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  January/February 2000 Features:
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Goodbye to All That
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Mixed Media
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Sierra Magazine
Mixed Media: Video

Books | Videos | Web

Prevention First

Exposure, Women's Network on Health and the Environment, $40; (416) 928-0880

"Whether you're one-breasted, no-breasted, or two-breasted, this is a two-fisted fight," Bella Abzug says in this stylish, fast-paced documentary exploring the environmental links to breast cancer. Abzug lost her own battle with the disease a year after the video was released.

Breast cancer strikes even the healthiest among us, including narrator Olivia Newton-John. "I was the one [in eight]. Even though I ate well, exercised, and didn't drink or smoke," she says. "What caused it? Was it from the pesticides sprayed on the fruits and vegetables I ate? The polluted air I breathed when I went running? Or was it in the water I drank?"

Such questions inevitably haunt women diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting beyond the usual blame-the-victim factors like smoking, drinking, and poor diets, Exposure examines how pollution may increase cancer risk. "All cancer is genetic," says surgeon Susan Love. "Sometimes you inherit a screwed-up gene. More commonly, you inherit normal genes and something comes along in the environment and screws up the genes."

Scientists in Exposure argue that radiation and toxic chemicals do just that. Images of industrial wastelands, smokestacks billowing great clouds of brown smoke, and dark forboding skies set the scene as we meet epidemiologist Rosalie Bertell. Since Chernobyl, she says, radioactive residues can be found worldwide in milk, water, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. And she warns, "There is no level of radiation that will not cause cellular damage."

Bertell blames our "preoccupation with creating megadeath" as the major source of pollution. Our society took its wartime herbicides, pesticides, and defoliants, she says, "watered them down a little and then [said] they're good for your fields and crops. What we're finding out is that these things that are designed to kill are killing people."

We still don't have absolute proof that environmental poisons are playing a role in rising breast cancer rates, epidemiologist Devra Lee Davis acknowledges. "But what do you do while we scientists continue our research? Do you wait until you have enough dead bodies before you take action?"

Scanning a hillside art installation of thousands of torso sculptures, the film reminds us how many women we’ve lost. And it makes a compelling case that pollution prevention is the first step toward saving lives.
—Liza Gross

Power Play

Renewable Power: Earth's Clean Energy Destiny, The Video Project, $39.95; (800) 4-PLANET

What will it take to get a high-schooler who's seen The Phantom Menace three times interested in the wonky world of renewable energy? With its 3-D computer graphics, NASA images, and even a shiny BMW sedan thrown in, this educational video stands a good chance.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, the video shows how we entered the Age of Oil and why we're on the verge of leaving it barely 100 years later. Images of auto-infatuated suburbanites in the 1950s give way to more modern scenes of traffic congestion and air pollution, followed by a primer on the benefits of solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric power. The shots of sleek wind turbines slicing the air above rolling farmland and a sea of photovoltaic panels reflecting the afternoon sun are striking. It's hard to imagine being as captivated by photos from an oil refinery.

The video will easily capture the attention of students (and their parents, if they don't want to be left behind) when it moves on to discuss hydrogen fuel cells, the most high-tech side of renewable energy. Slick computer animation shows how a fuel cell turns hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element in the universe, into electricity while emitting only harmless water vapor. (For more information on fuel cells, see "Your Next Car?" Sierra, July/August 1999.)

This 25-minute video, winner of a 1999 Gold Apple Award from the National Educational Media Network, makes the provocative suggestion that developments in renewable energy will be "as revolutionary as microchips." Who knows what future Thomas Edison or even Henry Ford will be inspired by it.
—Reed McManus

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