What the Eyes Don’t See: Everyone Should Read!

Chemical Symbol for Lead

What the Eyes Don’t See is a book written by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha about the Flint, Michigan water crisis. As a pediatrician and Community Health Residency Director at Hurley Center in Flint. Dr. Mona (as her tiny patients refer to her) learned from a high school friend, an environmental scientist, that she should be concerned about lead in the water in Flint. She was surprised. The Flint authorities told everyone the water was fine to drink. Like most of us, she expected the people “in charge” to protect the public. Isn’t that what government is for? But, Dr. Mona’s friend said no — it is not safe. That began an 8-month odyssey that grew from a conversation between two friends to a consortium of doctors, scientists, activists, and  parents who exposed the cover up and righted a huge wrong.  Dr. Mona knew all too well what lead exposure does to developing children.

I highly recommend this book for its depth, its fluid story development, and its educational value for every adult in the U.S. and for the sake of every child. I read it over two days, hardly able to put it down. See Dr. Mona on the web.

Exposure to high lead levels as infants and children can cause irreversible damage to their brains and other organs. Gray matter in the brain is eroded so that the child has problems with attention and impulse control; it affects white matter in nerves that carry signals in the brain; it is suspected of having epigenetic effects – changing a child’s DNA which means it can be passed to future generations. People exposed to lead as children show higher rates of crime and addiction as teens and adults. Lead in the body can erode eyesight and affect other organs.

Dr. Mona encapsulates the story in 1) the political policy — austerity; 2) the socioeconomic history of the city and those most affected by the lead poisoning — an environmental injustice; 3) the U.S. practice of requiring the victim to prove harm first rather than using the Precautionary Principle: when danger is suspected, move with caution, using science to understand the risk.

In 2014, due to Flint’s bankruptcy, the state assigned an emergency manager who alone made the decision to switch the city’s water supply from the more expensive fresh water of the Great Lakes to river water.  The Great Lakes water was treated with a corrosion control to prevent leaching of chemicals like lead into the drinking water. The new manager decided to not use corrosion-control treatment of the river water as a way to save money–his primary mandate.

Dr. Mona points out that the city lost democracy with the assignment of an emergency manager appointed by the state.  The city was in free-fall economically not by the fault of any of the families and small businesses that were struggling economically in Flint. The wealthy either moved out, or changed the housing and voting districts to wall themselves off from the poorer workers and neighborhoods. The people were essentially punished for being poor. Extreme austerity was what they got, a short-sighted, unjust policy.

When Dr. Mona and her team began to contact authorities to alert them and request data, they were met by silence or by bureaucratic barriers. They had to “prove” the harm done to children before the authorities would agree there was a problem. To protect industry, the U.S. requires harm to be proved first unlike all other nations in the world. Instead, Dr. Mona points to the Precautionary Principle.

Everyone in America knows that lead is dangerous, and officials in government know that corrosion-control in municipal water quality prevents leaching of lead. So why should she need to prove anything. Shouldn’t the authorities move with caution first to protect the possible harming of children? Again, in policy, money came before the kids.

Dr. Mona worked with data experts, scientists, policy makers, and many others to pull data, analyze it with rigorous methods to be sure the increase in lead that they were seeing was true. It was far worse than they expected. Thousands of children in the prime months and years of their development were impacted. But, just as you can’t see lead in the water, you won’t see the changes in the children for months or even years. So, one has to be cautious, right?

This book is something more. It is the story of an immigrant family who fled a brutal dictator (Saddam Hussein) to live in the U.S. Mona and her brother were natural born Americans but her parents brought the traditions of their country and lives to their home in America. I was fascinated to learn more about the history of Iraq. Instead of the war-torn, fearful images I have only seen through U.S. media during the Iraq war, I learned about the Iraq Republic before the revolution that installed Saddam. Women had similar freedoms to American women today. It’s hard to imagine that such a complete transformation of the country has happened in such a short period of time and a warning to our country to watch for destabilizing influences on our democracy. Mona describes her parents and grandparents, the food, language, and story traditions from Iraq that are lovely and that I related to my own familial traditions. Her family members, each in their own way, emulated qualities of citizenship and justice that Mona clearly inherited.

Dr. Mona opened the world a little more to me. This perspective of the immigrant is vital to understanding other nations and our role in the world. I kept thinking as I was reading, “Thank God we let her family immigrate to America. Look what she and her family have contributed to the welfare of our country!”

Landing in the America that made it possible for Dr. Mona to be a doctor, she began to see that there were “two Americas” – the one that worked for her and her brother, and the one that doesn’t work for most of the residents of Flint. The families most affected by the poisoned water were the same ones who could not pay for bottled or filtered water. Children impacted by the poisoned water were already dealing with major stressors such as malnutrition, neglect or abuse–all the impacts of poverty.  Dr. Mona explains what we know about the impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences, of A.C.E’s which cause such ailments as chronic asthma. Dr. Mona teaches the reader about Community Medicine that looks not just at physical health but also zip code–the socio-economic correlates of health. The book is annotated and provides references for professionals and parents in the back of the book. It contains an excellent summary of Flint’s history from the heyday of GM’s dominance to the disenfranchised neighborhoods of today. This gives readers a setting in which to understand how and why the story unfolded as it did.

Dr. Mona works in a public hospital so she sees and cares for the poorest residents. Her amazing story is about the indignation of one doctor who would not stop until she exposed the lead levels of kids she saw at Hurley. She tells the story of the coalition of friends, fellow professionals, legislators, and parents who managed in only 8-months to expose the truth. Ultimately, the governor mandated the switch back to fresh, Great Lakes, corrosion-treated water. It was a victory but it is also powerful implication of America’s environmental injustices. And it is an ongoing effort to stay with all the kids affected to make their futures as bright as possible.

Direction for Communities Across the Country: As Dr. Mona travels around the country to introduce the book, she is teaching all of us about community resilience and how coming together we can provide buffers to poverty and neglect that will help stabilize children, and how we can all work together to provide kids in low-income neighborhoods with books, with mentors., with education, and a social fabric that helps each child and parent be more resilient to stressors.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is just one child of immigrant parents who has become an amazing advocate for American children who is also showing our nation where we must re-examine our policies at least as they affect the very young.

Dr. Mona is exposing much more than lead in the water. She is showing us a direction to live up to our creed that all people are equal and deserving of equal rights and protections under the law. Her book is a call for government to live up to its mandates and for citizens to make sure they do. Ultimately, Dr. Mona explains that she is a believer in the role of good government as opposed to extreme policies of austerity which are often short-sighted and basically unfair. I agree.

See Dr. Mona on the web.

UPDATE: Frontline Article July 25, 2018 about death toll from Flint Water Crisis, specifically from Legionnaire’s Disease.

 

 

Thank God for Daisy Bates

Daisy Gatson Bates

Thursday morning I was blessed to join a tour group from Baltimore’s Civil Rights Movement at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are teachers, leaders, and powerful women traveling the civil right trail — next stop Memphis at the National Civil Right Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.

Great women have made significant contributions to democratic societies. Daisy Bates is one of these women. As our talented NPS Interpreter stated today, “If it hadn’t been for Daisy, there would not have been a Little Rock Nine or desegregation as it unfolded in Little Rock.”

Central High School, Little Rock, AR

Daisy Bates was the President of the Arkansas NAACP at the time of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education which desegregated public schools in the U.S. Nine children were identified by the Little Rock School Board to integrate Central High School. At the time, Governor Orval Faubus was not supporting the federal mandate and called in the National Guard to keep out the black students. Daisy realized that the nine teenagers would need protection and help and she organized meetings and support to help them on the first and subsequent days of their trials and tribulations. This story, and the life of Daisy Bates, is chronicled in her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which I am currently reading. The individual stories of the nine students are each dramatic and many are told in their memoirs. What white students did inside the school to the nine black students, following integration, and the teachers who turned their backs, is horrendous and rarely told. I highly recommend that you visit this national historic site to reset your compass on American history and the long struggle of all American people for fulfillment of basic rights. As we see today, that struggle if still in progress. But, looking back to such pillars of courage and decency as Daisy Bates gives me renewed hope for a future all of us can make happen together.

This video of an interview with Rebecca Solnit, columnist with Harper’s Magazine, prolific author on climate change, environmental issues, and other culturally relevant issues, is a clear point for those of us who feel disoriented by the sweeping changes being made in D.C.

https://hot.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2017-0328.mp4?start=2758.0

From this interview on Democracy Now on March 28, 2017, this excerpt is most important for those of us who are engaged in resisting the dismantling of hard won environmental protections and action on climate change. I recommend listening to the whole interview at the link above. Solnit has a comprehensive perspective on “where we are” and what is the work now.

What concerns me, after 30 years of activism, is that a lot of people will think, “Well, we did something today, and we didn’t see results tomorrow.” So one of the things I’ve been writing about for The Guardian and elsewhere is just trying to remind people that this is a long process, that we may be in, you know, the early stages of really redefining what democracy is going to mean in this nation, reforming the systems that were already moribund and stagnant before—you know, Trump is a consequence of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it. So we have enormous transformative work to do. And people are actually doing it. If we keep at it, if we’re smart, if we’re skillful, if we’re more passionate about solidarity than the kind of perfectionism of nitpicking small differences, I think that extraordinary things could happen, not that they’re guaranteed. It depends on what we do. But it’s an exciting and even exhilarating moment, as well as a heart-rending and terrifying one. And those things can coexist.

Into the vacuum: China

NX_whitehouseClimate change is real, advancing, and draining the world’s resources country by country–and causing tragic migrations of families across the earth in search of places where people will take them in. This is just the beginning of woes should the world’s leaders not act decisively to stem carbon dioxide emissions.

The spectacle of our times is awesome and terrifying. Anticipating the ascension of a world leader who denigrates science and promises to focus America’s interests inward, world leaders at the latest global summit to implement the Paris Climate Change Accord have already moved on without us. China quickly stepped in to realize the benefits of leading other countries toward a fossil free world community.

P.S. America: the green economy is leading in economic sectors as our new leadership prepares to dig more coal and suck more oil out of the ground.

Have we entered into a new paradigm of Selective Science? We believe in science when it comes to curing disease, or making weapons, or making us money. But, selectively we denigrate the agencies charged with studying and protecting the earth–the planet from which our lifeblood flows. Does that make sense, I ask you?

How would Americans feel if the world’s leading countries imposed trade restrictions on us for our irresponsible behavior? Tables turned? How would it feel to be the cause of suffering across the planet due to our lack of participation in reducing emissions? I hear a refrain, from another misled politician: Burn Baby, Burn. That will come back to haunt the source and us if we do not realize our responsibility to greater humanity and to our children and generations to come.

Americans must be vigilant like in no other time before in our history. We must oppose any policies that destroy the democracy and tear asunder our fragile international relations. We must recognize our responsibility to continue to be an integral member of the international community–especially now.

VITAL SIGNS OF THE PLANET

 

 

 

The Path We Choose

Paths We Trek
Paths We Trek
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Stories of Climate Change

The Guardian brings readers stories of climate change around the world. The average increase in temperature globally is now 1.3 C. [ A 5 degree increase in Celsius temperature corresponds to a 9 degree increase in Fahrenheit.] When you think of the immensity of our planet, this is a huge heat input to raise the average high that much across its surface. The oceans absorb much of that heat. Fifty-percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals are now dead, in part from increased warming, and in part from the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere which turns the ocean slightly more acid.

2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record adding to three previous years’ record heat. Most people are feeling it but some are all readying suffering extreme impacts.

In Threshold, people living in Tucson experience the heat in an event that shocks the city and the whole of the Southwest. Characters much find ways to adapt to the new normal. Read here.

Climate change deniers ignore the physics and chemistry of the earth – selectively. We accept these principles in everything we do from weather reporting, to heating our coffee, to warming or cooling our homes. But climate change caused by us is the contentious issue. What’s the evidence that the current rapid increase is human caused?

See NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet to explore the evidence upon which the majority of scientists now agree.

The New Normal

Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest
Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest

We hear the expression “the new normal” so often that the phrase has entered the lexicon as a substitute for transformation of something previously thought to be a truth or a given. It means thinking about or doing something differently with a new set of parameters.

The New Normal is a pulse that heralds a significant change so that what is present no longer resembles what was past, and the operating instructions are still under construction.

Tucson’s New Normal” 115 degrees and more?

“Our big heat waves in Tucson won’t be 115, 117. They’ll be 130. And that means we’re going to have more than 100 days, probably pushing 150, 200  days a year above 100 degrees,” [Johnathon] Overpeck said. …What is the new normal we can expect?

“(It will not be) long before we start breaking 120 in Tucson and maybe even 125 or hotter in Phoenix. So that’s the new normal that we have to get used to,” Overpeck said. “(We’ll) probably continue to warm until about mid-century, but slowing down as we reach that point where we stabilize things. And then we’re stuck with that climate for hundreds of years.” ~ From Tucson News Now

READ THE NEW NORMAL FOR WILDFIRES IN THE WEST IN HIGH COUNTRY NEWS – Lindsey Gilpin, 8-13-16

 

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.

 

GRID FAILURE: Are We Ready?

Living on the Gulf Coast I am painfully aware of what its like when the grid goes down. Moist, hot coastal air enveloped residents in Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan. In some areas of the seaside city, residents were without power for two weeks. Life came to a halt: no business could be conducted, no schools could function, only emergency services were available; finding  potable water and food became residents’ daily preoccupation.

But, what if the power grid in the U.S.A. went down? Security would be nonexistent, vulnerable people would perish from lack of cool or heat depending on the season. Markets would be down and silent. No trade could take place. The lifeblood of capitalism would be cut off.

How vulnerable is our grid? An article in the Wall Street Journal, How America Could Go Dark, reviews how substations on the grid are wide open to sabotage:

The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.

In my novel Threshold, a plot to disable the grid where hydropower is generated along the Colorado River system is discovered. It is designed to deliver a double whammy: loss of power and water. In the Southwest, that could be devastating.

The point is this: life percolates along in the face of climate change and other long-term security problems as long as citizens can turn on their lights and get water from a faucet. We are distracted by what is immediately before us : terrorism and violence and a failed political process that obfuscates the truth. Meantime, we are not paying attention to the trumpets sounding for our action.

Solutions will come at all levels of society. For example, the millions of dollars we need to secure our grid will require governments and business collaborations to make it happen. On the community level, citizens can bring pressure on officials for these reforms, and they can plan on municipal and neighborhood levels to protect people in the event of a grid failure or compromised water supply. See what Tucson is doing to promote neighborhood organizing for the latter.

Can a city make its own energy?

solar-farmThe novel Threshold explores possible outcomes in Tucson, Arizona as climate change continues to dry out and heat up the Southwest.

The National Climate Assessment targets heat, drought, and insect outbreaks among other impacts for the Southwest. Surface water supply is expected to decrease as snowpack and stream flow decrease.

Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90% of the region’s population. Disruptions to urban electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

Threshold tells a story about characters caught in a spiraling heat emergency and black out that stuns the city. South Tucson, a city within the Tucson city limits, rises to become more self-reliant through a solar field and solar gardens.

Yesterday, Reuters published an interesting review about changes in solar industries, showing how big solar (large scale solar fields for example) are becoming cheaper and more efficient than roof-top solar.

Many trace the tipping point for utility-scale solar to a 2014 announcement by Austin Energy that it would buy power from a new 150 megawatt solar plant – enough to light and cool 30,000 homes – for 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the time, it was a record low price for solar power. Since then, projects have brought the price below 4 cents a kWh.

In Tucson, the  Bright Solar program offers residents an opportunity to buy blocks of solar power from a solar field. When the grid goes down however, how can residents continue to generate power if they do not have their own home or neighborhood solar panels and battery storage?

It is important to think carefully about these new technologies and the opportunities they offer people for more democratic ownership of common resources. See the concept of Solar Commons.

As solar power becomes cheaper to generate, will everyone benefit? How can a city and utility work to make solar power available to everyone? As the solar industry develops, how can communities make sure their residents have access to new training and skills necessary for employment in the solar power industry?

In Threshold, South Tucson answers those questions and solves another challenge: the high rate of unemployed youth in their community.