I suspect that most of you have heard by now that Theo Colborn died on Sunday at the age of 87. The book that she co-authored, Our Stolen Future, awoke the world to the devastating impacts of endocrine disruptors on wildlife and humans. Many people have referred to her as the second Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring had woken us to the tragic effects of pesticides. As with Silent Spring, Our Stolen Future drew out the chemical industry in an unsuccessful effort to destroy her reputation.
Theo’s successes were numerous. When the 27th International Neurotoxicology Conference gave Theo an award in 2011, it was “in gratitude, for legions of children not yet born, but because of you, shielded from harm.”
We in the Great Lakes were so fortunate to have Theo focus much of her energy on health issues in the Great Lakes. The research that she drew together that led to a new understanding of the threats and impacts of endocrine disruptors came from the work of many scientists studying the Great Lakes basin. She spent much of her time in the Great Lakes basin spreading the word, helping set the agenda, and inspiring so many of us. She served on the IJC’s Ecosystem Health workgroup of its Science Advisory Board for 14 years. Through this work she helped set the agenda for the Great Lakes. And from here her messages spread throughout the world. Recently, she focussed much of her energy on waking people up to the health problems associated with fracking. Two years ago she was the main presenter on a webinar that Great Lakes United held on fracking; over two hundred people participated.
I know that many of you remember profound times with Theo. I was so fortunate to be on the advisory committee for her “Great Lakes. Great Legacy?” project in the 1980s and to be part of the meetings she held to strategize on how to confront the problem. This project developed into Our Stolen Future, published in 1996. Whenever we at Great Lakes United called upon her, she was sure to appear and bring her inspiration.
A few of her traits that are such an inspiration were: she was a scientist with an amazing ability to synthesize the research of others to come to new understandings of the implications of their findings for all life; she recognized the need to spread her findings and to strategize with activists to stimulate a movement to solve the problems the scientists were finding; she had an amazing ability to spread the word without over simplifying the science; she had an astonishing strength to stand up against industries efforts to destroy her; in recognition of this trait, In These Times recently titled an interview with her “Nemesis of the Chemical Giants;” despite her fame, Theo was a humble friend to so many of us. She always saw us activists as essential co-workers in our shared missions.
I urge you to read the linked interview with Theo that In These Times published in September. In two short pages, Theo’s vision and personality and most importantly inspiration for how we need to continue come out so clearly.