University of Vermont

University Communications

Oct. 24 Lecture: Sandra Steingraber

Biologist hailed as "the new Rachel Carson"

Sandra Steingraber
Ecologist, author and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber is an authority on the environmental links to cancer and human health. She'll speak at UVM on Oct. 24. (Photo: Dede Hatch)

Sandra Steingraber makes connections.

“A stream of emerging knowledge about what the combustion of fossil fuels is doing to our planet,” she writes, “is joining a stream of emerging knowledge about what synthetic chemicals derived from fossil fuels is doing to our bodies.”

“Investments in green energy,” she continues, “are also therefore investments in cancer prevention.”

An acclaimed ecologist and author, Sandra Steingraber -- called “the new Rachel Carson” by the Sierra Club -- will speak on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 5 p.m., in the Silver Maple Ball Room at the University of Vermont’s Davis Center.

Her address, “From Food to Fracking — Human Health and the Environment,” is free and open to the public.

Author of Raising Elijah

Steingraber is an internationally recognized authority on the environmental links to cancer and human health. Her many books include the celebrated Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis and Living Downstream (which prompted a documentary by the same name.) She is Scholar-in-Residence at Ithaca College.

UVM professors Amy Seidl and Stephanie Kaza, of the Environmental Program, organized Steingraber’s visit as part of the Dan and Carole Burack President’s Distinguished Lecture Series. In addition, Steingraber's visit to UVM is being funded by the CERES Foundation.

“Sandra sees herself as a ‘scientist in the public interest,’” UVM’s Amy Seidl notes, “a term that refers to her ability to read deeply into the scientific literature — endocrinology, ecotoxicology, engineering — and convey the risks of environmental contamination to the public.”

“In addition, Sandra readily makes familial connections between environmental issues and her role as a mother,” Seidl says. “This near-universal connection with her readers makes her work resonate with a wide range of people who support policies and actions that are protective of our bodies and the landscapes that we live in.”

Against fracking

Recently, Steingraber has become a leading figure calling for tighter regulation around hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — a process of extracting natural gas from shale. Because she lives in New York State on the Marcellus Shale, a rich gas region, she has worked diligently to understand and publicize the health impacts of fracking, especially as they concern water resources and children's health.

“Her lecture is sure to cover this important and timely material,” Seidl notes.

Against Despair

Sandra Steingraber is well aware of “well-informed futility syndrome” — the paralysis that can set in as well-meaning people learn about the many toxins, extinctions and environmental catastrophes that might be heading our way.

Steingraber sees ways out of this paralysis — but they’re not simple.

“We are encouraged by popular media reports to read labels, consult websites, vet the contents of birthday party goody bags, shrink our carbon footprints, mix our own nontoxic cleaning products, challenge our school districts to embrace pesticide-free soccer fields and limit the number of ounces of mercury-laced tuna fish consumed by each child per week,” she writes in In These Times.

But we “correctly perceive a disconnect between the enormity of the problem and the ability of individual acts of vigilance and self-sacrifice to fix it. Awareness without corresponding political change leads to paralyzing despair.”

“Action is the antidote to despair,” she writes, “ and by action I do not mean shopping differently.” Instead Steingraber calls for a higher focus on human rights and organized political efforts for “abolition now,” she says, “of ongoing chemical contamination of our children and our biosphere.”