I just returned from a reunion of sorts–the twenty-fifthanniversary of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI.rutgers.edu)–a joint vision of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where I earned my PhD ….. hmm …. several years ago.
Not only was it wonderful to reconnect with my old colleagues, there were many excellent speakers–big players in the fields of public health, toxicology and the like. I was so happy to be back there, listening to a litany of the progress made in the field over the past twenty five years. When guest speaker, pediatrician Dr. Phil Landrigan of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, discussed lead (Pb) toxicity and the long fight to remove it from gasoline in cars, I realized how much we all benefited by the hard work of other scientists, many who are not remembered, but who worked with skill and precision, and a dedication to truth, for decades.
During the morning session, the topic of environmental health impacts of natural gas drilling and ‘fracking’ was raised by emeritus professor Dr. Bernard Goldstein of the University of Pittsburgh-School of Public Health. Nothing specific was mentioned in his short lecture, but he indicated that there is work to be done. Though still on the outskirts of research myself, I hope soon to present some material my colleagues have produced … but scientific work is slow and unglamorous. One must be precise in designing experiments, in carrying them to fruition, and then in analyzing the data. It is challenging to take that much care, but it must be done. I only hope we obtain some valid answers before the 50th reunion roles around!
I have been thinking on the subject of habits …. not habitats, but habits, and why I (and other people) do what I (they) do. One of the accidental threads in my book was just that subject, though I didn’t realize it consciously, as I was writing. My mother always said, “Look at the parents, dear.” and I love the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Really, I am beginning to realize that I do what my parents did, which (of course) is in no way any profound or surprising breakthrough in research on human behavior. Still, it is rather startling to me, to discover this, for I was raised in the generation of women who were better educated and trained in careers than most of the women of my mother’s era. We were going to be different; we were not just going to be housewives; we were going to do greater things than they, (at least in our plans!).
So, all the while thinking I was so different, I have instead adopted many of the habits of my parents. I spend long weekends at our cabin (though I now know I am wasting fossil fuels getting there and thus drive as infrequently as possible, at other times to atone for it), I eat meat at many dinners (though I fret and try to eat more plant protein, instead) and I clean up the litter along our roadsides (though I worry considerably about germs on the dirty garbage we collect and wear gloves). I like to believe that these modifications which I have added are improvements on my parents’ lives, but truthfully, I do what I do because of what they did. I wonder which habits I am passing along to my children… and will my sons improve them?
My memoir, Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage (Coffeetown Press, October 15, 2011), began as diary entries and e-mails, and as a way to learn the facts about gas drilling and untangle my feelings about the difficult ethical decision I was facing. I was offered a large sum of money that would be paid at the expense of the local environment and potentially by the health of the community, and while I initially refused to allow natural gas drilling on my land, I soon learned that my sacrifice might not protect either. As I researched the impacts and consulted other landowners, I discovered that they, too, had initially said no, but then ‘reconsidered, since all the neighbors were signing gas leases.’ It was a relief to learn that I was not alone in my dilemma.
But also, I simply felt compelled to write this story, and quickly, too, because it could be lost in light of new information that is now becoming available. In hindsight, with facts spreading on a lighted table, decisions are easy and blame falls on those who don’t foresee outcomes. It’s not so easy to make wise choices when one is grappling with them.
I invite you to share your experiences about this issue and why you came to your own decisions, whatever they may be.