Friday, January 19, 2007

Saving the Seed

Film is a powerful medium. Witness the dramatic rise in public concern since the release of Al Gore's, An Inconvenient Truth. While much of the scientific data presented wasn't new, it has informed a new audience and inspired millions of people to start talking about the reality of climate change. Some perhaps, are even willing to take personal action to reduce their energy consumption. It's a bold first step for a society previously unwilling to have broad public discussions about the importance of this issue.

On Christmas Day, 2006, another movie was released that should have an even greater emotional impact on those who see it. Children of Men isn't a cinematic lecture; it's story that comes from the mind of acclaimed British mystery writer, P. D. James.

Set in 2027, Children of Men tells the story of a world without hope. The last live human birth occurred eighteen years before, in 2009, and now the world is in chaos. Virtually every government on the planet has collapsed into anarchy, except Britain (largely because it's an island, but mostly because all good Brits know that there'll always be an England.)

Despite its restricted rating, Children of Men, which was directed and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Alphonso Cuaron, should be required viewing for everyone. Beyond the worry of a climate raging out of control, imagine what would happen if there were no more babies? As the main character says,

"I can't remember the last time I had any hope. Since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?"

What indeed. The theme of the movie is hauntingly familiar. Nearly two decades ago, I asked Dr. Rosalie Bertell, renowned scientist, eco-feminist, author and visionary, what she thought the purpose of the environmental movement was. Her response was so complete, so perfect, it has been etched into my psyche ever since and continues to feed my concern and passion.

"The whole purpose of the environmental movement is to save the seed," she said. "Everything that's ever going to live in this world, whether it's a tree, or a plant, or a fish, or a baby, all into future time, is present right now in the seed. And if we damage that seed, there is no place else to get it. It is our most precious possession, and we have got to think in terms of the seed, because that's the future."

The future, so chillingly depicted by Children of Men, takes place a mere twenty years into the future. Dr. Bertell's comments were made less than twenty years in the past. And while Children of Men could be labeled pure fiction, there is mounting concern within the scientific community that environmental contamination is affecting our ability to produce healthy offspring.

It began with Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which documented the impact that the pesticide DDT was having on the ability of songbirds to produce viable eggs. Since its publication in 1962, other scientific researchers including Dr. Bertell, Dr. Theo Colborn, and Dr. Sandra Steingraber, along with many others, have expressed increasing concern about how the contamination of the environment is threatening the ability of many species to reproduce.

Male fish with female genitalia, increasing levels of birth defects, precious puberty (girls menstruating as young as seven), delayed puberty in boys, learning disabilities, childhood asthma and other diseases, genetic mutations, and a host of anomalies in a variety of species, are all warning signs that we should be heeding. While carefully researched scientific evidence may prove the point, Children of Men asks the question, "What if?" in such a compelling and visually stunning way that it is hard not to take the question to heart.

As Children of Men so graphically points out, all it would take is one barren generation. And then, as the graffiti on a wall in Alphonso Cuaron futuristic London asks, "The last one to die, please turn out the light."


The extensive works of Dr. Rosalie Bertell can be found on The International Institute of Concern for Public Health's website. The IICPH alerts and informs the public of the health hazards of pesticides, nuclear industries and other commercial, military, and industrial products. The Institute also documents the impact of environmental disasters on survivors.

Dr. Theo Colborn's book, Our Stolen Future, brought worldwide attention to scientific discoveries about how endocrine-disrupting chemicals can interfere with the natural signals controlling development of the fetus. tracks the most recent developments.


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