Saturday, March 26, 2011

Water Day speaker: Lessons from history

Prof. Alex Mayer, director of the Michigan Tech University Center for Water and Society, welcomes Dr. Nancy Langston, author and environmental historian from the University of Wisconson-Madison, as the World Water Day guest speaker on March 22 at Michigan Tech. Dr. Langston is also a member of the Lake Superior Binational Forum and editor of the journal Environmental History. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

By Gustavo Bourdieu* Translated from the Spanish by Michele Bourdieu

HOUGHTON -- On World Water Day, March 22, 2011, Michele and I went to Michigan Tech to hear "Sustaining Lake Superior," the guest lecture by Dr. Nancy Langston, noted environmental historian from the University of Wisconson-Madison. It was a good experience for me. After passing various buildings on campus (I'm always confused by the abbreviations like MUB, EERC, MDU, MTO, SDC, and finally M and M) we came in from the March wind to hear this interesting, illustrated presentation on the pollution left by the industries of the past -- especially from intensive logging and the pulp mills on the north shore of Lake Superior -- and how all this affects our cherished lake.

Dr. Langston used this map to point out some of the Areas of Concern on the north shore of Lake Superior, where pollution, especially from the post-World War II pulp industry, is still present in the largest of the Great Lakes.

Dr. Nancy demonstrated graphically the past and present impacts of this pollution and how, combined with climate change, it will affect our future and that of our descendants if important decisions are not made quickly to preserve the health of our forests and watershed. The important point of her lecture, as I see it, is that history teaches us a lesson and we must take advantage of the knowledge we have: We already know how much damage has been done and what has caused it.

Dr. Langston relates how First Nation firefighters in Canada were sprayed by DDT and how First Nation peoples also suffered serious health problems caused by mercury.

In her presentation we saw brochures about DDT from more than 50 years ago -- when it was considered a cure-all -- and even to this day it continues to poison the environment.

An old poster touting the benefits of DDT.

Each day the earth's population increases, and we must take care of our health. While borders are drawn on maps, we all exist in one world. Thus it is that what happens in Japan also affects other countries, and vice-versa.

Likewise, a few years ago when it was said that bees were contracting a virus, in my 45-year experience as a beekeeper my first thought was that this must be the residual effect of insecticides that remain in the environment and affect our tireless worker bees.

Dr. Nancy Langston recalls Rachel Carson's warnings about the dangers of DDT in her book, Silent Spring (1962).

Let us care for our environment for the good of all living creatures, yes, all. Let none be excluded. We must guarantee this -- for the water and the air and our pacchamama (mother earth in the Quechua language). Our early ancestors respected this natural world. Now it is our turn. When the next generation follows us, let us be able to say to them, "Task accomplished -- NEXT!"

Gustavo Bourdieu, author of this article, with his bees.

Thanks to Michigan Tech for inviting such a distinguished scholar. I hope that her practical advice will be followed unselfishly for the good of all.

*Gustavo Bourdieu, Keweenaw Now photographer and guest writer, has been a beekeeper in Peru, in Georgia and now in the Keweenaw.

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