Lee Barwood

Paranormal, Mystery, and Environmental Fiction

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Gail Gipp, manager of the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

Dr. Jon Hanger, head veterinarian at the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

The Environment:
The Beat of Gaia's Heart


January 12, 2008


Creating Change

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Beat of Gaia's Heart, the newsletter about the other Web – the one that connects us all to each other and to the animals, the environment, and the Earth.

We went on hiatus during November and December, due to various technical snafus, work obligations, and holiday schedules. But we’re back for the New Year with hope that 2008 sees change – desperately needed change – in the ways we treat the environment, the creatures of the earth, and even ourselves.

You know by now, of course, that I’ve been focused on helping koalas through my book Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings (www.koalajo.com – all royalties from sales of the book go to the Australian Wildlife Hospital, a major project of the late Steve Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors). I follow stories about koalas in the news. Some have been very sad, with koalas moving into residential areas, searching for water (although koalas don’t generally drink, the drought in Australia has apparently caused the eucalyptus leaves they live on to be too dry to provide them with needed moisture), and being hit by cars. All these things mean that the Hospital needs more help than ever to keep up with the animals brought in to them in desperate need of medical care.

There have been other animal stories in the news, too, with the most attention-getting perhaps that of Tatiana, the Siberian tiger shot to death after she escaped from the tiger exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo and attacked three youths, killing one. (The story keeps unfolding, and there are reports of slingshots, an empty vodka bottle, and a witness who says she saw the young men taunting the tiger before the attack.)

There’s also the sad tale of horses thought saved from slaughter last year by the shutting down of the last three remaining American slaughterhouses that processed horsemeat for export. Sadly, this proved not to be true, as many were simply shipped to Mexico, where, after a long and terrifying journey in crowded trucks without food or water, they are butchered in the most grisly, painful way imaginable. There is an urgent need to get the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act passed, so that this does not happen.

There are so many things to consider at the beginning of a new year that animals and the environment perhaps get short shrift; but if there is one single thing you can do to help initiate change, now is the time to begin. Look at it this way: there’s so much room for improvement in the way humans interact with Gaia that anything can help!

Creating Change

Change is on everyone’s lips these days, from political candidates (no, I’m not going there) to corporations seeking to go green. Traditionally, the beginning of a new year has been the time during which people try to create change in their own lives, and there has never been a more compelling reason for change than there is now.

There are so many ways to change how we live – and I can hear some of you groaning at the thought. But many of them are relatively painless – changing light bulbs from incandescent to the new high-efficiency fluorescent, for instance – and many others can be stepping stones to real, substantial change. If you eat meat, try going meatless one meal a week. Don’t know what to fix? There are dozens of great new vegetarian cookbooks on the market that don’t require you to eat grass clippings and twigs. In fact, there are many great fruits, grains, and vegetables most people never even encounter because they rely on commercial food to provide their choices.

While it may seem as if there are plenty of choices in the supermarket, what’s really there is a variety of manufactured foods – of very limited range. That’s because current farming techniques are more efficient for monoculture – the growth of one thing, and one thing only. Acres and acres of corn, for instance, or tomatoes (good old pink cardboard-tasting supermarket tomatoes), or peas. Never mind all the varieties of these things that we never see because they’re too fragile to survive a thousand-mile trip to your supermarket. If you’ve ever gone to a farm stand in the country, you’ll know what I mean – food fresh from the field tastes entirely different.

Try local food. Particularly for those fragile varieties. Come summer, find some farm stands and look for apples and pears and peaches that aren’t the same old names. Many of the best flavors don’t travel well, so they’re not suitable for mass production. Well, that’s a good thing. Who wants to eat what everyone else is having, anyway? Try something different.

There are other ways to initiate change in your life, too. Use makeup? Try finding brands that aren’t filled with chemicals you can’t pronounce. Most of those things aren’t good for you – in fact, most of them are downright harmful. Same thing for shampoos and soaps. Stay away from the ones with all the chem lab ingredients, and find simple compositions. They’ll still smell nice and they’ll be kinder to your body – all those chemicals travel through your skin and can linger to cause cancer and disrupt your hormones.

When it comes to clothes, do you really need the latest fashion? If you buy well, and buy things you love, you’ll be doing the earth a favor by not following fads. What good is something that you can’t wear next season because it’s out of style? There are gorgeous styles that stay in fashion and make you look great, without breaking the bank or requiring you to go out and replace it in a few months. Your budget will thank you, too.

Got a lawn? Think green lawn service. If you use a landscaping company, ask them what chemicals they use. Most lawn and garden chemicals can be hazardous not only to garden pests, but to children and pets – not to mention people with chemical sensitivity. Plus they’re expensive, and they take a toll on the environment. There are now numerous landscapers who offer “green” services – safer pest control, more efficient planting techniques, etc. It’s worth looking into.

And speaking of change, you have it in your power to create political change. Maybe you’re thinking that one vote may not count for much, but one letter does – these days, the person who takes the time to write a letter, on paper, has an inordinate amount of influence on legislators – and corporations, too. Pick a cause that’s dear to your heart – whether it’s the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, the consolidation of the media, or the weak regulation of imports from overseas, and write a letter. Then write another one, and another – focusing on the one action you’d most like to see – and keep at it.

Talk to your friends about your cause. Talk to your neighbors. If there are people who disagree with you, don’t shut down the conversation. And don’t argue; listen to what they have to say, and ask questions if you don’t understand their position. Once you understand their concerns, you can better explain why you feel your cause is the right way to go. And you’ll become better educated, yourself, on that cause as you try to learn enough to answer their questions. And who knows – maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that your way wasn’t the best after all, but you’ve thought of a better way that will satisfy more people. Now that’s an accomplishment.

Each person can generate change. It may not be a big change, but enough small changes put together can reach what’s called in today’s parlance a tipping point – enough to generate a wide range of change. If you want to see change, be part of it. Make it happen. Let it start with you.

Here are some areas in which you can influence your community for the better.

Mortgage foreclosures – Learn which financial institutions in your area are responsible for the greatest number of foreclosures. Write to your legislators to get them to intercede with these companies to work with homeowners who were taken advantage of. If there are so many foreclosures in your area that it’s creating a hazard – too many vacant houses – see if you can put together a neighborhood watch to make sure your area stays safe. After all, it’s your neighborhood too.

You can also urge your town or city officials to bring suit against the financial institutions causing the problem. Both Baltimore, Maryland and Cleveland, Ohio have already done so. Many institutions extended mortgages to people who were not qualified; a lot of these people were naïve or ignorant of the requirements of mortgages, or were lied to outright. Others were “flipping” properties – buying them cheaply and then turning them over quickly and selling them at inflated prices, getting rich in the process while making neighborhoods less affordable for people who meant to make those communities their home. And there have been numerous cases in which documentation was falsified by mortgage lenders, with or without the knowledge of the borrowers who sought to buy a house. Income levels were inflated, debt levels were ignored, mortgages were issued with adjustable rates that would reset to much higher levels (sometimes without the buyers’ knowledge), and loans were issued that had no chance of being paid off unless a house was turned over quickly – before those mortgage rates reset. Such business practices were a time bomb waiting to go off as soon as home prices stopped rising – and now towns are paying the prices. Some towns are going after the ones responsible. Yours may be able to do that, too.

And last but not least, write to the SEC and demand that they put a stop to predatory lending practices and other lending abuses, effectively police the mortgage market, and prevent foreclosures, flipping, and fraud.

Import safety – If you’ve stopped buying a company’s products because they were recalled, write to the head of the corporation to ask what steps are being taken to ensure that future products will be safe. Ask if they’ve considered the cost of liability versus the cost of cheap overseas manufacturing. Locally done work can be supervised more easily, resulting in fewer liability issues. Then write to the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ask what new safeguards are being put in place. Write to the White House to ask for more stringent protection from faulty and dangerous products.

Environmental concerns – If you’re concerned about anything from the polar bear’s potential status as an endangered species to drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, get in touch with the Environmental Protection Agency. Write to them and tell them your concerns. Be specific. Ask for the protections you feel the Earth deserves. Things have gotten worse on the EPA’s watch of late, and this is a very critical area in which you can make a difference.

Media Consolidation Issues – If you have concerns about the rollback of regulations by the FCC allowing big media to control wider and wider markets through the ownership of both newspapers and radio stations, and if you feel that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has overridden the will of the people by ignoring public comments on that issue, write to the FCC – and also to your Congressional representatives.

If you haven’t yet read Dean Koontz’s newest book, The Darkest Evening of the Year, you’re missing something really special. Koontz once again has put together the threads of very real human – and animal – troubles to construct a story that will wring your heart.

Amy Redwing does rescue – golden retrievers – and lives alone with her two “kids,” goldens named Fred and Ethel. But as the book opens, she and Brian McCarthy, the young architect she won’t allow herself to commit to, are at the home of Janet and Carl Brockman. Carl is an abusive alcoholic who has already killed one dog. He beats his wife and he beats his children. And he’s getting ready to beat their current dog, a golden named Nickie. Janet, who has not been able to get help for herself, has found the strength to call Amy to get help for Nickie, before Carl cripples or kills her. And Amy walks in to put herself between an angry, vicious drunk and the dog he’s determined to master.

Nothing is ever simple in Koontz’s books, and this one is no different. Amy and Brian, and even Nickie, have unsuspected depths that surface as the story progresses. Amy’s determination to save dogs from human cruelty, from puppy mills and abusive owners, is an outgrowth of her own personal tragedies – and Brian’s involvement in Amy’s life goes far beyond coincidence. His own missing daughter, subject to an abusive mother who personifies the term “monster,” plays her own role in a tale as complex as any he has written.

Koontz educates without preaching about the harm that humans do to themselves, to their children, and to the animals who so often give them an outlet for their own pain. And he tells a rousing good story as he does so. As he so often does, he writes with sensitivity about abused children – and the people who champion them. Animal lovers too will find plenty to keep them reading as Amy and Brian learn each other’s secrets, and Amy risks everything to conquer an old adversary.

The environment needs protection as much as the environment does. Learn how a young woman with a very special talent put that talent to use to save the fragile habitat of the Ozarks in my book A Dream of Drowned Hollow, an environmental suspense/thriller. April Rue Stoner has an uncanny gift – she can see the spirits of the earth, and when she photographs them, others can see them too. But will that be enough to help her stop a developer who will stop at nothing to bring his version of prosperity to her Ozarks home? The book won Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award, and is published as an e-book and a large-print paperback from Double Dragon Publishing (www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-320-4 ).

I’d also like to ask your support for another cause I’m supporting. I’ve joined Parade Magazine’s Giving challenge, and am working to raise money for the purchase of 100 acres of Australian rainforest. If you can support this, please go to my website at www.leebarwood.com and click on the link to give. If you can’t give, that’s fine – perhaps you can help by forwarding this message to friends. (But please, don’t spam – only send to folks you know!)


American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H. R. 503 and S. 311 (find out who your legislators are by going to the House and Senate websites, then urging them to vote YES)

House: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR00503:@@@P (This link will allow you to see if your Congressional representative is a cosponsor of the bill – if so, send a note of thanks!)

Senate: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:SN00311:@@@P (This link will allow you to see if your Senators are cosponsors. Again, if so, send a note of thanks!)

The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov
Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

Consumer Product Safety Commission: www.cpsc.gov
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
Consumer Hotline: 800-638-2772
General Information: 301-504-7923

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): www.epa.gov
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20640
The EPA has different regional offices depending on where you live. If you have a specific concern for your area (toxic waste, smoke, well contamination), check their website at www.epa.gov/epahome/comments.htm for a directory of offices by region, and for a directory of various hotlines.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC): www.fcc.gov
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
Also see www.fcc.gov/contacts.html for more e-mail addresses, phone numbers, FOI requests, and the addresses for hand-delivered documentation.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): www.sec.gov
SEC Headquarters
100 F Street, NE
Washington, DC 20549
The SEC has numerous offices that handle different issues facing finance. For a directory of offices, e-mail boxes, and telephone numbers, as well as the investor complaint center, go to www.sec.gov/contact.shtml .

The subprime lending crisis:
Cleveland Sues 21 Lenders Over Subprime Mortgages

Baltimore Is Suing Bank Over Foreclosure Crisis

Food Safety:
The Topps meat recall

Pollution in China:
“Choking on Growth,” in The New York Times

Facts about Food:
The Minnesota Beef Council’s “Beef Trivia” page

About.com’s sources on environmental reasons to go vegetarian

The Vegetarian Society of Georgia’s page on vegetarianism and the environment

Sustainable Choices:
Barefoot Floor’s section on sustainable choices

Construction Deal’s section on sustainable countertops

Women’s Issues:
WIMN’s Voices

Women’s E-News/Resources for Journalists

Medline Plus: Women’s Health

Feminist.com, filled with resources on everything from domestic violence to women-owned businesses

Australian Wildlife Hospital

Wildcare Australia

The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation, with local chapters in many coastal areas

Koala books and gifts at Koala Jo Publishing

A Dream of Drowned Hollow, Gryphon Award-winning environmental suspense/thriller

Environmental strategies:
Live Earth

The Lazy Environmentalist

Clean Ocean Action, working to clean up NJ shores

Oregon Swap – a way to trade what you don’t need for what you do

Vegetarian/vegan eating:
Klassic Koalas: Vegetarian Delights Too Cute to Eat; Vegetarian and vegan recipes –
some of them free!

A Forever-Home Foundation for animal rescue

First Strike: The Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Abuse

Farm Sanctuary

Other newsletters:
Bobbing Around, a potpourri of useful and valuable information

“At the moment our human world is based on the suffering and destruction of millions of non-humans. To perceive this and to do something to change it in personal and public ways is to undergo a change of perception akin to a religious conversion. Nothing can ever be seen in quite the same way again because once you have admitted the terror and pain of other species you will, unless you resist conversion, be always aware of the endless permutations of suffering that support our society.” -- Arthur Conan Doyle

For more links, information, reviews, and suggestions, go to www.leebarwood.com. Or check out my blog on MySpace at www.myspace.com/leebarwood. See you next

Copyright 2008 by Lee Barwood

Selected Works

Love and death tread the boards at a haunted Victorian theater
Love can survive death -- but so can hate. The two collide in this haunted Ozarks tale of betrayal and heroism -- on both sides of the grave.
Australian wildlife images to stimulate creativity in children and adults alike
Vintage wildlife photos illustrate a children's story about koalas
Retellings of eight Australian Aboriginal tales, mostly focusing on the koala -- a powerful figure in Aboriginal lore
Gryphon Award-winning ecological fantasy novel, now available from Double Dragon Publishing (February 2006)
Volume I of The Ribbons of Power, this was Honor Book Award winner in Andre Norton's Gryphon Award competition
Volume II of The Ribbons of Power
A professor is murdered. Can the plot be unraveled?

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