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July 22, 2024

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Update 2020/9/17
Climate Change - Water


By Suzanne Forcese

“Let me tell you that life takes an interesting turn when your name becomes a verb. Well, first my name became a movie and then it became a verb. To ‘Erin Brockovich something’ has become synonymous with investigating and then advocating for a cause without giving up.”
-- Erin Brockovich, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It.

She was catapulted to celebrity status in the 2020 Oscar-winning film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts. The “98% accurate” portrayal of her fight in Hinkley, California, against utility giant, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), was the largest environmental pollution lawsuit in American history.

A file clerk at a law firm, the single mom and former beauty pageant winner with no legal education, Brockovich toppled the billion dollar corporation for its role in groundwater contamination which she linked to a cluster of illnesses in the early 1990’s.

Twenty years later, she is recognized as an icon. Some have even called her a “Water Warrior.” Erin Brockovich is a renowned Consumer Advocate and Environmental Activist running Erin Brockowich Consulting where she advises people on environmental-contamination issues, consults with law firms, and travels the keynote-speaker circuit.

Her new book, Superman’s Not Coming, takes a sombre look at the world’s legacy of contaminated drinking water and brings us a blunt prognosis of water shortages caused by the momentum of climate change. Stark examples of the scars that have been left by the mismanagement of our planet’s most valuable resource speak to the urgency of our remedial actions.

Brockovich is now holding the torch, lighting the way for us to save ourselves.

WATERTODAY spoke with Erin Brockovich, whose legendary style articulated her own passion for water, our planet and every one of us who calls this home. Her ‘chutzpah’ still defines her but WT touched on a newer feminine subtlety of strength. She is a woman comfortable in her own skin having drawn on the strength of a father who taught her to revere water, a mother who taught her stick-to-it-iveness, and teachings from American Indigenous people and fishermen –the people who understand Water.

“Superman is NOT coming. And let me be clear I am not Superwoman but I am here to tell you we have to change. And we have to do it as individuals and as a collective. Superman is you, us.”

Individuals and communities across the globe have been asking Brockovich for help when there is nowhere else to turn.

Governments have failed them, the law has failed them, authorities have failed them. “My name has become synonymous with hope.”

“I think there’s an awakening happening,” Brockovich told WT regarding the challenges that have been thrust upon us. In the midst of a pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, the rollback of the Environmental Protection Agency Guidelines, Brockovich is here help to wipe the sleep from our eyes.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road too long. For the sake of money and greed we did not follow the Safe Drinking Act and now we are in trouble.”

“We need to look at our antiquated infrastructure – lead pipes poison our water supply. We need to look at our antiquated policies and laws. Water has become political. Politics is all or nothing. We have to look at how that has eroded our safety. How do we shore that up? How do we stop the finger-pointing and blame? I want to break through that.”

Hinkley, California, the “Erin Brockovich” town still continues to fight for clean water, nearly 25 years after the residents won a $333 million dollar settlement from PG&E.

Hinleky Sign

“What most people don’t realize is there are 100,000 Hinkley’s in America today. Small farming communities where industry dumps their waste and thinks they can get away with it.

My hope is that if more people know what’s really going on, we can bring life back to these towns.”

Sometimes ‘knowing what’s really going on’ can take years to see any form of resolution. In Flint, the quintessential water story, “with a lot of racism recently received a $600 million settlement with 80% of the funds going to people under 18.”

“It’s bitter-sweet,” Brockovich says.

“There’s a certain amount of feeling that justice is served but what good is it going to do to someone who has cancer and is going to die because of drinking contaminated water?”

Serving as an advanced course in contaminated water knowledge, Brockovich’s book outlines the top toxic chemicals found in water, how they got there, and the potential health hazards they pose.

“We’ve got more than 40,000 chemicals on the market today with only a few being regulated. We’ve had industrial by-products discarded into the ground and our water supply for years.”

The most toxic offenders include:
  • Hexavalent Chromium
  • Chloramines
  • Lead
  • PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) PFOAS, PFAS
  • Fracking Chemicals
  • TCE – Trichloroethylene

“Like a blood test for disease, you can only find what you are looking for. If you don’t order a test for a certain chemical, you won’t find it. You can’t treat water if you don’t know what you are treating.”

Brockovich says, “Before he died, my Dad promised that in my lifetime water would become a commodity more valuable than oil or gold, because there would be so little of it. I believe he was right and that time has come.”

It is from her California home where her words to WATERTODAY sting with that prophecy as wildfires engulf the West Coast. This is Climate Change in real time, something that a “a lot of people can’t visualize until it happens in their own back yard.” “Climate IS Water.”

The last 6 years have been the hottest on record. As our climate changes, and we experience more droughts, floods, superstorms, melting glaciers and rising sea levels we are seeing our water supplies, infrastructure and economies being stressed to the limit.

“We’ve been in drought and so we have less water. Climate change is either about too much water or not enough water.”

Brockovich’s book talks about Cape Town, South Africa. “On Day Zero, when emergency water reserves would reach their lowest point, the city would shut off the majority of their pipes. Faucets at homes and businesses would run dry. To meet the bare needs of survival, citizens would receive 6.6 gallons each – half the UN minimum.

Originally the water was supposed to run dry at some point in 2018. The remarkable efforts didn’t avert Day Zero. They only pushed it further out into the future.”

“Day Zero is coming for all of us if we won’t acknowledge that climate change is here if we don’t prepare and take action. What will we do when there is no food, no water? We need to prepare for the worst.

“We master ourselves by doing it collectively.”

Confident that we can correct the course, she quotes Rachel Carson:

“Man has the fateful power to alter the course of Nature and that’s a battle that will not be won by us. Instead of trying to continue to alter that rather we look to ourselves and master and alter our responses, our solutions, our actions.”

Acknowledging that the system is crumbling, and that she has met with frustration in the past, she sees a new light dawning as the superheroes of the day are stepping forth.

“I’m here to give you permission to take this on. It took me some time to figure that out. I have dyslexia. I wanted to be a doctor but was told I couldn’t because of my dyslexia. And I was pushed back. I was pushed back because I am not a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor. I was pushed back because of the way I dress and told ‘what do you know?’”

“I don’t have to be any of that to be human and to tell you that I have a voice. What I see is wrong. Grab that torch. Get more knowledge, more support and just keep going. Don’t ever let anyone get in your way.”

It all starts with the individual. “If your water smells funny or has a weird colour, there is something wrong with it. Demand water reports. Learn what they mean. Find ways to monitor water in your own community. Get your neighborhood together, go to council meetings, get elected, use social media, radio, TV.

“Leverage with other communities and network with collective communities. Here’s where you own the water.”

“Empowerment is a process that happens as we give ourselves authority to act on what feels right, what we know is right.”

Is there Hope?

“About 90% of the time it’s the moms. They are educating themselves. They are going to council meetings. They are getting elected to councils. They are actually getting things done in their own backyard. They no longer have the comfort to believe an agency has our back.”

We also need to listen to our Youth.

“They have the courage. It’s wonderful to see how their minds work. My own kids often say the most profound things. “We are the Baby Boomers. We’re great activists. We’ve accumulated wisdom. Put our generation together with the younger generation and we will see things happen.”

“The time has come for us to save ourselves.”
--Erin Brockovich


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