I wrote the following in November, but because of the big project discussed below, AND having another child, I got too busy to post it. I lightly updated it. Here it is:Dear Readers-
All four of you.
After doing this blog for nearly one year a book idea and subsequent publishing deal resulted, so I have to take a temporary leave of absence from this blog to focus on it’s assembly. That would explain my long absence.
The book is titled called Earth A.D.– The Poisoning of the American Landscape and the Communities Who Fought Back. It’s going to be published by on the Process Media label on Feral House. It’s going to be two different oral histories about underreported environmental disasters that should be public knowledge. Like this blog, the overall question I’m continually asking is about cognitive dissonance. Why do we as a society decide to do things that destroy ourselves and each other? Over and over. We keep fighting for air, water and now it’s the existential fight for the survival of life on this planet because we have to. The cycle endlessly repeats.
The first story I’ve been working on is Tar Creek, Oklahoma which is one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Declared a Superfund site in 1980, for years it was at the top of the EPA’s National Priorities List. Maybe it still is.
In the 1970s mining interests left a clutch of small towns with dangerous mine shafts, entire fucking houses caving into old mines, orangey iron drenched groundwater, and mountain-sized piles of lead/zinc/cadmium/manganese laden mining tailings known as chat- leaving entire generations of people with lead poisoning, children with severe learning disabilities, dystopian rates of chronic asthma, leukemia and cancer. What’s even more complicated is that Tar Creek is on Native American land. Oklahoma doesn’t have reservations, it has allotments which were leased out to mining companies in the early 1900s.
EPA has led some 30 years of sporadic, politically influenced cleanup efforts and there was a federal buyout program to purchase polluted lands and get the citizens relocated somewhere safe. Yet there are people who cannot and will not leave their homes that they have had for generations. Due to years political wrangling, the Quapaw tribe is now the primary contractor for EPA and is cleaning up the mess with federal money. Will it ever get done? Every set of answers creates more questions.
The second story that I’m developing for Earth A.D. is about the largest Superfund site in the Northeast which is in my own backyard- Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. 150 years of industrial pollution and raw sewage dumped into a body of water that empties out into the richest city the world has ever known (It’s possible Abu Dhabi has taken that spot, I don’t know). Newtown Creek is situated along the north side of one of the world’s trendiest neighborhoods in Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Aside from the Creek, Greenpoint has experienced 2 major oil spills, a solvent spill and is built on top of a landfill. So why is it some of the most expensive real estate in the world; home to the rich, powerful media elites? Why is this cancerous place home to robust TV and movie production, boasting the majority of New York’s sound stages? Like Tar Creek, there’s an activist community that fought big business at every turn and won several rounds. The fights keep coming.
Oral history is a medium that is commonly used to tell stories about music and film but rarely has it been used to tell a serious story. Using primary sources with archival materials is an effective way to make a book that’s readable and accessible to anyone with an interest in the environment. Unlike my other stuff, it’s really difficult to find moments of laughter, but I’m looking.
I tweet sporadically but I’m off mostly social media so I can concentrate on my book and my family. I may start sporadically posting Against Nature type things here throughout the process.
Thank you for reading this blog and I hope to see you back here in a few months when we go to the edit.
Michael Lee Nirenberg