Nature’s on
A downward path,
Save her with
Some voter wrath.

America’s rare environmental victories often earn headlines. They might involve the successful blocking of a dangerous pipeline, a new mercury standard for coal, or perhaps the signing of a hard-fought pact to curb overfishing.

Unfortunately, the worst anti-environmental activity goes unreported. After all, who is likely to bankroll efforts to spread the word about the plague of Parkinson’s disease in California’s central valley — where so many of our toxin-sprayed fruits and vegetables grow, endangering farmworkers and their families? The government? Food companies? Monsanto? The corporate-owned mainstream media?

Mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky. (

Mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky. (

Maybe not. The Sierra Club might be onto it, or Earthjustice, or the local university and county neurological society. But in general, the people with deep pockets don’t give a fig. They just want to keep all that good food and cheap labor coming. Parkinson’s isn’t their department.

Much the same unofficial secrecy pervades air pollution, habitat destruction, coral reef shrinkage, whale killing, toxic waste storage, expanded oil drilling, species extinction, poisonous consumer products, and even climate change. Although government agencies are ostensibly charged with tracking and documenting these scourges, they generally lack the money or the will to make an adequate fuss. Plus, Wall Street stands ready to pooh-pooh any environmental anxiety that does go public about its investments.

The state of the Earth is why being a “good citizen” today can be so depressing. There are just too many crises to worry about. Does mercury from coal plants really affect me? You bet your patootie. How about emission standards for diesel trucks? Are you kidding? And the disappearance of major fish species affects both the oceans and all of us landlubbers.

Further, if you think that coal companies blowing the tops off mountains is none of your business, think again. The destruction of one region’s quality of life is a blow to all. New York and Pennsylvania thought natural gas fracking was just a problem out west, until it got to them. Now they’re frantic too. Who’s next?

Our health and the future of all healthy lives are at stake. We can’t reasonably keep up with everything as the threats to humanity materialize faster and faster. It’s like the original “Space Invaders” video game. Eventually, the aliens overrun you. In today’s real-life corporate exploitation game, you may not even realize what the marauders are up to.

This erosion of nature is part of what Occupy Wall Street is getting at. Since there’s no way to stay informed or be effective on every issue, we need a powerful, knowledgeable surrogate to defend us. Like the government. But the government is subject to corruption. That means it’s vital for each of us to stay on top of at least one issue personally. This might be keeping up on destructive Brazilian power dams, depleted-uranium weapons, new signs of devastation from the BP oil disaster, or whatever. Just pick one, Google it, support the non-profit group that’s leading the fight, and bug your members of Congress.

This is called “democracy.” While it needn’t be a whole lot of work, it does require persistence. Lawmakers hate knowledgeable, persistent constituents. They will occasionally vote the right way just to shut them up. The environment, with its multitude of issues, is well suited to this approach.

And Mother Nature seriously needs our help.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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