Me po-faced? It's hard not to be when you look around

"Lighten up!" I knew my friend was trying to be constructive, but I couldn't let it lie.

"What the hell does that

mean?"

"Less outrage, more humour. You're funny in life, po-faced on the page."

"So what's your suggestion?"

"Lighten up on the issues," he offered again, infuriatingly.

"What? Treat serious subjects lightly and take the fluff seriously?"

"Yeah, start with that."

"You mean, heavy on the children and light on Chernobyl?"

At that point he zipped his lip.

Maybe it's not clear from this exchange but I thrive on dialogue. I'm in a business where it's vital, so my experience as a columnist has been quite bizarre. Dialogue? It barely exists. I hungrily eyeball other people's columns, dazzled by the brilliance and brevity of Hugo Young, the fluidity and ease of Beatrix Campbell, but I'm reliably informed that the lack of feedback is par for the course, whoever the columnist. There is the odd flurry of mail from academics when I've touched on someone's pet passion or peeve. Otherwise, it's friends and family chipping in with their tuppence worth. Viz this incitement to lighten up. The fact is nothing in my life is very funny at the moment. There are problems with The Body Shop in France that need immediate attention. The malls of America are imposing an anonymity on our business that is the polar opposite of everything we stand for. And my daughter Sam keeps insisting I get involved in things I have no knowledge of, and less time for, which leaves me feeling guilty. Plus the fact that anyone who has a regular platform like a newspaper column has a responsibility, to themselves as well as to their readers. Otherwise, it's just more bloody masturbation. Like many women my age, I'm at a point in my life where I'm reinventing myself. The cosiness of the nest-building years is well behind me, and something new and not cosy is kicking in. I've been through something of a media blitz this week and it's impossible to ignore the fact that the journalists I've been talking to are interested not in cosmetics but in the voice of dissent. If it's true that you are what you eat, I feel like I read with my gut as well, and I know my own appetite for print is best satisfied by almost anything published by the alternative press. That is where I find the kinds of questions and answers that are most relevant to the state we're in, and that's where a lot of the information I'm using in this column is coming from. Inspiring stuff, but there isn't always a hell of a lot of light there.

HERE'S an example from Yes! magazine. It would take one Haitian worker producing Disney dolls and clothes 166 years to earn as much as Disney President Michael Eisner makes in one day. And Eisner isn't even one of the seven richest men in the world, whose wealth, if they all clubbed together, would apparently be sufficient to sort out global poverty. Numbers can play tricks with your head, but at the root of these particular juxtapositions, there is once again something to do with a sense of proportion and responsibility. And there is nothing more essential for functioning in the modern world, whether you're an individual or a corporation. That's why tales of corporate irresponsibility so often turn out to be horror stories. The one we're all bit-players in has to do with the impact of toxic exposure on ordinary lives. The cocktail of chemicals we're exposed to daily from sources as diverse as plastic water bottles, pesticides, meat and industrial incinerators has raised the prospect that boys may be born infertile in 70 years' time. Does anyone stop to make those vital cause-and-effect connections? Scientists seem particularly reluctant to make any definitive link between environmental toxins and human health. One bright spark who did make the connection was still quite chipper about it. He tried to convince me that the human organism is so resilient it will simply mutate around anything it has trouble dealing with.

THAT kind of blind faith coupled with a bottom-line business-as-usual attitude makes for a deadly combination. I guess it kept doctors prescribing diethylstilboestrol, a synthetic hormone designed to prevent miscarriages, for 19 years after it was discovered high doses of DES, used to fatten livestock, caused health problems in workers. It was banned in the US in 1971, though it is prescribed today elsewhere despite the tragic evidence of its long-term effects on the women who took it and the babies they bore: severe infertility in DES sons and daughters; high-risk pregnancies and miscarriages in DES daughters; increased rate of testicular cancer in DES sons and a rare form of cervical cancer in DES daughters; and possible immune system damage in everyone it touched. DES is a dioxin, one of many in our environment. They work as "endocrine disrupters", which means they interfere with the proper function of the body's hormones. They're resilient and they travel well, so the output of an incinerator burning nerve gas supplies in Utah will end up who knows where? They store well in fatty tissue - an animal eats contaminated plants, bigger animals eat them, and so on. And guess who is at the top of the food chain? They are synergistic, which means that when one toxic chemical meets another, the impact may be more than the sum of its parts. So we've made the world a better place for these poisons. What I find morbidly fascinating is that we seem to be creating an environment in which it is increasingly difficult to breed successfully. And if you don't think that kind of death wish in an entire species is a wake-up call to action, then maybe lightening up is a perfectly legitimate response to the way of the world. I prefer to think that we can insist on accountability from the corporations that pollute our lives and we can make responsibility, both corporate and individual, the tenet of the future. And that's serious business.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform