Paul Hawken spoke at the Center for Environmental Health’s gala last month. For readers who haven’t heard of him before, I’ll just say that Paul’s many environmentally-focused businesses, writings, and countless other forms of activism have changed the courses of multiple industries and many people’s lives. On September 10th, he told us how it all started with the smallest possible arena for activism: one person’s body. Paul described how he was born with asthma, medicated every day of his life for twenty years because of it, and then suddenly found a way to make it disappear:
Then I read a book and that book said, if you’re sick, it’s your fault and it’s your responsibility, and I found that offensive, and rude, and true. So what I did is I stripped everything out of my environment, and I ate rice and tea. Within ten days, for the first time in my life, I could breathe without medication. You would think I would be overjoyed, but actually, I was pissed. I was pissed because I felt like after twenty years of doctors saying, “You know, I think it’s your mother, the asthma. You know, it’s psychological.” I healed it in such a simple way.
When I heard this last month, sitting in the back of an auditorium full of people, I felt like Paul Hawken was speaking directly to me. Now, while I’ve only been medicated every day for about thirteen years to control my own asthma, I would love to figure out what’s causing my symptoms and eliminate them as Paul Hawken did. Behold, Erica, the human guinea pig!
There’s just one overwhelming problem with this self-testing idea: that there are a wide variety of environmental problems to consider, any combination of which could be causing my asthma. There’s diet, as Paul experienced, but also, to mention a few more, black carbon, secondhand smoke, phthalates, road traffic, indoor air pollution, airplane pollution, and basically, everything you can imagine being in the air.
When I was diagnosed with asthma at age twelve, I never thought that I would still be relying on my inhaler at age twenty-five. Now older and a little wiser, I am in a position to try to help myself and others to live healthy lives through activism, as Paul Hawken did following his own personal health epiphany:
So what I did at twenty is I changed my diet, and I started a natural food company because at that time there really weren’t natural food companies. […] So, I became a grower, because I didn’t trust anything, and I had in 35 states, 40,000 acres under contract to my company from farmers that were all organically grown.
Paul’s activism started with his own experience and resulted in one of the pioneering forces in the early organic food movement, as well as all his later achievements. We can’t all become eco-magnates, but I hope you’ll be inspired by Paul’s story to take your own activism beyond conscious consumption by joining the MOMS community to work together to work toward environmental health for all. If you don’t see any action on an issue you care about, take the lead in forming a MOMS discussion about it.
And in the short term, one thing you can do is ask California’s Governor Jerry Brown to create a Safe Consumer Products program. Click here and sign the petition to help him stand up to chemical industry pressure!