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New Networker on (Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations

SEHN Networker Volume 21 (2) February, 2016SEHN logo(Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations


The Archetypes, the work, and the journey

"If you could ask Dante where he got the idea of life as a road, or Rilke where he found the notion that time is a destroyer, they might have said the metaphors were hewn from their minds, or drawn from a stock of poetic imagery. Their readers might have said the imagery had origins more divine, perhaps even diabolical. But neither poets nor readers would have said the metaphors were designed...Can metaphors be designed? I’m here to tell you that they can, and are." - Michael Erard, author and linguist


An El Niño was first explained to me using a bathtub; the Pacific Ocean basin’s water sloshing back and forth. My professors used a bathtub analogy to communicate climate equilibrium and the Earth’s energy budget.


The word doesn’t have much power in and of itself. It gains power by suggesting one thing belongs to another. An ocean is within our grasp – we can see through a hundred different eyes, from the point of view of a giant, an atom, the oldest tree. Locked up in a word are possibly game-changing ideas.


SEHN has been at the forefront of developing game-changing ideas, and finding words that express those ideas and challenge status quo concepts which are harmful. As Executive Director, Carolyn Raffensperger put it, "When I look for good policy ideas I want them to have a mythic power, a legal hook and an ecological coherence."


Over the years, SEHN has initiated several policies based on the rights of future generations. One of those policies was that governments at any level could designate a legal guardian for future generations.


The bridge between the metaphor and public policy is the archetype. A word like Guardian carries in it a mythic figure and power, as well as a response contained in the word. The Precautionary Principle recognizes inherent scientific uncertainty and ways of acting in the face of uncertainty to prevent harm. It gains new traction when it can be told through Guardian language.


Other SEHN ideas like ecological medicine or the ecological framework carry truths, that we are what we breathe and drink, and what’s put on our skin; that we are part of a complex system.


These concepts frame more interesting questions: how does oil become more valuable than water? What is the true basis of a healthy system? How does an Owl economy compare to a Bull and Bear economy? In this way an idea can have the power to create new policies and rearrange the way we go about working and living together.


That is why ideas – and the words used to give ideas power – matter. The idea that government prioritizes the economy leads to principles like ‘oil is more valuable than water’. In Flint, MI the decision to switch water supplies was made by people who failed to ask the right questions, and then failed to heed early warnings. The costs of this mistake are huge. We at SEHN would argue that these decisions are unethical and misuse science.


Flint is symptomatic of a larger problem of cumulative neglect of the role that the environment has on public health. SEHN’s role is to counter this neglect with ideas that put public and environmental wellbeing and integrity front and center. In this narrative, the free market, capital and private property are not the primary goals or processes of democracy.


If we decide instead to prioritize clean air, healthy kids, environmental health, biodiversity, we start to think about laws and governance differently. Flint is the tale of so many places.


In this month’s Networker we share some of the ways ideas like Guardian, Sentinel, Elder, and Storyteller – the urge to protect and prevent -- are being translated into organizing strategies, research agendas, and principles of law.


Last, we want to give you an update on the SEHN finances as we begin 2016. Over the years our funding was primarily from foundations but our support has gradually shifted to be mostly from individual donors. We are learning as we go and want to thank you for your contributions to SEHN. We are in better shape than we have been in several years heading into 2016, thanks to you. What we pledge to you is that we will do our best to bring SEHN’s unique strengths and contributions to sponsor clean water, a stable climate, environmental justice and health in the coming year. In good health,


Kaitlin Butler Program Director, SEHN


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Grassroots Organizing

Iowa Utility Board Deliberations on Dakota Access Bakken Pipeline

Iowa is the last hold-out. The Bakken pipeline is the largest proposed pipeline project in the country pipeline farmlandand slated to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day. SEHN intervened on behalf of future generations, the first time they have been represented in an administrative proceeding in this country. Follow the Coalition's activities here.

IOWA UTILITY BOARD HEARINGS - RECENT COVERAGE Bakken pipeline OK looks likely in Iowa, say foes, supporters "Carolyn Raffensperger...said it appears likely the board will approve the project, but with certain conditions. Her organization has proposed that if the pipeline permit is granted and an oil spill of more than 100 barrels occurs, the pipeline should be shut and its state permit revoked...Right now the company says 'It can't spill"."

WHOtv coverage, capturing some of Carolyn Raffensperger's statements "What you need to do is defend the interest and the ability of future generations to eat, drink water, and have healthy lives"


Elders speak for Climate Justice in Utah

SEHN has joined the Keep It In The Ground campaign, a call to the President to stop new federal elders rising blm auction utahleasing of fossil fuels and to keep our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

SEHN's Program Director, Kaitlin Butler's statements appear in some of the press coverage. Listen to her interviews with Radio Active and KZMU Moab (archiving soon).

A new movement partnership SEHN's program director Kaitlin Butler has been working on behalf of SEHN with Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice on climate justice issues in Utah on actions to withdraw consent to the Bureau of Land Management's competitive oil and gas lease sales of public land, as part of the national Keep It In the Ground campaign.

National media coverage Utah actions have gained national media attention. Google reports 140 articles the day after the protest. Read some of SEHN's statements for the day-of press release and following the auction. In addition to the 100+ community members peacefully protesting the auction, national headlines focused on author and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who purchased over 1,700 acres in parcels (see Democracy Now, TIME). When asked if she was a legitimate bidder, Williams responded, "You cannot define our definition of energy," Tempest Williams said. The energy development we are interested in is fueling the movement of Keep It in the Ground."



A Story of Health coverA Story of Health Wins Excellence in Communications Award by the CDC

The National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have honored A Story of Health multimedia eBook/continuing education course with an “Excellence in Communications” award.


SEHN's Carolyn Raffensperger Keynote for 13th Annual Indigenous Farming Conference: The Power to Healcorn

March 3-6th 2016 Maplelag Resort Callaway, MN Registration now open!


Keynote, Becoming Guardians of Future Generations: How will future generations tell the stories of this generation as we faced dire threats to climate, water and food? Ancient ideas like care for the seventh generation can be forged into new policies that will enable us to become beloved ancestors. This will require innovation, vision and creativity as well as the wisdom of past. We begin that journey now.


Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America

New Publication! Order the Book Fracture from Ice Cube Press. Chapters from SEHN's Carolyn fracture coverRaffensperger and Board Member Angie Carter, along with a chorus of renowned contributors.

Watch the book's trailer.

"This book bears witness to hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America brings together the voices of more than fifty writers exploring the complexities of fracking through first-hand experience, investigative journalism, story-telling, and verse. At a time when politics and profits inhibit our ability to have meaningful discussions about the hazards of fracking, these creative perspectives are needed to ignite the national conversation about how we can live with more compassion toward Earth."


In Case you Missed it

Is a Health Study the Answer for Your Community? A Guide for Making Informed Decisions Listen to Science Director Ted Schettler and Board Member Madeleine Scammell, along with Sylvia Broude and former SEHN Board Member Stephen Lester on this CHE Partnership Call.

Using the Precautionary Principle to Change the World A special edition of Green Street Radio featuring Carolyn Raffensperger on WBAI 99.5 FM, New York. An archive of the interview posting on their website soon.

From our Bird's Eye View, You Rock SEHN's January Networker