The big three—air, water and food
Fighting the good fight locally and beyond for the protection of necessary resources
A general rule of human survival has it that one must not go more than three minutes without breathing air, three days without drinking water or three weeks without eating. Air, water and food are front-and-center in any discussion of the sustainability of human life. And 2011 was a year of much newsworthy discussion of the importance of preserving the quality of our air, water and food supplies—both locally and worldwide.
Perhaps no issue was discussed more often regarding air quality than the need to come to grips with the amount of air-polluting, climate-changing CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal). Despite detractors such as current Speaker of the House John Boehner (who famously said, “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical”), the importance of reducing carbon emissions has been in the news this year on a regular basis, capped off by coverage of the COP17 climate-change talks in Durban, South Africa, in December.
Chico State sociology professor Scott McNall, the former executive director of the university’s Institute for Sustainable Development and author of Rapid Climate Change: Causes, Consequences and Solutions, came out vocally in a series of CN&R GreenHouse columns strongly advocating reduced carbon emissions. Human activity since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is directly responsible for the increasing amount of CO2 emissions that are wreaking havoc on our environment, McNall said.
In other local air-quality news, the Butte County Air Quality Management District’s “Check Before You Light” program kicked off in November, its goal being to restrict the use of wood stoves on no-burn advisory days through February. Goodness knows we don’t want our air to become as polluted as that of the San Joaquin Valley, to the south of us. The CN&R reported twice this year on that area’s high amount of fine-particulate air pollution resulting in elevated emergency-room admissions for children in Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto for pollution-related asthma, as well as high rates of other serious illness and premature death. Additionally, we noted the commercial-agriculture-dense area’s water is dangerously polluted from pesticide runoff.
Three Chico-area water-protection organizations—AquAlliance, Save Our Water Resources (SOWR), and Friends of Orland (FOO)—were hard at work in 2011. AquAlliance water-policy analyst and activist Jim Brobeck spoke for many Chicoans in a June 16 Guest Comment in opposition to HR 1837—the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act—aimed at assuring permanent rights to Northern California’s water for federal water contractors south of the Delta.
And following a May 27 showdown in Sacramento Superior Court over the controversial proposal to build a Crystal Geyser Water Bottling Co. plant in nearby Orland, SOWR and FOO got the decision they were seeking when the court ruled in August that the city of Orland had to rescind approval of the proposed plant pending a full environmental review that would take a hard look at the plant’s potential negative effect upon the area’s groundwater levels, among other things. In November, Crystal Geyser announced that it was abandoning its effort to build a plant in Orland.
Similarly, in national news, the outspokenness of those protesting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to carry dirty Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta to Texas via Nebraska, was a victory for the protection of Nebraska’s sensitive Ogallala aquifer, at least for the moment. While President Obama has put the project on hold, Republican politicians are pushing hard to ram the water- and air-polluting project through, citing job creation as the prime reason for approval.
On the food front, headlines this past year were filled with stories of people fighting for the right to have access to healthful, local, humanely and sanely produced food. Locally, anti-GMO activist Pamm Larry has been waging a spirited, widely supported campaign to get an initiative on the 2012 California ballot requiring all genetically modified (GMO) foods be labeled as such. Larry has been such an inspiration in the fight to protect our food sources from unidentified and possibly harmful big-ag tampering that the CN&R named her a Local Hero in late November.
Likewise, we chose local food activist Carol Chaffin Albrecht, who is co-leader of the local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, as one of our Local Heroes. Chaffin Albrecht’s tireless campaign in favor of access to and knowledge of how to prepare nutritious, locally sourced food was praised by countless readers of the CN&R.
Chaffin Albrecht’s and Larry’s efforts, as well as those of other local good-food activists—such as organic-gardening teacher David Grau and the GRUB Cooperative—reflect a larger push for increased self-sufficiency and access to healthful, local foods, and away from dependence upon the trucked-in, often nutrient-depleted products offered by large-scale commercial agriculture and factory farms.
Widely revered anti-GMO crusader Jeffrey Smith toured the nation spreading the word of the dangers of ingesting Monsanto-promoted GMO-laden foods. Not coincidentally, Smith was brought to town by Chaffin Albrecht to speak at the Chico Family Masonic Center in September.
A growing demand for the right to drink raw milk and raw-milk products—which Chaffin Albrecht embraces—also continued to be a hot topic in the larger food world as well, with proponents feeling pressured by government authorities to refrain from drinking the milk of their choice.
Following a November crackdown by the California Department of Food and Agriculture on Fresno’s Organic Pastures Dairy for selling raw milk that supposedly caused E. coli infections in five children, state testing found that the dairy’s raw milk was not to blame. This unsubstantiated move to stop Organic Pastures from selling raw milk was one of many federally supported moves designed to shut down sales of raw milk. Notably, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul came out in favor of consumers’ right to ingest raw milk: “Americans have the right to consume these products without having the federal government second-guess their judgment about what products best promote health.”