REVIEW: RAISING ELIJAH

BY ON April 25, 2011

This piece was cross-posted on MotherTalkers, DailyKos, and MomsRising.

As co-founder and co-publisher of MotherTalkers.com, I receive many books and products to review. I recently received an advance copy of Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children In An Age of Environmental Crisis, which is now available in hardcover on Amazon.com for $16.91.

Raising Elijah book coverFirst, a couple thoughts on environmental books in general: I wish the environment were already part of any book or discussion regarding health and parenting. Let’s take for instance, the hot topic of childhood obesity.

I watch shows like NBC’s The Biggest Loser and devour lots of health and parenting articles, yet except for this one in Newsweek, I have never seen so much as a mention of how toxic synthetic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) may be contributing to our obesity epidemic. Anything having to do with the environment is often packaged as obscure information in books like Raising Elijah.

Which is another problem with environmental books: I question if people other than scientists or those who already care about the environment are reading them. Considering that our children are now exposed to more than 200 industrial chemicals, most of which didn’t exist two generations ago and are not even tested prior to their release, it is important that parents receive this information.

Initially, I felt some mommy guilt upon reading biologist Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah, in which she described her lifestyle as one in which she cans her own tomatoes, pushes a reel lawnmower to cut the grass, prepares all-organic meals for her family, and writes books while her children sleep. I wondered if I was “doing enough” to protect my children from environmental hazards.

Then the tone of her book changed to a more accessible and optimistic one as she offered solutions to the problems she laid out. One reason I sometimes avoid environmental books or discussions is because I don’t like feeling overwhelmed by catastrophic news and then offered no way to remedy the situation. It leaves me feeling helpless. But Steingraber offered these practical tips:

1) She proposed a forum, in which parents, especially those whose children have asthma and allergies, “become conversant with the Clean Air Act and its National Ambient Air Quality Standards, whose various rules affect our children so intimately.” Thankfully, such a forum exists at Moms Clean Air Force, of which I am a proud member. Please sign up if you haven’t done so already! It’s a good way to keep tabs of proposed amendments to the Clean Air Act and environmental legislation in general.

2) She offered entrepreneurs some invention ideas like incorporating a fitness monitor on a reel lawnmower. Think the jogging stroller, which helps moms complete two tasks at once.

3) Plant a garden.
4) Mow grass without burning fuel.
5) Hang up clothes to dry as opposed to relying on a dryer.

The last three suggestions were lifestyle changes she said could help us wean ourselves from fossil fuels, which based on all the research she presented in her book is troubling. Our physical environment is not only paying an extraordinary cost due to an oil-extracting process called “fracking”, but our dependence on fossil fuels has been harmful to us as well in terms of our health and related medical bills. Steingraber said of her suggested lifestyle changes:

They are daily reminders that we urgently need new choices within new systems. They are harbingers. They signal our eagerness to embrace much bigger changes. They bear witness to our children that we are willing to exert agency, that we are not cynical, that we respect their right to inherit a habitable planet. And they put the neighbors on notice.

The acquisition of new personal habits and new skills can change our thinking. It compels us to ask new questions. If all food scraps in the United States were composted, how much natural gas could we save? (Natural gas is the raw material for synthetic fertilizer.) What if homeowners associations encouraged, rather than forbid, clotheslines? (Project Laundry List is working on this.) What if all family homes and apartments had clothes-drying closets that doubled as humidifiers? What if landscaping services offered carbon-neutral lawn care? What if student athletes mowed their own playing fields with fleets of reel mowers as part of warm-ups?

Another world is possible. Creating it requires courage.

Rather than take inventory of what I do to protect my children from toxic chemicals – okay, as an environmentally conscious mom, I did do that! — I was reminded of this Mahatma Gandhi quote: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Autism, Pollution