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Eco Catholic

BP oil spill's health effects will be felt for generations, scientist warns


Months after diving in Gulf of Mexico waters fouled by BP crude oil and the oil dispersant Corexit, a man in his 40s has more than five times the normal amount of ethylbenzene in his blood.

The bloodstream of a 3-year-old, exposed to the oil spill when his family visited the Gulf Coast, contains at least three times the normal level of the same organic hydrocarbon, which is toxic in certain quantities.

Such numbers, according to Wilma Subra, a New Iberia biochemist and environmental activist, are increasingly common in a region that continues to grapple with the consequences of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Bill Barros of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a forum held in February at which Subra was the guest speaker.

NCR interviewed Wilma Subra last June as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continued, threatening the livelihood of thousands in the Gulf and the wetland environment of the coast.

'The great leap backward'


Elizabeth Grossman, author of Chasing Molecules and High-Tech Trash, writes on the Huffington Post blog about the current effort in Congress to roll back environmental and occupational health and safety regulations in order to make American industry competitive with those in China.

"Seeking to lower production costs and boost per dollar productivity, U.S. companies have routinely sought locations with lower wages and less stringent environmental and occupational health and safety regulations. This has been true for some time, but now House Republicans are pushing to rollback standards ostensibly to make us more competitive with China. As we listen to these arguments, it's worth considering what environmental and working conditions in China actually are."

Caritas supports team working to make gold mining safer in Peru jungle


By Barbara J. Fraser Catholic News Service

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (CNS) -- In a small warehouse on the edge of this jungle town, three young men tinker with a system of pumps, hoses and bright blue plastic dishes mounted on metal bars.

They hope the odd-looking apparatus, designed to separate sand from flecks of gold, will reduce the impact of wildcat mining that is fouling rivers and streams in Peru's southeastern Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.

Richard Villavicencio, 22, pours sediment into a metal chute, and small jets of water force it around spirals cut into the bottom of the dishes. The lighter gold flecks wash into the next dish, leaving the heavier sand behind.

The principle is the same one used by the '49ers who panned for gold during the California Gold Rush.

It is based on a model developed in Canada, but Villavicencio, his brother Walter, 31, and Henry Arbex, 33, are working with the local office of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, to fine-tune the design.

Church aids Peru's indigenous communities in illegal mining fight


By Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru -- At a fork in a muddy road, Juana Payaba gestures to a cluster of makeshift buildings as motors rumble nearby, where wildcat gold miners are churning a palm swamp into a quagmire.
Payaba, who is president of Tres Islas, an indigenous community of Shipibo and Ese'eja people in this corner of Peru's Amazon region, is determined to take on gold miners who she says are occupying her community's lands illegally, destroying the forest and poisoning the rivers and streams with mercury.

"We want to do community tourism here and put in a fish farm," says Payaba, who estimates that 200 illegal miners stand in the way of those plans.
Experts who are helping the community, including a lawyer from the Peruvian bishops' Social Action Commission, say they are willing to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights if Peruvian courts do not protect the community's land rights.

More about the assault on the EPA and Clean Air and Water Acts


In an interview by New America Media, Sierra Club chairman Carl Pope talks about the current attack in Congress on the EPA and by extension the Clean Air and Water Act.

For more on the current assault, read "What's at Risk from the Industry's Assault on the EPA and Clean Air Act," on the Natural Resources Defense Council's Web site. It details all of the public health standards that are currently under attack.

Passing on a love of nature to kids


A recent article in USA Today reported that the average American child spends 53 hours a week with electronic media. This alarming statistic means children aren’t getting anywhere near a comparable time outside. But we can be intentional about changing this for the children we influence. I encourage you to make this effort for several reasons: 1) Children need nature to be balanced and whole and we want what is good for them 2) If children know and love nature, they will be more zealous in protecting it 3) Kids have a natural affinity for nature and it brings out their joy and wonder and 4) We want them to know God revealed in creation.

We’ve probably all said to kids, “Do as I say,” when we weren’t modeling it. Yet we know that never works. Passing on a love of nature has to begin with ourselves. If we are couch potatoes, seldom venturing outdoors, the command to “Get outside and play” won’t hold much weight. So maybe it’s time to examine our priorities and how much we value the natural world, being out in it, and protecting it. The good news is that if we do, the children around us will probably pick that up naturally.

Remedying nature deficit disorder


Most of us are ever alert to signs of physical ailments both in ourselves and in our children. Yet we rarely think about the widespread plague that is steadily growing in America: nature deficit disorder. This term created by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, referred to the increasing alienation of children from nature and its resultant negative effects. But I see no need to restrict the term to children, when most of us adults are just as removed from the pleasures and benefits of the natural world.

Numerous signs of nature deficit disorder could be listed, but I picked just a few: stress, boredom, depression, fatigue, loneliness, and sadness. I grant that additional causes might account for these feelings, but I know of no emotions that cannot be ameliorated by immersion in nature. Merely stepping outside, we encounter a different energy that is more peaceful, balanced and restorative. The beauty of a cloud-tinged sky or a stalwart, steady tree can push out the staleness of life cramped within four walls. It’s simply hard to feel bad when we’re bird-watching, hiking, lying on the grass, or planting flowers.

A field guide to the commons


By Jay Walljasper, with an introduction by Bill McKibben
Published by The New Press, $18.95

The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment -- forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land -- that are shared, used and enjoyed by all. Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include “public goods” such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function (such as electricity or water-delivery systems). There also exists the “life commons,” e.g., the human genome.


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February 27- March 12, 2015


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