GroundTruth Blog

Kathryn Gilje's blog

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It was chile peppers, not strawberries, that saw the first use of cancer-causing methyl iodide to sterilize California soil. And today, community leaders from Fresno and throughout the Central Valley gathered at the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's office to urge officials to stop any future use of the chemical in their community.

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Cancer. Ironically and tragically, as I’ve experienced more and more cancer in the lives around me, I’ve begun to harden myself to its consequences. I expect it someday. I accept cancer as an inevitable part of life that we must battle and do our best to survive. I’ve even watched myself teach this to young ones as I attempt to soothe their fear. Despite my best intentions, I’m normalizing cancer.

But this much cancer — and the pain, fear, and enormous cost that accompanies it — doesn't have to be a normal part of life. Cancer used to be exceedingly rare. And we should just never be in a position of trying to make sense of rising rates of childhood cancer. Period.

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On May 13th, the country's top scientists and 200,000+ ordinary people urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to prioritize scientific evidence over corporate influence and ban the cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. John Froines, the chair of California's scientific review of the chemical, methyl iodide is promoted by Arysta LifeScience — the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world.

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Last week, the nations of the world agreed that the pesticide endosulfan is too toxic for people and the planet to bear. As our staff scientist Karl Tupper reported from Geneva, 173 countries agreed to ban the chemical through the Stockholm Convention, recognizing that innovative farmers across the globe are already growing coffee, cashew, chocolate and cotton without a drop of the deadly pesticide.

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At Pesticide Action Network, we mark Earth Day by reflecting on the work handed to us by our predecessors. We take stock of their predictions for our world, and pull lessons for moving forward.

I am reminded, in particular, of Rachel Carson's articulate science and clarion call on pesticides in Silent Spring. Of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and how their very first contracts demanded the decreased use of pesticides. Of farmers and eaters who have grown and harvested foods for millenia while protecting biodiversity and our earth. And of my own populist, upper Midwest heritage, and how the Wisconsinite Earth Day founders mobilized broad and diverse support for stewardship, 20 million strong in 1970, that led to some of the most important policies that safeguard our collective nest.