Together, We Change the World
This past February, Blue Planet Green Living published a post by Dipak Singh, a writer from India who advocates for safer conditions for the people of his country. His post, Notes from India: We Are Poisoning Our Planet, described the horrific effects of spraying the chemical Endosulfan on crops in India and other nations. He wrote, in part:
The grapes you and I eat could be from a vine that was sprayed 30 times in a single year with pesticides such as Endosulfan. That makes 300 sprayings in a decade. This chemical has nowhere to go, so it just gets washed into the groundwater.
Endosulfan has a half-life of up to 20 days in water and 60 to 800 days in soil. So, think of the accumulation of this pesticide in crop-growing villages. In the Indian state of Kerala, Endosulphan has been linked to the birth of malformed children. . . .
Three months after we posted his editorial, Dipak sent me a Facebook message with the following comment:
Hello, this is just to tell you that yesterday the Indian Supreme Court put an interim ban on Endosulfan, despite the lobbyist asking for an eleven year time frame. This is one of the sentences from the judgement: “When a certain something affected right to life, then every other right, even the fundamental right to business, took a backseat.”
Dipak followed by thanking me for making a difference in the fight against Endosulfan. Me? All I had done was post his editorial. How could I accept any credit?
I wrote to this man I greatly respect, expressing my appreciation but declining any thanks. He was the one who had been fighting the environmental injustices in his country—he and thousands of nameless others. I had done nothing, really.
Dipak wrote back, “How do you know your website did not affect the judgement… [Here's] a little thank you from me and maybe a billion Indians. How do you know ?”
I pondered his statement for a while, then mentally set it aside, still convinced I had done nothing at all to deserve his kind remarks.
Later in the summer, a friend who is a professor at the University of Iowa startled me at a neighborhood street party. “You started something,” Barbara Eckstein said. “Because of what you wrote, a group of professors and scientists are now working with a small Iowa town to remediate their sewage treatment problems.” (That’s the gist of what she said though it was months ago, and my memory is not exact. So, please consider this entire reconstructed conversation to be correct in spirit, if not in absolute fact.)
I was startled—and none too certain anything I did could have resulted in a team of professors helping a small community.
“A man from the town contacted the University of Iowa,” Barbara explained. “Their waste treatment plant is inadequate to handle their residents’ needs, and they’re faced with steep fines if they don’t fix it. Yet, just outside of town, a factory farm is permitted to spread untreated waste on top of fields, where it runs into the same river where the town’s waste runs. The situation is infuriating and frustrating the residents.”
“I can see why they’re upset,” I said. “But what does that have to do with me? I’ve never even heard of this town.”
“You wrote about Craig Just’s experiments at the Iowa City water treatment plant in your blog. The man read your post and contacted Craig. Several of us from the University drove to Northwest Iowa to see what we could do to help. Every one of the 61 residents attended that meeting. And now we’re helping them solve their sewage treatment problems. It started with your blog.”
What my friend didn’t say—and probably didn’t realize—is that it actually started with her. Barbara had organized the tour that Craig Just gave at the sewage treatment plant, the one I wrote about. And before Barbara, it started with Craig and his students, who are experimenting with alternative methods of treating sewage in ways that attracted Barbara’s attention. And before them were others, who had the foresight to relocate the Iowa City sewage treatment plant in an area where they have the space to innovate. And before them . . .
So, what I have learned from these two kind friends’ comments is this: None of us ever really knows what effects our actions have on others (positive or negative). Sometimes environmental and social problems seem overwhelming, far too much for anyone to solve alone. But when we each do what we can—no matter how small—our efforts are added to those of others doing their part, too. And, together with people we will never meet, we can—and do—change the world.
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