Norwegian journalist on ecology for NY TID, Oslo.

Why submit ourselves?  Stefan Jarl asks in the documentary The Subjection. Why do we accept a life surrounded by danger – unnecessary hazards, which exist because someone profits from them?

The subjection

Stefan Jarl

I tried writing this article three times already. Three times, without succeeding, without being able to put into words all the thoughts buzzing around in my head. What Stefan Jarl portrays in this 2010 documentary, subhead: In defence of the unborn, is so encompassing and great, and its consequences almost impossible to bear. Perhaps especially as I – just like the actress Eva Fürst in the film – is carrying an unborn life, and the responsibility for giving this new, little person the best foundation there is.

After I watched The Subjection, this task seems almost insurmountable, and a greater burden than I ever asked for. I am writing this sitting in a synthetic fibre sofa, probably covered in flame repellent textiles, whilst hammering away at a laptop filled with god-knows-what kind of materials. My fingers hit the plastic, fast, several taps a minute, and I wonder what seeps through my thin underarm skin which I am resting against the machine’s surface. Earlier, I ate a chocolate which was wrapped in plastic, the warmth melted the chocolate a little. Did the plastic contain any hormonally-disruptive substances? Did these ooze into the chocolate? What about pesticide remnants? Do small amounts of lethal chemicals leak out from our bedroom walls? What exactly does the city air that I breathe contain, the water that I drink? Ought I to know this?

Stefan and Eva both want to know. They test their blood to see what hides inside their bodies. Eva is also told what will be transferred to her unborn child. The results are frightening. Not due to the concentration of toxins, or the effects this may have on an adult body, – but because of the effects they could have on an unborn child. It only takes a few millionth for the right (or wrong) hormonal disturbance to affect an embryo at a critical stage. The documentary’s 23 informed researchers draw parallels from hormonally disturbed substances to behavioural problems, obesity and diabetes, cancer, inferior quality sperm and reproductive issues. We are surrounded by these substances, and they are increasing rapidly. We are aware of their consequences – but they are not necessarily easy to detect. Who can imagine that the disease you contract as an adult, really was a programming error which occurred during your time as a cluster of cells in the womb?

The chemicals will break us first. Over the past decade, many diseases have increased so rapidly that it cannot be due to genetics. It must be related to the environment. This was the conclusion of a report initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the WHO. The report concludes that the levels considered safe, must be revalued, and that the testing systems must improve. «Low levels of concentration does not mean low risk, » commented Georg Becher, advisor at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) to in 2014. More than 800 new substances have been linked to hormonal disturbances since 2002, with frightening consequences. So where are the grassroots uprisings, where are the bans? Why do we still allow producers to use these substances? Why are we not able to live by the better-safe-than-sorry principle, when we time and time again have felt the dire consequences caused by the introduction of new materials? Not only do we face uncertain times due to climate change and are headed for Earth’s sixth mass extinction – we are not only leaving our children a damaged planet, we are giving our children a poorer physical and psychological foundation from which to start living – and to create new life. The researchers’ concern in The Subjection is so strong that there is no doubt what they are thinking. Theo Colborn, who already in 1988 revealed the effects hormonally disruptive substances have on the endocrine system of animals found in Canadian lakes, tells us unashamedly not to worry about climate changes – but synthetic chemicals. «They’re going to get us sooner.

All the while we continue to allow the industry to railroad us, newborn after newborn is born with bodies full of toxins.

Toxic skis. Back in Sweden, Röse receives her and her son’s umbilical cord test results. They scare her. Despite the fact that her substance levels are lower than the average, the number of foreign substances is still high, and everything she has inside her, is simultaneously in her son’s much more delicate body. Next time we see her, she is breastfeeding her child, her face etched with sorrow and worry. What is meant to be the safest and most nutritious food for new-borns comes at a price: her body’s unrestricted environmental toxins. What can she do? How can she make amends for what she has exposed, in ignorance and without intention, her children to?

Nothing. The damage, if any, is done. She cannot choose to retain the dangerous substances herself, and there is no escaping them now.

It is gloomy, and rather hopeless. As long as these substances are utilised by the industry, as long as the authorities are not putting their foot down and tightening the laws and testing products, we are unable to avoid them. The control of imported goods is not particularly strong – something which is regularly reflected in the media. A report published by Greenpeace last autumn, shows large concentrations of perfluorinated compound in technical leisurewear. Among those with the highest concentration was Norway’s own Norrøna – despite the fact that these substances are now illegal. Another example is the popular Oslomarka ski trail terrain, where researchers found great concentrations of perfluorinated compound substances. Why? Because in our eagerness to get outside, we have buffed our skis with poisonous ski wax. Professional ski waxers started wearing masks for protection a long time ago – but nature’s animals do not possess that luxury, and we are also unable to shield ourselves as the substances accumulate in the food chain. To be the best in the world, we need to use fluoride, says head waxer for the Norwegian national team to Dagens Næringsliv newspaper. But, is it worth it to be best in the world at the expense of the welfare of an entire ecosystem, ourselves included? When producers do not stay within the law, authorities are unable to enforce it and the competitive instinct triumphs over reason, how are we able to protect ourselves? As a species, why do we continue to hurt ourselves, when we know how dangerous what we do is?

We know. For a long time, the tobacco industry hid research which plainly stated with certainty that smoking was extremely cancerous. The oil industry has concealed studies that show the effects of greenhouse gasses emanating from fossil fuel to be damaging for Earth’s climate. Pretending to be ignorant is now an old joke. We are aware of the dangers. We are aware of the alternatives.  Despite this, we are allowing the industry to railroad us all, in the pursuit of profits and cheap, easy solutions. But even industry insiders will have to pay for their own cynicism and savagery in the end. Their offspring are also innocent victims in this narrative about human inadequacies. And all the while we allow the industry to railroad us, new-born after new-born is born with bodies full of toxins.

No other species have left as many footprints on Earth as man has. Ever since our introduction as a species a little under 200,000 years ago – a mere puff in the history of our planet – has our footprint only increased through the advances and collapses of various civilisations. Our culture has expanded at the expense of the very nature we have set ourselves as masters of. But like Icarus, with his amazing man-made wings, we also tend to fly too close to the sun. We often believe that we are invincible and immortal, and that future science and technology will solve any potential problems we create right now.

I am thinking about myself, and the small, kicking human inside me, and I hope we make it. But the question is nagging me. What have we subjected ourselves to?

The Subjection: Available to buy on DVD via Folkets Bio
Also available on YouTube, uploaded by users Del 1 & Del 2

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