Writers for this issue were asked to tackle the subject of “Human Face of Sustainability.” It was a widely interpreted phrase, as proven by the included interview and ten essays. Individual subjects range from cancer-causing carcinogens and their effects on both children and our ecosystem (“Acts of Courage” by Mary Heather Noble), to a bicyclist’s perspective on individual activism (“Trapped” by Sarah Gilbert), to how one of the poorest cities in America is working on changing for the better (“Iyabo is Yoruba for ‘The Mother Has Returned’” by Amy Hassinger).
Donna Seaman’s writing is featured in the first several pages of the issue. It opens with an interview she conducted with fellow author Elizabeth Kolbert. The very first question asked is about how moving from the inner city to a more rural atmosphere changed her views on nature. Kolbert’s answer, dealing with her German grandfather and family trips in the summers of her youth, unlocks one of the common themes which also permeates the rest of the issue: cultural sustainability. It was a delightful reminder that this issue dives into human interactions with the natural world. Kolbert also spoke later in the interview about the author as a translator between science and the layperson as proven in the quote, “Even a very well educated person cannot read most scientific papers unless they are a part of that discipline.”
Matthew Ferrence tells a story about his family farm and the way it continues to be mined for natural gases. One of the truths in selling a piece of property involves mineral rights; belowground resources are not necessarily connected with aboveground deeds. The entire article was not necessarily captivating, did not make me feel as emotionally invested toward Ferrence’s plight as I wanted to, but it shined a very effective light on the reality that our society places more value on harvestable resources than family heritages.
“Seep,” by Mieke Eerkens, tells the true story of how once one of our greatest natural resources has been harvested, there are still large-scale negative consequences. The 2007 Cosco Busan San Francisco Bay oil spill is described by Eerkens, who currently works for The Marine Mammal Center as a communications specialist. The effects on birds are especially detailed, because pictures of affected fowl often leads to the highest number of donations in the fight against future oil spills. Discussion in the article really circles around the helplessness felt by society against avoiding any future accidents, as well as helplessness felt by individuals for an inability to retroactively save affected areas. Here is one of the many powerful phrases in the essay, after having a passionate scene of a girl trying to help one of the birds described; “we were forcibly separated from a horrifying scene of suffering that we knew, on some level, we had helped cause as human beings.” I found myself agreeing with Eerkens that being ready to help is not as good as taking a proactive approach to eradicating the need for help.
“Food and Worker Safety Across the Globe,” by Wendy Rawlings, closes out the issue by looking at how individuals need to take better care of themselves by taking better care of others. Rawlings tells the story of an 11-year-old with a major foodborne illness that was ultimately unable to be traced to a specific cause. High-priced medical attention caused by businesses unwilling to care for their employees created the trickle-down effect that led to this girl and her sibling spending weeks admitted for dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. Working conditions in Asia and California were scrutinized with very unique angles and writing techniques, and while it was not the most pleasant of reads, it certainly held my attention best of the works presented.
All the essay authors were granted $1,000 for inclusion, according to the editor, and all of these words deserve to be read. Beyond that, in the name of sustainability, all of these words need to be read. Pick up this important issue, with beautiful artwork by Marci Miranda Janes, and help these authors continue the conversations they have started with the world.