Green Seniors began as an idea nearly three years ago, which seems like a long time when you consider the amount of Amazonion and Indonesian rainforest that has been removed in that time; the number of frog species that have become extinct; the rate at which the marine ecosystem has changed...and that is not even taking into account the direct effects of climate change. As a very eminent climate scientist recently stated: "By the time we see the real impacts of climate change, it will be too late to do anything about them".
So much change and so little time. Which makes you wonder what must be going through the mind of our latest Green Hero, Morag Parnell from West Lothian, Scotland, who has been campaigning on environmental issues for the last 37 years. It was upon reading the Club of Rome's 1972 report, "The Limits to Growth" that Morag decided that she needed to act, so spent much of the 1970s and 1980s campaigning on many issues including nuclear weapons, exposures to asbestos, and industrial chemicals in local microelectromics and clothing factories. In 1990, she joined the Women's Environmental Network in order to work on her key interest as a medical doctor -- the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment and in all aspects of human life.
Morag says: "Climate change is the most urgent and publicly acknowledged campaign. However, I think it is difficult to disassociate the many other aspects of what threatens us from this. They are all related. In particular, our campaigning against the effects of exposures to toxic chemicals has a particularly strong link to climate change. Most of the suspect substances are derived from fossil fuels- mainly petroleum. While climate change is concerned about pollution of our external environment , our health campaigns are concerned about our internal pollution -- largely from the same sources. And our internal pollution is killing and maiming millions worldwide now."
Her 82 years shows no sign of slowing her down, and she continues to lobby heavily in the Scottish Parliament and campaign widely.
We asked Dr Parnell a few questions, which she kindly answered:
What motivates you to keep campaigning?
I think that everyone has the right to live in a clean and uncontaminated environment.
What makes toxic chemicals in the environment such an important subject?
Most, if not all, of the illnesses caused by exposures to such substances are preventable. Most of the substances are synthetics and were invented by human beings who are perfectly capable of inventing substances that do not kill or maim.
Do you consider your work to have been successful and, if so, in what ways?
I think what we have done in the communities has been well supported. Most "ordinary" people are receptive -- they already have some knowledge or have suspicions about this topic -- they know someone who has, or have themselves experienced adverse health effects from what they suspect may have been environmental or occupational exposures. In the political arena we have had a small amount of success, but still a very long way to go before real primary prevention and precautionary action are accepted as public policy.
What advice do you have for people who don't think it is worth trying to make a difference?
Never give up. It is only by the small cumulative efforts of people like us that differences are made!
Thank you, Morag, our latest Green Hero.
If you know someone who you think should be a Green Hero, please write to us at [email protected] and we will contact you to find out more.