Kathleen Frith manages communications and outreach for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. An American-Bermudian, she previously worked at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research.

Monday, 31 Mar 2003

BOSTON, Mass.

It’s the beginning of a marathon week. This Friday night our Center is holding a fundraiser in New York City, next week we’re holding our two-day annual course for congressional staffers, and on April 28 we’re presenting Jane Goodall with our annual Global Environmental Citizen Award in Boston. In addition, I keep checking reports and commentary about the U.S. conflict in Iraq in a somewhat vain attempt to comprehend how our country has arrived in our present situation and what will likely be the short-term and long-term consequences of a “preemptive” strike. Today’s focus is Friday night.

Meryl Streep, who has been in touch with the Center and our work for the past few years, agreed to host a fundraiser and asked Sigourney Weaver to accompany her. Both of them are dedicated environmentalists — Meryl formed the group Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet in 1989 to educate people about the possible effects of pesticides on children’s health and she has worked with a number of other organizations promoting awareness about the threat to our health caused by toxins. Sigourney Weaver played Dian Fossey in the seminal work “Gorillas in the Mist,” which illustrated the importance of habitat preservation. Sigourney is on the board of the Dian Fossey Institute and has also worked with Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations to raise awareness about these issues. Both dedicated mothers, they are particularly interested in the human health connection to the environment, which is the basis of the Center’s mission.

Working with artists has always been an important aspect of my work. I see all artists — actors, musicians, writers, painters, etc. — as our society’s most poignant storytellers. They have the gift of stirring our emotions and activating change. In my view, environmental stories, especially the stories that capture human health connections to our changing environment, need artists to make their urgency felt. Especially now.

For the event Friday night, we have been working with a number of New York’s finest chefs and celebrity Iron Chef Moriomoto. The concept is that food is a perfect, tangible illustration of the intersection between human health and environmental health. The chefs will be creating a fantastic four-course meal made from organic produce, sustainable seafood stocks, and responsibly raised livestock. Even the wine for each course is made from organic grapes. Working with these chefs has also been a great source of inspiration. Many of these chefs are working on unique, effective environmental programs — one chef is designing organic and sustainable food for Delta’s new airline Song, set to launch later this month. The Center is striving to create a thoughtfulness of behavior — where people do not simply pick up their groceries without thinking about what chemicals might have been added that may pose health threats, how the product was harvested, and how those practices affect health.

If all goes well, the event on Friday will be full of hope and will provide an outlet for a group of artists, chefs, scientists, politicians, CEOs, and environmentalists to come together and inspire each other. This congregation of so many diverse backgrounds with a common thread of interest is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work here at the Center. I think it will also provide an opportunity for thinkers to commune during this time of such conflict.

Recently, the Center published a report on the human health effects of oil, from extraction through to combustion. The negative effects of oil and the ties with this country’s leadership and international policies are indisputable, exemplified by Halliburton waiting in the conflict’s wings in a Kuwait City hotel readying to get its hands on billions of barrels of reserve oil. I am anxious to attend a conference hosted by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies in New York tomorrow to hear what corporations such as Ford and GM are doing to help our economy transition to renewable energy.