Time is running out

Inspired after meeting people on the 2004 campaign trail, John and Teresa Heinz Kerry wrote This Moment on Earth in hopes of restoring a traditional sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship.

Inspired after meeting people on the 2004 campaign trail, John and Teresa Heinz Kerry wrote This Moment on Earth in hopes of restoring a traditional sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship. They lament that “so much of the leadership of today’s Republican Party have chosen to make any and every environmental cause ‘enemy territory.'” The Kerrys discuss the “new environmentalists,” people who choose not to describe themselves as environmentalists but who have resisted environmental degradation in their communities because, for them, taking a stand is the right thing to do.

This Moment on Earth begins with a brief review of the history of the environmental movement as spearheaded by Rachel Carson in her landmark book, Silent Spring. The Kerrys quickly bring their readers up to date with a summary of the earth’s current environmental situation. They point to climate change as the most urgent and immediate danger facing the human race, but remind us that other dangers are growing as well. Not only is our environment under siege (our rivers, oceans, air and soil), but our bodies are also bearing the brunt of our pollution. Most Americans harbor in their bodies a menagerie of industrial pollutants, pesticides and other chemicals, many of them carcinogens.

The Kerrys provide specific examples of environmental issues confronting our nation and frame them in everyday terms that are easy to understand. One striking example is the comparison they draw between the average American city and Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Where human waste is treated by sewage treatment facilities, CAFOs accumulate animal waste and let it fester.

“Nationally…there are approximately 18,800 factory farms…[that] generate an immense amount of waste-nearly 500 million tons annually….In eastern North Carolina alone, an area that has become the nation’s second-largest producer of pork, there are 10 million hogs being farmed, most of them in confined conditions. As a whole, these 10 million hogs produce as much fecal matter as all of the people in North Carolina, California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and North Dakota combined. And that’s just one state…”

Although the amount of waste produced by animals confined in factory farms is staggering, the lack of regulation of this fecal material is even more shocking:

“Typically, the waste produced at factory farms is stored in containment ponds call ‘lagoons’: open pits brimming with thick, black excrement that, at such a high concentration, becomes a toxic soup of nitrogen, phosphorous, ammonia, and bacteria. Included in the mix are antibiotics and growth hormones that were given to the animals. The waste from these lagoons is often applied to cropland. In theory, the pits are lined to prevent the waste from seeping into the ground, but…lagoon specifications allow leakage at a rate of up to 0.036 inch per day. This would allow a three-acre lagoon legally to leak more than a million gallons of waste each year.”

The Kerrys report that in 2006, CAFOs polluted 129,000 river miles, 3.2 million lake acres and more than 2,800 estuarine square miles across the United States. Never mind the sad existence of the animals involved who stand in one place their whole lives defecating on themselves until they come to our tables. Yummy, right?

Although This Moment on Earth holds many specific cases of environmental degradation, the Kerrys are able to build a sense of hope throughout the work. For each example of large polluters coming into small communities and acting without regard for the people who live there, a story of action is provided. People across the nation, average people, are beginning to stand up and say no, the status quo is unacceptable. Fishermen and ranchers, people who have voted a straight Republican ticket their whole lives, are beginning to notice what is happening in their backyards. And they are changing the world around them.

This Moment on Earth seeks to alienate no one and lauds the growing sustainable practices implemented by an ever-increasing number of corporate giants. The Kerrys emphasize that green changes can be beneficial to the economy as well. Caring about the environment and caring about making a profit are not mutually exclusive. Further information about what can be done and who can help is listed in appendices in the back of the book.

This Moment on Earth is inspirational with its examples of grassroots efforts and successes, offering hope to the average citizen. For the growing number of Americans who don’t call themselves environmentalists but do enjoy fishing, swimming, hiking, clean water and the other fruits of our great country, for those who notice the rise in cancers and acknowledge that most of us will in one way or another be affected by this terrible disease, for those who refuse to ignore, refuse to look away, refuse to sit quietly by while our very nation is being robbed of its future, this book is for you. It will tell you how to get started, how to take action, how to connect to others like you who have the energy, intelligence, patriotism, can-do attitude, and most importantly, the guts to step up and face this difficult challenge of our environmental future.