This isn’t a book I planned to read. From my perspective, Brockovich’s activism is more relevant to American readers and I’d be better off reading Maude Barlow’s Whose Water Is It Anyway? (2019).

In some respects, this is true. Brockovich does present some detailed information and updates about water pollution and scarcity in specific communities and regions in the United States.

But even when that’s true, there’s a much broader truth alongside. With just a handful of pages, I decided to read on. Consider this: “In Hinkley, and everywhere since, the problems I work on start with a lie – something we are all taught about as kids growing up.”

In this era of “alternative facts”, each of us bears a renewed responsibility to investigate and educate ourselves. When Rachel Carson was questioning the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the United States in the mid-20th-century, she was vilified and attacked by industry representatives. (Even though she did not advocate for those substances to be banned, only to be tested, and she even recommended their use in some situations—in areas struggling with malaria, for instance.)

Decades later, little has changed. The Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed how often and devastatingly corporations have interfered with the scientific process to prioritize profits over safety and sustainability. Brockovich shares specifics, but generally speaking, corporations can manipulate and control the scientific process by: terminating and suppressing research, intimidating or coercing individuals; manipulating study designs and research protocols, ghostwriting scientific articles, and engineering publication bias (i.e. only revealing data which supports their desired outcome). She’s talking about water, but it doesn’t end there.

And why do we care? That’s a question that Brockovich urges us to answer—why. For her, it’s her grandkids. “I think of their sweet, innocent faces and my love for them. Then I think of all the children who need our voices and need us to fight for their future. I think of their happiness and for a healthy, clean world for them to live in and enjoy. It keeps me motivated, especially when the work seems daunting. Think about your why and let that fuel your fighting spirit.”

So, yes, she does list the top six water contaminants (with varying nomenclature). And she does discuss changes in staffing levels at the Environmental Protection Agency (and the recent impact of #45’s administration too). And how the recurring harmful algae bloom (HAB) in Florida used to be an issue between October and February but, in 2018, its impact stretched through ten of the twelve months (killing sea life and birds).

But she’s also down-to-earth and forthright, even inspiring: “None of us need a Ph.D. or a science degree, or need to be a politician or a lawyer to be aware and to protect our right to clean water. I’ll take you step by step through how to take these actions to save your family and community.”

Here’s a brief excerpt of one of the denser elements, with a lot of information in a small space, but all clear and comprehensive and it ends on your dinner plate, so the relevance is clear and immediate:

“Chicken is big business in our country. Americans eat more chicken than any other country in the world, according to the National Chicken Council. Each year, the chicken industry (which consists of about thirty-five large companies) raises and slaughters almost 9 billion chickens for food. At the top of that chicken chain is Tyson, which processes and sells more than $11 billion worth of chickens each year and leads in the production of ready-to-cook poultry products. The company has a long record of criminal prosecutions for both pollution and labor practices. Tyson was the second-biggest polluter of our waterways from 2010 to 2014, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, ranking only behind AK Steel and just about the U.S. Department of Defense. Tyson and its subsidiaries’ processing plants dumped more than 104 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways during that time, more than Cargill, Koch Industries, and ExxonMobil combined. Think about that the next time you’re shopping for chicken at your grocery store.” (This was prepared for print pre-Covid, but there are fresh horrors every week for their workers, too. Just last week, for instance: here.)

When’s the last time you read a book about the state of the planet?

Even if you haven’t opted to read it, what’s the last book on the subject that you considered reading?

And, if you’ve never read one, what would convince you to do so?

And, yes, I’m really asking: I really want to know!