The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement

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Product Details
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Publish Date
6.56 X 8.99 X 0.99 inches | 1.27 pounds

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About the Author
Kate Davies has been active on environmental health issues for thirty-five years in the United States and Canada. She has worked with numerous nongovernmental and governmental organizations including Greenpeace, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, the Institute for Children's Environmental Health, the International Joint Commission and the Royal Society of Canada. She is currently core faculty at Antioch University Seattle's Center for Creative Change and Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

The world is not a safe place. Toxic waste, air pollution, and pesticide use can be hazardous to your health. According to the World Health Organization, more than 40 percent of all asthma, nearly 20 percent of all cancers, and 5-percent of all birth defects are attributable to poor environmental quality. It's impossible to avoid exposure to at least some of the 80,000 different chemicals utilized in the United States. The environmental health movement consists of many individuals and organizations cognizant of the relationship between people and the environment and environmental factors that potentially affect health. Davies extensively covers the historical roots and rise of this movement in the United States and tracks its current status and strategies, from forging national coalitions to lobbying for legislation and promoting grassroots activism. America's environmental health movement focuses on environmental safety through precaution and prevention, opposes the use of toxic chemicals, and advocates sustainability and environmental justice. As ecotheologian Thomas Berry once declared, 'You cannot have well humans on a sick planet.'
The Greek mathematician Archimedes, referring to levers, is reputed to have said, 'Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.' It is in that spirit that author Kate Davies calls for identifying 'leverage points' for improving environmental health: 'Leverage points are places in complex systems where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes across an entire system.' For example, Davies points to the cost of health care, noting that health care in the United States is 'one of the least effective health-care systems among industrialized countries.' She argues that combining environmental health with the economics of health care will help create change. Davies is well equipped to generate social change. She founded and directed the first local government office on the environment in Canada and is on the faculty in the Environment and Community program at Antioch University's Center for Creative Change in Seattle. In the most revealing portion of the book, Davies closes with a discussion of what she calls 'Strategies for Social Change.' She details how, historically, the movement organized for collective action on local issues, such as the response to the Love Canal contamination in Niagara Falls, New York, during the 1970s. Later, groups began lobbying for new legislation controlling toxic chemicals. Davies acknowledges that these latter efforts created tensions among environmental advocates. She argues that local groups felt state lobbying organizations, who were pursuing legislation, ignored local problems. Furthermore, she says, these local groups consisted mostly of passionate, penniless volunteers who believed the state and national groups dominated fund raising. Davies downplays the legislative accomplishments made in the 1970s by national environmental lobbying groups, such as adoption of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. However, she clearly acknowledges the failure of the Toxic Substances Control Act passed in 1976. 'By 'grandfathering' nearly all the chemicals that were used in 1976 (about sixty-two thousand) and excluding them from any review or testing requirements, the Act created a monumental loophole for the chemical industry.' Davies urges the environmental health movement to follow the example of others, such as the civil rights movement, by considering 'collective, peaceful civil disobedience more often.' To defend such a proposal, Davies must conclude that other paths to social change using conventional, lawful means have been exhaustively tried and found ineffective--but she has not made this case. Needlessly engaging in militant actions could cause a negative reaction in some supporters. And, as Thomas Jefferson said: 'The good opinion of mankind, like the lever of Archimedes . . . moves the world.' The Rise of the U.S. Environmental HealthMovement contains a great deal of complex information that will interest primarily those already in the movement.
[Davies] tells the story of anger, disillusionment, and determination of Americans to develop a political movement to fight chemical pollution. . . . A well-written, thoughtful, and timely book.
Kate Davies' excellent book focuses on the role of health in the environmental health movement and encourages us to consider its origins and accomplishments.... The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement looks both back and forward to challenge us to consider our current direction. In the future this book will provide readers with an important perspective on how the environmental health movement shaped our society.
Kate Davies of Antioch University in Seattle has written a pioneering work that fills a gap in the literature and advances the cause of environmental health: that is, increasing human health and well-being through changing the environment. . . .The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement is a new departure and a major achievement. It will appeal to a wide audience of potential activists because of its optimistic tone and its appeal to spiritual as well as material values. The contributions it makes are diverse and discerning while the controversies it generates are pertinent and constructive.
The book is well-written and easy to read. . .[I]t is interesting. . . .[T]his work will appeal . . . to those interested primarily in the process of social change itself. . . .[A] copy would make a welcome addition to a complete medical, public health or sociology library. . . .Its greatest value to the occupational and environmental medicine provider lies in its ability to teach one about the importance of making environmental health issues personal and economically relevant, to achieve sufficient public momentum. In this way, individuals can succeed in making legislative and regulatory changes that improve the health and safety of our communities at the local, national, and global levels.
The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement is a finely-balanced and fair-minded account of how this movement came to be and what it will take to execute the sea change we need to fully protect public health.
Kate Davies' authoritative history describes the origins and dimensions of one wing of the environmental movement. It is both generous and accurate in its portrayal of the ideas, the people, and organizations that forged the link between the environment and human health. This is the definitive guide to the story of one of the most important movements of our century.
A compelling history and an accessible guide that unravels the complexity of environmental health issues and the evolving environmental health movement and offers references and examples for how our collective and individual actions can make a healthy difference in the places where we live, work, play, and go to school.