Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I still cannot resist bookstores to save my life, and I really should, but I took a look in a local one today to get a surprise tome for the little guy (okay, and a little something for myself). I found myself browsing through this one:


My little guy is going on nine and is already engaged in reading and talking (or should I say lecturing?) about environmental issues such as recycling, the oil spill, and alternative energy: if he could stand up in front of a group of people and give the impassioned speech he gave on the above-mentioned subjects to his carpool mate in the backseat on the way to school this morning, he could well get more people to start hounding Congress and private research entities for affordable clean alternatives. Yet I hesitated to get this book because of its frightening implications...

A few things instantly came to my protective mama brain:
  •  An interview in comic form Art Spiegelman conducted with Maurice Sendak around the time Sendak came out with a children's book about the homeless. I could only find it in Spanish through the interwebs, but I recall the discussion between Sendak and Spiegelman presenting a justification for a graduate school instructor I had to deny her young daughter the opportunity to read Spiegelman's comic opus Maus until she was older because of its frank discussions and depictions of the Shoah. There's something to be said for age-appropriate introduction of thorny subjects - but then there's the point where you have to ask yourself, as a parent, when the protective nature of your child-rearing becomes overprotective.
  • There are differences between reading about this stuff and seeing it. Big mistake on our part: taking the kiddo to see WALL-E. We'd been warned about the entire first half of the flick being kind of scary for young kids - a dusty, abandoned planet with a lone robot charged with compacting mounds of garbage, his only friend being a small cockroach he nearly squashes - and he didn't calm down until the lone robot hitched a ride to the humans' ship with his robot love EVE. It's pretty much why we rarely watch the news or take in documentaries like Gasland or anything about the Macondo blowout with the little guy at this age. Does he really need the weight of possible futures on his shoulders at this stage of the game?
  • That said, we've all got to struggle with the fact that our time on this planet is finite, as are our resources, yet here we are doing the things that will supposedly ensure that we'll stick around for generations to come: having children, raising them to carry on as we have done. We must also struggle with the fact that some things have gone awry in this assumption of "progress" and take solid steps to alter our paths, because no amount of sheltering our kids is going to keep them from seeing that this world is, in fact, not perfect and we could be doing a hell of a lot better. Any possible models we may have presented them with for living may well be turned inside-out and stood on their heads despite our best efforts. Ultimately, willful ignorance on our part - and on our son's - could be our undoing. But - once again - can an eight-year-old really handle this?
I flipped through World Without Fish quickly and liked a few things in it towards its end. There are actual suggestions of what individuals can do to stop the demise of the fish populations around the world and guidelines for local activism that include having a sense of humor. Not bad, really.

But...not until he gets a little older.

I'm sure he will then be ready for the following:
Heart-breaking pictures of seabirds covered in black crude oil, arresting as they are, can miss the hidden story of an oil spill's impact on wildlife.

Exposure to even tiny concentrations of the chemicals present in oil can also cause harmful biological effects that usually go unnoticed, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's striking that even though the analytical chemistry doesn't indicate exposure, the biology does," says Andrew Whitehead, a biologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who led the study. "We can measure all the chemistry we want in the environment, but if want to know whether organisms have been exposed, we have to ask them."

The researchers studied the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) living in the Gulf of Mexico. They collected water and tissue samples three times from marshes where the killifish lived: once in early May, before oil from the blown well had arrived; once in late June, when oil had reached the marshes; and again in late August, after oil was no longer visible. They collected samples from six sites, but only one -- in Barataria Bay, Louisiana -- was heavily oiled following the spill...

...Whitehead has previously shown that exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can cause harmful gene expression changes in killifish, which are an important food source for many species, including economically important ones such as red snapper. Because PCBs and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in crude oil have similar biological effects, the researchers looked at their impact on the same set of genes.

They found analogous changes in gene expression in killifish from the marshes, and in killifish embryos exposed to contaminated water samples in the lab. These changes have previously been shown to cause developmental abnormalities, decreased embryo survival and lower reproductive success. "It doesn't take much PAH to mess with development," Whitehead says.

"The ability of fish larvae to survive has a huge effect on the population down the road," says biologist Lee Fuiman, director of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, who was not involved with the study. "A small change in the percent survival equals a large change in the adult population."
If he decides to write about it for school, here's hoping it won't be suppressed.

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