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The Greatest Health Threat We Face Today: War

Meredith Bruskin holding sign “WAR = CLIMATE CHAOS” (photo credit: Gigi Larc)

Approaching the 20th anniversary of the climate disaster cleverly titled the “War on Terror” — clever, because you’re never going to win a war against an abstract noun — I’m sharing some words of wisdom from a dear friend. 

Nurse practicioner Meredith Bruskin spoke on the theme “Climate is Health” at our protest of the Blue Angels air show climate crime last weekend in Brunswick. 

You can see video of her remarks if you prefer to receive information that way.

Mary Beth Sullivan & me with ARRT! banner and our Maine Natural Guard shirts
(photo credit: Gigi Larc)

Thank you Luke for speaking about the next generations, something that Indigenous People always consider. I would like to start by recognizing we are on Indigenous land. In addition to the Abenaki, the place we now call MaINE IS HOME TO THE SOVEREIGN PEOPLE OF THE WABANAKI CONFEDERACY, THE PENOBSCOT, PASSAMAQUODDY,, MALISEET AND MI’KMAQ PEOPLES. We live on their unceded homelands as they continue their struggle with the State of Maine to recognize their inherent sovereignty.

Their struggle is central to the health of all Maine’s people– because it is a fight for the rights of Mother Earth and for community, against State and corporate control and disregard of our natural resources. And I want to express gratitude for their dedicated stewardship of this land and waters, for past, present and future generations.

When Lisa asked me to talk about climate and health, it seemed simple — climate is health. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat — all essential for our physical health. And when toxins and carcinogens spill into the earth and waters in the interest of corporate profits, cancers increase. We all know that plastic is choking our fish and oceans, burying islands in the South Pacific and spilling into the rivers here in Maine, that lead is poisoning our eagles and our children and tainting our tapwater, and carbon dioxide is strangling the breath of the entire planet–and stoking the cycles of droughts and floods and extreme weather patterns that are traumatizing people around the globe.

Gigi Larc with ARRT! sandwich board (photo credit: Mary Beth Sullivan)

And the pursuit of endless war to increase the profits of our arms dealers and their investors, militarize this country internally, and prop up a fossil fuel economy an d a political system built on white supremacy that has brought us to this raging time, all have a terrible cost in mental health and spirit. Our worsening addiction crisis is no surprise. PTSD from Climate crisis and war are rampant; and we are still losing 18 veterans every day, to suicide.

Jason Rawn with a message for Blue Angels air show audience
(photo credit: Mary Beth Sullivan)

The greatest health threats we face today are war and the existential threat of nuclear war

either by accident or climate catastrophe or what I would call, insanity — and the risk of a climate disaster causing a nuclear meltdown is terribly real — I imagine folks in Louisiana understand that really well right now.

Every climate catastrophe causes illness, stress that affects our immune systems, trauma, displacement and increased pollution of our land and waters that in turn causes an increase in illness and lowers life expectancy. And we know the connection to the unequal burden of both climate change and militarism on people of color, indigenous peoples, and the poor.

This pandemic gives us a clear view of the effect on health of the deep inequality in our society. We CAN afford healthcare for all our citizens. It would actually save us money to have a Medicare for All system, and it would save thousands of lives yearly as well. Surely, the money spent on displays promoting the military like the Blue Angels could be a hefty down payment for maternal healthcare, and to support Women’s Right to Choose! — let alone that just half of the Pentagon’s budget could wipe out hunger nationwide.

Recently about 50 people, activists like us, walked in Asheville, North Carolina to protest Raytheon — the second largest arms manufacturer world wide — relocating part of its manufacturing to North Carolina for cheaper labor, in a “military” supporter state.

Speaking out about military spending and the effect this will have on the climate crisis, one of the protestors, Steve Norris said: ” This is local resistance to a national disease.”

Exactly. We each do whatever we can to choose health over the disease of power by wealth and the war and disaster economy that supports it. Despite the fire raging, we continue. That is what we do. Just like the healthcare workers who are currently risking their lives and exhausting their spirits in their work caring for people in this pandemic, likely a virus very connected to the climate crisis. Just as the indigenous and environmental activists at Line 3 and at pipeline sites around the world who risk arrest and beatings–and in some cases, their lives, continue–so do we.

We will not let them glorify destruction in our name without speaking out.

And every time we speak the truth, we shore up our immune systems and together, share that strength. Despite . Thanks for being here.

I would like to read a poem I dedicate to all of you, called “Despite”…

Cold crisp day, close to breaking

wafer thin , lifted gently

from its lair between tissues

of time : what was, what will be.

And it will. Filled with sky as

translucent as breath

and just as new, these mountains

shared with all their valleys

and companions, oh the friends

that walk with us along the way!

Rich as rain after a long dry time,

as a fire, on a cold winter night.

For this, beloved, I sing my song.

This is the light

that the heart carries.

Despite. Despite.

— Meredith Bruskin, Swanville

Despite a large turnout and great speeches like Meredith’s, there was very little media coverage of our protest of the Blue Angels air show. This despite advance press releases and follow up calls.

You can read Sam Pfeifle’s analysis of this news blackout here, published by Maine Beacon

Notable exception: C. Thacher Carter in the Times Record who phoned me after the event. His article covering the air show also appeared in the Portland Press Herald, Lewiston Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal, and Waterville Morning Sentinel (all papers with the same owner).

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