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Janet's Planet: Meet Canadian Environmental Activist and Blogger Janet McNeill

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"If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them." -- Paul Wellstone [quote from JanetsPlanet.ca]

My guest today is Janet McNeill. We met last year in DC at a convention for spiritual progressives.  Welcome to OpEdNews, Janet. You've been blogging for a few years now. What got you going? And what do you write about?

McNeill had just been arrested crossing a line at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, at a tar sands protest last September; photo credit: Renee Leahy

Hmmmm. What got me going is a good question! I've been an obsessive writer for some years now, and have written environment columns for a variety of small town newspapers for the past 20 years (and have been an environmental activist for the same length of time I've been writing about environmental issues).

I guess the idea of blogging appealed to me because of the aspect of total freedom to say whatever I want to say. (When writing for weekly newspapers, I was always having to censor myself and stay away from topics that would "offend" readers.)

No advertisers to offend. No one paying me - just total freedom to say whatever I feel like saying!

I write about - well, you know, that's an interesting question! Possibly someone else should answer that.

I feel what I write about is the intersection of the personal and the political. What is it that has led to this mind-blowing environmental crisis? I recall someone saying years ago that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. And I have long believed that this is so.

So I write about how these two things intersect.

AND, in the past two or three years, I've become very involved in nuclear issues. So, lately, a lot of what I write is about the nuclear madness that I feel seriously threatens our very existence on this planet.

You posted a very interesting blog recently on recycling. You went in an unexpected direction with it. Would you care to share with our readers?

Well. As I learned a couple of years ago, it turns out that the nuclear industry has now created so much waste that their latest scheme is to "recycle" it (so-called) into the world in whatever means they find possible.

So, for example, radioactive waste is becoming a problem for the world's scrap metal supply.

And, most recently, there have been metal "tissue holders" in various locations in the U.S. (from Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in more than 20 states, including New York) that have been discovered to contain "low levels of radioactive material."

It takes a while working on nuclear issues to begin to be able to cut through what anti-nuclear activists call "Nukespeak."

For example, the phrase "low levels." In the nuclear industry, there are NEVER high levels of radioactive material. Any emissions or releases are ALWAYS low, or negligible, or "of no concern."

This is an industry that claims to be very, very "scientific," yet their own language is notably unscientific.

So we ought not to be reassured to hear that our tissue holders involve "little to no risk to human health." Rather, the question we should be asking is "How the heck did radioactive material get into my tissue box holder in the first place?????"

For more on this, you can read the article "Tissue holders pulled from stores in NY, elsewhere" here . By all means, please also consider reading the blog post entitled "Recycling: the good, the bad & the ugly" here .  The posting provides links to a number of sources where you can learn plenty more about the issue of radioactive materials winding up in consumer goods. This issue has been developing for some time now - I'm a newcomer to it myself, and for sure, we all need to become much more aware!

I also wrote a series of six blog postings last fall after attending a three-day conference in Toronto on nuclear waste. These can be found starting here .

Yikes! Once we know the extent of the problem, what can we actually do to keep ourselves from being poisoned by this "harmless" nuclear waste?

That's another good question. And it reminds me of how shocked I was when I attended two conferences (one in Hamilton, Ontario & the other in Chicago) and learned more than I really wanted to know about lead.

These are such serious issues that there is no simple way to tell people how to avoid exposures to these contaminants that are so toxic and, unfortunately, so widespread.

I guess I feel the only thing I can advise is to become an activist!

For sure, it appears the nuclear industry is bent on doing three things with nuclear waste (of which there is plenty, and no solutions in sight, either.

As Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear has said, "29 years after passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 36 years after the repository search began, 54 years into commercial nuclear power, and 69 years after Fermi first split the atom during the Manhattan Project,the U.S. still has no safe, sound, permanent storage plan for high-level nuclear wastes." -- Beyond Nuclear

(lots of great nuke-related quotes and resources of all kinds on my blog here.

Okay. The three things the industry is up to:  transporting/exporting waste (e.g. from a reactor down in New Brunswick to an incinerator in Tennessee as just one small example), incinerating it, and "free-releasing" it. (This refers to loosening regulations about what can be permitted to be disposed of in a regular landfill site, and also to this business of so-called "recycling" of nuclear wastes.)

Dear me. It's nasty, it really is.

Seems to me as though only a lot more citizen activism and education of the public about what's going on will really help! Have to admit, my own education on nuclear issues has been quite a learning curve.

Basically, the nuclear industry now has a great deal of nuclear waste to deal with, and no neat or tidy solutions. So they are poised to spread it hither & yon, and only public engagement will get this stopped.

The blog posting on this page here provides a partial list of groups active on nuclear issues in Canada and the U.S. I know the list is incomplete, but for sure it's a starting place.

A quotation that came my way a couple of years ago now that has really raised my consciousness is this one from Frank Zappa: "Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex."

Quite a zinger, and, sadly, I fear, all too true!

This is a serious and stubborn issue - but also a great time to become involved and help keep nuclear waste from landing on our very doorsteps!

Two U.S. groups that provide a ton of good info on all things nuclear are NIRS (Nuclear Information Resource Service) and Beyond Nuclear. Both groups have fact sheets, videos, brochures: you name it. And fantastically knowledgeable & committed staff.

My own view is that we have to stop nuclear energy now and force the industry to devote all its energy and resources to decommissioning all their facilities and safeguarding the already-existing wastes now and into the far distant future. We just can't afford to let this insanely dangerous industry keep on poisoning the planet!

You live in Canada. Is policy there more enlightened than here in the States? Are citizens more knowledgeable and activist on this subject?

I wish I could say yes, but I'd be lying. Awareness here is very low. Unfortunately, (and I hate to sound like a grump or unpatriotic or something) we Canadians are a pretty apathetic lot. (I've been known to call us smug, too, and many of us are.) I think most environmental issues are so stubborn and nasty that people don't know how to take them on.

One thing that delights me is the cooperation among Canadian and American activists. But we need a LOT more activism on both sides of the border!

I may have forgotten to mention that the very best and most rewarding thing about activism is the people you meet! Awesome, awesome passionate, intelligent, committed people. Ever since I became an activist, I've found my circle of friends expanding and expanding endlessly. Just the very best and finest people...

A good observation that my own experience has borne out as well. Thank you so much for talking with me. It was a pleasure, Janet. Keep up the good work!
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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