Chapter 1. Awaking to Eco terror.
I was ten years old, and tension was rising in the living room. On TV, activists were taking heroic actions to prevent a large ship from dumping nuclear waste at sea. Greenpeace was doing what it does best: throwing itself in the line of fire, denouncing ecological abuse, and gaining the public’s attention. It had me holding my breath.
And yet it failed. The next moment a load of radioactive waste was sinking into the depths of the North Sea. The injustice touched me to the core. I was awaking to “eco terror” and wondering why people everywhere could not feel that this was unacceptable.
Even today we are dumping radioactive waste into the sea and extracting fish from those very same waters for our consumption. Why doesn’t what ends up on our plates give us pause? Like so much else, the dangers accumulate ever so slowly over time, to the point that they are all too easy to ignore. Nobody gets sick from a soft drink now and then, but if your daily consumption goes up far enough, and the rest of your diet comes from fast food chains, then you will get sick eventually, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Enjoy your meal!
My path to eco awareness came through the North Sea. Maybe yours will come from the obesity epidemic. More than 30 percent of American kids weigh far more than is healthy. The problem is so acute that former first lady Michelle Obama decided to act. She invited kids to the White House regularly for a day of fitness and turned part of the presidential lawn into a vegetable garden that they could cultivate themselves. She saw that all of us need help now and then to establish good eating habits, and it helps most of all to start early.
Many kids have never thought about the food pyramid and have no idea where their food comes from. No surprise there – not when they are subjected to as many as 40,000 commercials a year, seducing them with images of healthy and happy people. The ads say nothing about chronic health issues or the pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics added during food production. They say nothing, too, about the impact of these chemicals on our planet. Yet all of us will pay the price .
In effect, ordinary people are disempowered by forces that we may not take time to confront and may not even understand. That feeling of disempowerment struck me first when that nuclear waste fell into the sea, and I felt it again when I saw in the media a tropical rainforest ravaged with chainsaws for hours. I felt a disconnect between everyday events and what they mean for our planet, and I wanted others to feel it, too.
What made me so susceptible to that eco terror? Eco heroism often begins with love. I had grown up in Keerbergen, a town in Belgium near the woods. My mother, a former model from Antwerp, cared about the world around her, and my father was a true nature lover. For others, eco heroism will begin with a love for the oceans or a certain animal. Take a moment to think about what makes your heart race and discover the hero in you.