases such as dysentery, and diarrhea kills
thousands weekly. Women again are given uneven priorities in this. Women in many societies are tasked with water gathering. Now, now this isn’t going to the tap, it’s going several miles to river, and if the nearest rivers polluted then you move on to the next. Now if the next river, well or water source isn’t clean then death, disease or sickness may be the unfortunate outcome.
Women are also mothers, go figure, and as mothers they seem tasked with a disproportionate amount of work with raising the children. When the child’s sick, mom is responsible, when the husband sick, the wife is responsible and when she is sick, she is responsible. So given the heavy burden moms already facing I think it’s best to keep her and the water ways healthy.
Now that we have established the benefits of clean water I’d like to make mention of some other important things that came out of the environmental movement. Along with earth day, people began to search for alternative ways of living. The results are around to this day. Many people now compost, grow their own organic foods and even recycle. The Cayuga river fire announces to the world, I am not invulnerable, and Mother Fucker, if I’m going down, I’m taking you with me. That too grabbed people’s attention as they didn’t know Mother Nature could be so crass, but sometimes when foul colored waters don’t do the trick you have to set yourself on fire. Sometime, one of these days when you think no one’s listening, set yourself on fire and see how much attention you’ll get.
But if you’re smarter than thinking the River was just looking for attention, join me in redefining what it is to be environmentally aware. You don’t have to buy a T-shirt, or wait for the next earth day, recycle, use less, plant an organic garden, and think about the earth as a mother, that’s what she is.
Enjoy these fines reads
A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement by Philip Shabecoff