Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Waterlife Waterwalk

Up, Down.

Alexander Calder Spiral 1974go and see this film!
absolutely do not miss it!

it can be slightly irritating in a few places, the way that these things sometimes are, but it represents a kind of Great Divide for me, a shift in the git-a-long paradigm, a new page in the Social Imaginary of this great northern complacency known as k-k-Canada

I don't think Josephine Mandamin was trying to set herself up as the star at all, neither of the walks nor of the film, I have put her picture here to remember her, and to honour her as well

Mother Earth Water Walk.
Josephine MandaminJosephine MandaminJosephine MandaminJosephine MandaminJosephine Mandamin
Anishinawbe - name of the Ojibway, Odawa, and Pottawatomi Nations.
Biidaajiwun - Ojibway word meaning 'that which comes flowing'.

Waterlife at NFB, Official Trailer at YouTube, at Hello Cool World.

the interesting stories for me are:

one - the Health Canada connection - that the scientists there are still muzzled and gagged when they try to tell the Canadian public about certain dangers - the issue is mentioned only briefly in the film and none of the reviews I have seen have mentioned it, later on I will try to get some of that story straight here

and two - the effects of this on all of us, but particularly the Chippewa of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation - birth statistics: 2 girls for every boy! sounds like the Beach Boys eh?

I tell you what, this is getting to be too much for me, or, as the Elephant's Child said to the Crocodile: "Led go! You are hurtig be!"

here is one of the local heroes (can I say 'hero'? well, he is to me!), Ron Plain:
Aamjiwnaang Ron PlainAamjiwnaang Ron PlainAamjiwnaang Ron PlainAamjiwnaang Ron Plain

1. Waterlife: Water torture, Peter Howell, Jun 05, 2009.
2. Great Lakes script could have used more filtration, Liam Lacey, Wednesday, June 10, 2009.
3. Comment on the Globe Review, Kevin McMahon, 6/7/2009.
4. Filmmaker fears for the Great Lakes, Jennie Punter, Tuesday, June 09, 2009.
5. Pollution on native reservation is probed, AP/CTV, Sunday December 18 2005.
6. A Sometimes Lonely Trek for Global Warming Awareness, Leslie Kaufman, August 28 2009.
Waterlife: Water torture, Peter Howell, Jun 05, 2009.

Forty or more years ago, an NFB film about the Great Lakes would have been a celebration of abundance, a manufactured mindscape for theme parks and school assemblies.

The five inland lakes cover such a vast distance (comprising 20 per cent of the world's fresh water) and contain so much marine life, they were long judged to be inexhaustible, a gift from the gods without cost or accounting.

Kevin McMahon's ambitious and artful Waterlife, set to a diverse soundtrack that runs the stylistic waterfront from Sam Roberts to Robbie Robertson to Brian Eno, demonstrates the fallacy of this blinkered thinking. It chronicles the relatively rapid decline and threatened destruction of what he calls, in words of praise and also warning, "the last great supply of fresh drinking water on Earth."

The veteran Canuck documentarian tours the five lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario – and reflects upon a sad litany of abuses that man and nature have inflicted upon this fragile fluidity. Everything from acid rain to zebra mussels has assaulted the Great Lakes, muddying the waters both literally and metaphorically.

McMahon (The Falls), long fascinated with water stories, is a bit like those old-school NFB helmers in that he's swept away by the grandeur of the lakes. The movie begins as an ode to water, with slo-mo close-ups and The Tragically Hip's Gordon Downie rhapsodizing about its mystical and life-sustaining qualities.

Wonder shifts to alarm as the McMahon and cinematographer John Minh Tran switch from poetry to agitprop and begin touring this heralded H20 in earnest. They smartly bring the vastness of their project to human dimensions by focussing upon individuals and their relationships to the Great Lakes.

A native woman, Josephine Mandamin, attempting to walk the perimeter of all the lakes while carrying a symbolic bucket of water, seeks open minds. A fisherman takes a more pragmatic view, talking of how the waters are both a resource and a lifelong obsession.

Users and conservers, some on camera and some not, describe the relentless attacks on the lakes. Invasive species such as lamprey, Asian carp and zebra mussels kill fish and plants and muck up hydro equipment. Toxic effluent from cities and from such notorious polluters as Sarnia's Chemical Valley turn pristine water into chemical soup.

The ecology of the Great Lakes is changing so rapidly, mutations are resulting. Fish are changing gender. Cancer rates and miscarriages in adjoining human populations are skyrocketing. Water levels are dropping as the precious liquid is siphoned away by factories and dams and sucked into the sky by global warming. It's not all bad: muskrats are learning to eat zebra mussels.

McMahon's all-encompassing approach at times overwhelms and confuses. Disembodied voices cite statistics and make assertions that would benefit from stronger sourcing. Interesting characters are introduced and then abandoned – we never learn, for instance, about the progress of Mandamin's epic walk. (In an online article, McMahon writes that she's walked 17,000 km and is continuing).

Everyone who watches Waterlife will find something that shocks them. To me it was the moment where the resident of a Lake of the Woods tributary holds up a photo from 1993 showing where he used to fish in deep water. The same spot is now overgrown with an invasive plant species from England. "Where the water went, I'd sure like to know," the resident says.

Waterlife strongly suggests we'll be saying that about the entire Great Lakes in decades hence if we don't take serious action now.

Great Lakes script could have used more filtration, Liam Lacey, Wednesday, June 10, 2009.

* Directed by Kevin McMahon
* Narrated by Gord Downie
* Starring the Great Lakes
* Classification: G
An ambitious and lyrical cinematic essay on the Great Lakes water system, Kevin McMahon's Waterlife has much to admire in terms of visual style and a message that is timely and urgent. The impact is diffused, however, by a somewhat precious tone and the occasional blurring of scientific and inspirational message.

The initial story begins in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where, we learn, about 25 per cent of the beluga whales are suffering from cancer, presumably from contamination pouring down from the inland waterway. From there, the film takes us back to the beginning of the water's long journey at the head of Lake Superior. (McMahon has said that Holling C. Holling's 1941 children's book Paddle-to-the-sea was an influence.) The operative editing style here is to emphasize flow, and at times, the use of Philip Glass and other minimalist music, as well as slow-motion and time-lapse images, seems to deliberately echo Godfrey Reggio's famous art-nature film Koyaanisqatsi (1982).

Featuring a chorus of mostly unidentified scientists and other commentators (their names are listed during the closing credits), along with gruff narration from rock singer Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, the water is explored from various perspectives – overhead views, underwater shots and seamlessly integrated visual recreations of what goes on at the molecular level.

Things start getting crazy when we hit Chicago, which maintains its pristine waterfront by sending all its garbage southward into the Mississippi River system. In the film's most cheerfully tasteless sequence, we see a “red-neck fishing derby” where beer-drinking Americans picnic on the sides of a polluted canal. They race motorboats in the water and use hand nets to toss about the invasive Asian carp like lacrosse balls. The carp, at least, are kept out of the Great Lakes system thanks to an electric underwater fence.

As the journey progresses, we see the lakes surrounded by new and old threats. The effects of overfishing and logging go back well into the 19th century, and some of the worst industrial pollution of a half-century ago has been ameliorated. The current dangers are like a gang attack: industrial toxins buried in harbour and river-mouth sediments; agricultural waste and storm-water and sewage overflows that dump bacteria in the lake; residential development that destroys shore ecology; invasive species, industrial wastes, pharmaceuticals and evaporation due to climate change.

This threat shouldn't require any overselling, but McMahon can't resist and you seriously wish the script had gone through another level of filtration to take out more of the lumpy bits (and the excess of musical selections). The Great Lakes are described as the “last” great supply of fresh water on Earth. (But what does the word “last” mean here?) Why must the invasive lamprey be described as “ancient and monstrous”?

Most dubious is the apocalyptic assertion by someone (again, speakers aren't identified) who suggests that because of our exposure to pollutants, we're collectively slipping into “narcosis” and will soon be too dumb to know what's happening to us. There's no evidence offered, and the claim doesn't jibe with the phenomenon of rising IQ rates. Perhaps, our fears have been dulled by the anti-depressants in the chemical soup of our drinking water.

Throughout the film, McMahon follows the campaign by Josephine Mandamin, an Anishinabe elder from Thunder Bay, who is conducting a multiyear walk each spring around all of the Great Lakes to draw attention to deteriorating conditions. Her protest is admirable, but it's pure ethno-romanticism to suddenly invoke “Great Law,” or the centuries-old oral constitution of the Iroquois nation, as an answer to a potential disaster facing 35 million people today.

While we're waiting for this mass consciousness shift, could somebody fix the plumbing?

Comment on the Globe Review, Kevin McMahon, 6/7/2009.

Thank you for the thoughtful review of my film Waterlife.

If I may, I have just a few quibbles with your critique:

The word “last” in the narration means just that. Consider what has become of the other really big sources of fresh water on Earth such as the melting mountain-top glaciers or the nearly-depleted Ogallala aquafir. The Great Lakes, always unique in their scale, are also singular in having not been as quickly and thoroughly destroyed.

Oh, and lamprey? They have existed since the dinosaur days – which makes them “ancient” in my mind. And if you take a good look at those creepy mouths of theirs I think you will agree that (at least by the anthropomorphic standards we all apply to nature) they seem pretty monstrous. And, of course, as an unchecked predator, they are just that.

You find it dubious that some scientists believe our constant infusion with chemicals that alter the behavior of our genes – and thus the structure of our bodies – will mess with our brains. This is not presented in Waterlife as an assertion of fact, but as an educated forecast and it seems a plausible one to me.

Finally, I don’t think its “pure ethno-romanticism” to say that a guiding principle for responding to our environmental crisis ought to be an insistence on considering the impact of our technologies on the next seven generations, which could be as little as 150 years. It is more or less the same as what scientists call the “precautionary principle” and it seems a reasonable standard for safeguarding our fresh water, the very essence of life on this planet.

But, of course, I agree with you – and I think Waterlife shows -- that the urgent need, at this moment, is to fix the plumbing.

Filmmaker fears for the Great Lakes, Jennie Punter, Tuesday, June 09, 2009.

Kevin McMahon, in talking about his documentary Waterlife: ‘I was surprised how bad things are'

Although not exactly this year's Jaws – with its well known “Don't go in the water” slogan – Kevin McMahon's new documentary Waterlife is nevertheless must-see cinema for anyone planning to dip a toe into one of the Great Lakes this summer.

The information in this poetic cautionary tale is probably not news to the likes of the film's narrator, Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie, who lives near Lake Ontario and supports the international citizen-led Waterkeeper Alliance. (A new Hip tune Morning Moon plays during Waterlife 's end credits.)

But over the years the state of the Great Lakes, which provide 20 per cent of the planet's fresh water, has fallen off the radar of many North American “users,” asserts McMahon, who grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont., and explored the beauty and hidden horrors of the tourist mecca in his 1991 doc The Falls .

“When I started out as a reporter at The Standard in St. Catharines, the water in the area was getting more polluted and it was front-page news,” McMahon recalls, during an interview in his office at Primitive Entertainment, a Toronto-based TV- and film-production company. Since then, he says governments have sidelined several water-focused organizations including the International Joint Commission, a watchdog agency established 100 years ago by the Canadian and American governments to settle disputes.

“My first motivation was the idea of how ignored the problems are and how bizarre that is,” McMahon says. “I started talking to scientists, who can go anywhere in Lake Ontario, pull up water and find not just mercury and PCBs [a class of compounds banned in the seventies], but Prozac. I was surprised how bad things are.”

But McMahon's most shocking discovery wasn't included in Waterlife . “If you are, for example, an Environment Canada scientist who wants to study the water in the harbour of the Bay of Quinte, you're on salary, but you need to raise the money for all your field costs,” he explains. “So a lot of research on the lakes is underwritten by power companies. If a scientist finds the water outside my factory is poison, part of the deal is he can't say it's outside my factory.”

While McMahon says he is appalled by the level of self-satisfaction on the part of politicians and industry with regards to the state of the Great Lakes, he believes politics and bureaucratic matters don't resonate much with audiences.

Waterlife bucks the activist doc trend by taking viewers on a journey where the pleasures and perils of the Great Lakes are both offered up.

McMahon's films – which include In the Reign of Twilight (1995) and McLuhan's Wake (2002) – tend to offer an experience that allows the audience to make up their own minds. “As much as I admire Michael Moore or Al Gore, I couldn't pull off their kind of activist film,” he says.

His organizing principle for Waterlife was inspired by Paddle-to-the-Sea , Holling C. Holling's 1941 children's classic, which was made into a popular NFB film by legendary artist and canoeist Bill Mason.

“At one point I even considered remaking the film with a carved canoe moving through the Great Lakes system,” says McMahon, who eventually decided the notion would have become a distraction from the film's serious issues.

Not that Waterlife doesn't have its whimsical moments: A fast-paced sequence showing the process of hatching, collecting and delivering farmed fish to the Great Lakes – accompanied by the jaunty punk rock of Dropkick Muphys – is a standout.

Although McMahon didn't used a carved canoe, the aboriginal connection to water is well represented by Josephine Mandamin, the Thunder Bay grandmother and Anishinabe elder who set out six years ago to walk around all of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of ecological issues and pray for healing.

“We had already started filming when I first heard about her,” McMahon recalls. “When I met her, she had been walking each spring for four years and had received zero media coverage. But she doesn't care. Her idea is to talk to people one on one as she walks along. I never could have invented her, so that discovery was a real gift to Waterlife .”

Pollution on native reservation is probed, AP/CTV, Sunday December 18 2005.

AAMJIWNAANG FIRST NATION, Canada -- Growing up with smokestacks on the horizon, Ada Lockridge never thought much about the pollution that came out of them.

She never worried about the oil slicks in Talfourd Creek, the acrid odors that wafted in on the shifting winds or even the air-raid siren behind her house whose shrill wail meant "go inside and shut the windows."

Now Lockridge worries all the time.

A budding environmental activist, she recently made a simple but shocking discovery: There are two girls born in her small community for every boy. A sex ratio so out of whack, say scientific experts who helped her reveal the imbalance, almost certainly indicates serious environmental contamination by one or more harmful chemicals.

The question: Which ones? And another, even more pressing question: What else are these pollutants doing to the 850 members of this Chippewa community?

Lockridge and her neighbors live just across the U.S.-Canada border from Port Huron, Mich., on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Reserve. For nearly half a century, their land has been almost completely surrounded by Canada's largest concentration of petrochemical manufacturing.

Much of their original reserve, founded in 1827, was sold out from under them via questionable land deals in the 1960s. It is now occupied by pipelines, factories and row upon row of petroleum storage tanks.

The area is so dominated by the industry that it is referred to on maps and in local parlance as "Chemical Valley."

About two years ago, Suncor Energy — which already operates a refinery and petrochemical plant next to the Aamjiwnaang reserve — proposed adding another factory to the mix, an ethanol plant to be built on one of the few undeveloped parcels adjoining the community's property.

Lockridge and other members of the band joined to oppose the plant. They asked biologist Michael Gilbertson to look at a binder full of technical information about air, water and soil contamination on the reserve.

In a conference call, he reported that the data showed elevated levels of dioxin, PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.

Almost as an afterthought, he asked a question: Had anybody noticed a difference in the number of girls and boys in the community?

At the other end of the line, the Aamjiwnaang and their allies were suddenly abuzz.

"All of a sudden everybody in that room started talking," said Margaret Keith, a staffer for the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, a public health agency.

Somebody pointed out that the reserve had fielded three girls' baseball teams in a recent year and only one boys' team. Lockridge thought about herself and her two sisters, with eight daughters among them and only one son.

The question was not as offhand as it seemed. "I had been interested in sex ratio as an indicator — a very sensitive indicator of effects going on as a result of exposure to chemicals," Gilbertson said in a recent interview.

Gilbertson explained that certain pollutants, including many found on the Aamjiwnaang reserve, could interfere with the sex ratio of newborns in a population. Heavy metals have been shown to affect sex ratio by causing the miscarriage of male fetuses. Other pollutants known as endocrine disrupters — including dioxin and PCBs — can wreak all sorts of havoc by interfering with the hormones that determine whether a couple will have a boy or a girl.

If some pollutant was skewing the distribution of girls and boys in her family and her community, Ada Lockridge thought, what else could it be doing?

Statistics indicate that one in four Aamjiwnaang children has behavioral or learning disabilities, and that they suffer from asthma at nearly three times the national rate. Four of 10 women on the reserve have had at least one miscarriage or stillbirth.

"I was throwing up thinking about what was in me," said Lockridge, who is 42. "I cried. And then I got angry."

She got a copy of the band membership list, and tallied the number of boys and girls born in each year since 1984. Sure enough, the percentage of boys started dropping below 50 percent around 1993. It is now approaching 30 percent, with no sign of leveling off.

The finding was significant enough to warrant a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives, a well-regarded scientific journal. Lockridge, who has worked as a home health aide and carpenter's assistant, was listed as an author.

On a recent autumn day, Lockridge stood in the Aamjiwnaang band's cemetery. The burial ground occupies a gently sloping patch of ground sandwiched between a petroleum storage tank farm and a low cinder-block building with half a dozen pipelines running through it.

It is hardly a place where anyone could rest in peace. The building emits a constant, deafening roar that sounds like a wood-chipper buzzing through logs one after the next. It is so loud that funeral ceremonies have to be shouted.

One of the oldest headstones in the cemetery belongs to Lockridge's great-grandfather, who died at least 50 years before Suncor Energy erected a giant flare tower not 100 yards away.

Lockridge was talking about how security guards watch and occasionally film her as she pulls weeds around her family's plots. Suddenly she stopped short.

"Okay," she said. "You getting that smell right now?"

Traveling around the 3,250-acre Aamjiwnaang reserve is a stimulating olfactory experience. There are tangy smells, sweet smells and acrid odors that sting the nose. There is the tarry scent of unrefined petroleum, and the rotten-eggs stench of sulfur.

There's also a "fart" smell, Lockridge said, a "stink-feet" smell and something that "smells like what the dentist puts on a Q-Tip before he gives you the needle."

Whenever she detects a distinctive odor somewhere on the reserve, she makes a note of it and records it on a calendar at home.

Lockridge's discovery of a sudden shift in sex ratio suggests a new pollutant came into the Aamjiwnaang's environment during the early 1990s. And the fact that the decrease is continuing suggests that whatever that pollutant is, it is still around.

So far, nobody recalls anything new coming on the scene during the early '90s. And the levels of likely suspects such as PCBs and mercury have actually decreased in the past decade.

The sex ratio of newborn babies is normally within a hair's breadth of 50-50, with slightly more boys born than girls. There are very few documented cases of an imbalance as extreme as the one of the Aamjiwnaang reserve.

During the late 1950s, a severe outbreak of mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan, caused a decrease in the percentage of male births. Mercury and other heavy metals cause the preferential miscarriage of male fetuses simply because their brains are more vulnerable during development compared to those of females.

Mercury is unlikely to be causing the shortage of boys on the Aamjiwnaang reserve, however. Though levels of the metal are elevated on the reserve, the Aamjiwnaang are exposed to much less mercury today than they were 50 years ago. Back then, poor band members would go to open toxic waste dumps and extract mercury from the soil by adding water to it, then sell the metal on the black market.

The Aamjiwnaang and their scientific advisers believe it is more likely that endocrine disrupters are to blame. Dozens of synthetic organic chemicals can interfere with natural hormones by either interfering with or amplifying their effects. Because hormones are so important to the development and healthy performance of the body's organs, endocrine disrupters have the potential to cause a wide range of effects, from damage to the brain and sex organs in utero to decreased sperm production and immune suppression in adults. It is even arguable that they could influence sexual behavior and violence.

In her book "Our Stolen Future," biologist Theo Colborne worries that endocrine disrupters may be responsible for "physical, mental and behavioral disruption in humans that could affect fertility, learning ability, aggression and conceivably even parenting and mating behavior."

Some researchers have suggested that endocrine disrupters may be responsible for numerous alarming trends — rising rates of testicular and breast cancer, a higher frequency of reproductive tract abnormalities, declining sperm counts and increases in learning disabilities among them.

In 1976, a dioxin release at a factory in Seveso, Italy, sickened at least 2,000 people. Years later, scientists found that men who were exposed to the highest dioxin levels were more likely to have daughters than sons. Among men who were younger than 19 years old at the time of the accident, the ratio was the same as it is today on the Aamjiwnaang reserve — two-to-one.

At lower doses, the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals are subtle and have been harder to document.

"Not a lot is known, actually," said Marc Weisskopf, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In a 2003 study, he and several colleagues found that mothers who consumed large amounts of PCB-contaminated fish caught in the Great Lakes were more likely to have girls.

It is extremely difficult to say whether background doses of endocrine disrupters are having any effect on the general population. Scientists in many industrialized countries — including the United States and Canada — have documented a subtle decline in the male-to-female ratio since World War II. But it has been a matter of controversy whether the decrease is due to industrial chemicals or lifestyle factors and medical advances, which can also tinker with the sex ratio.

There is little doubt that endocrine-disrupting pollutants are affecting the sexual development of wildlife right where the Aamjiwnaang live. In Lake St. Clair, not 30 miles from their reserve, fish are swimming around with both male and female gonads. The condition, known as intersex, is caused when a young fish that is genetically male is exposed to chemicals such as the fertilizer atrazine, which causes female gonads to develop by acting like the hormone estrogen.

The phenomenon has been documented all over the southern Great Lakes — not just in fish, but in birds and amphibians as well.

The Aamjiwnaang are getting increasingly worried and obsessed about the pollution of their reserve. With every new baby, said Ron Plain, a member of the Aamjiwnaang environment committee, "we have to worry what's the matter with that child, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now."

Some people have suggested that the whole band should simply pick up and leave the reserve for a less contaminated place. But Plain wants to stay and fight.

Petitions and demonstrations against the Suncor ethanol plant eventually convinced the company to choose a location about 10 miles south of the reserve for the new facility. A Suncor spokesman said that community opposition was one of several factors that led to the decision.

Now Plain wants to use the band's veto power over new pipelines crossing the reserve as a bargaining chip: For example, in return for allowing a right-of-way, the Aamjiwnaang would require establishment of a fund to set up a network of air monitoring stations. The money could also be used to clean up hazardous waste sites on the reserve, or other environmental projects.

"The band doesn't have the money for that type of stuff," said Plain, who runs his own medical supply company. "If we have a million dollars we can hire some pretty good experts."

Alan Joseph is not sure he can wait. He has five children — a boy and four girls. All suffer from asthma; the eldest girl has liver problems. He used to catch crawfish in Talfourd Creek and fish in the St. Clair River, less than a quarter mile from his house. Now, if he wants to go fishing, he drives 25 miles up the shore of Lake Huron. "I really want to move," he said.

A Sometimes Lonely Trek for Global Warming Awareness, Leslie Kaufman, August 28 2009.

Greta BrowneOn Route 11 north of Tuscaloosa, Ala., last April, a pickup truck pulled up next to Greta Browne, and a young man began lecturing her about global warming.

He had seen Ms. Browne’s T-shirt announcing that she was “Walking for the Climate,” and he wanted to set her straight. Humans, he told her, have nothing to do with heating up the planet.

Ms. Browne, 65, a Unitarian minister from Bethlehem, Pa., has encountered more than one global warming naysayer since last March, when she began a trek up the Eastern seaboard to draw attention to climate change.

“Sometimes, you just have to stand up,” she said.

So far, Ms. Browne says, she has logged about 1,100 miles, walking from outside New Orleans to Rouses Point, N.Y., near the Canadian border, where she will end her journey Saturday. A grandmother of three, she blogs for adults, and for children.

When she began the trip, Ms. Browne had hoped to attract crowds of other people to walk with her (think Forrest Gump running cross country in the 1994 film). Instead, it has been a mostly solo journey, which she describes as “a meditation, a prayer,” for Earth.

Still, her shirt and her beckoning smile invite people to approach. Sometimes they pull their cars over and hand her fistfuls of dollar bills — she is financing the trip with small donations, and her Social Security checks.

Sometimes people run up alongside and proffer water bottles, which she accepts, even though they violate her principles on garbage and waste. And sometimes they stop to tell her not to worry: God would never allow Earth to warm disastrously, they say. She listens patiently and argues her case.

In choosing to promote her cause this way — as opposed to, say, pressing for legislative change — Ms. Browne joins a growing list of environmental activists who are hoping to draw public attention to the issue through stunts: Colin Beavan, for example, the writer who lived without toilet paper and electricity, or David de Rothschild, a self-described “eco-adventurer” in San Francisco who has built a boat made of reused plastic water bottles and plans to sail to Sydney, Australia.

As she has plodded along, Ms. Browne said, she has come to understand her journey as a one-woman survey of the American mindset on global warming, though one, she readily concedes, that is deeply unscientific. Normally a glass-half-full type, she says the trip has made her “more pessimistic.”

“Mostly people think it is a problem,” she said, “but mostly they think it will not impact them anytime soon.”

A longtime member of the Green Party and the founder of a vegetarian cooperative restaurant, she has been concerned for years about global warming. But after she retired last year, she joined an environmental group and read “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas. The book, which argues that most of humanity could be wiped out by the end of the century if Earth’s temperatures continue to warm, galvanized her.

As the child of Presbyterian missionaries, Ms. Browne lived in Brazil, China and Niger, and was used to a peripatetic lifestyle, so she decided to take to the road. Her role model was Doris Haddock, better known as Granny D, who in 1999, at age 90, walked across the country for campaign finance reform, generating both crowds and headlines.

Ms. Browne’s trek has not quite turned out that way, and, she says, her adventure has other shortcomings. To make the walk logistically possible, she has lived out of a 1982 van — complete with gold-colored shag carpeting and rust velour sofas — that is, by her own admission, “a disgusting gas guzzler.”

By living abstemiously on other fronts, she said she had managed to keep her carbon footprint to half that of the average American. She never eats out and, except for her T-shirts, all her clothes are second-hand. Even her white Clarks sneakers were bought from a thrift store.

On Sundays, she goes to Unitarian Universalist churches along the way. She has handed out fliers listing small actions people can take to fight global warming, like using compact fluorescent light bulbs and lobbying for schools to teach the subject.

Crowds or no, Ms. Browne says, she is convinced that she has reached people and “raised awareness.” She estimates that 500 to 1,000 cars pass her on the road every day and about 1 percent, she says, honk or give her a thumbs-up.

In the end, Ms. Browne said, she thinks that most people are sympathetic and want to do something — just not too much. She was particularly discouraged by a woman who approached her after one church talk and said, “Oh, you are preaching to the choir. We already recycle.”

Ms. Browne remembers thinking that recycling was “so 1980s” — perfectly good, she said, but not nearly enough in itself.

“People just don’t see enough urgency to change their life,” she said.

But she understands. She plans, she says, to keep the van.



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