Our Heroes: Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch

photo from Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter wants you to get more political. As the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, Hauter has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. She is also a skilled organizer (something she says she genuinely likes doing). With an activist mindset from an early age, Wenonah says she was inspired by early suffragettes and believes strongly that we need to strengthen our democracy, which means getting people involved in issues like genetically engineered and overprocessed foods, fracking and polluted waterways.

According to Hauter, people have to be more than consumers. That said, she advises people to shop wisely, stay away from processed food and shop in the periphery of the grocery stores where less processed food is displayed. I spoke with her earlier this month and we talked for a bit about Hauter’s vision of what a well-functioning democracy might look like.

Below is a sampling of what we talked about. You can listen to the whole interview (approximately 39 minutes) by clicking on the audio player to the right.

I know you've been working a lot to educate people about hydraulic fracturing. Can you talk a little bit about what those efforts have been like and where we're headed? Because it’s not a black and white issue. It’s such a gray issue and it’s become so controversial.

Well, you know, we really believe that it’s time to start fighting for what we really want, not the best that we can get. And that’s really important when you are talking about fracking. We believe that fracking poses a tremendous threat to agriculture, to our drinking water, and to our climate, because when you are injecting millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand, four or five miles underground at very high pressure and breaking open the rock and releasing gas there’s all sorts of contamination that can happen. And in fact, there’s even evidence that the process of fracking creates so many climate change gases that it may also be making the greenhouse effect worse, and instead of being a transition fuel, might actually add to the problem in the future.

We really believe that it’s time to start fighting for what we really want, not the best that we can get.

We think that it’s controversial because the gas industry has put a tremendous amount of money into making allies with some environmental groups that are well intended, but that have linked their work on energy and alternative energy to gas as a transition fuel-we don’t see it as a transition fuel. [Horizontal well] drilling for fracking is just extremely polluting. The chemicals are toxic and can contaminate water from spills or from accidents. It produces hazardous wastewater which can contain radioactive substances as well as toxic chemicals and it’s almost impossible to dispose of. It requires trillions of gallons of water to do what the natural gas industry wants to do around the world. And we all know that we're facing a threat from climate change and from other environmental issues to water, and we may not have enough water in the future.

Fracking can cause natural gas to migrate into drinking water sources, and it can cause housing and wells to explode, and there have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near drilling sites. We don’t think it can be regulated, we think it needs to be banned. But no matter what, we believe that by opening up the political space to talk about a ban, to talk about all of the environmental consequences helps us build the case for why fracking is dangerous.

If you could change something about human behavior, what would it be?

Well, you know, I think that we have to create the kind of society that trains and teaches people because, you know, we're animals, that’s what I believe; we're basically animals. And we are self-interested and we have to train our children and ourselves to be more altruistic and I think that somehow that gets lost for some people. And so I think it’s creating the kind of society that it incentivizes really good citizenship and caring behavior. And I believe that we live in a commons and that we have to take care of our global commons. And I think that we need to view ourselves less as individuals and more as part of this commons because in our society there is so much emphasis put on individualism. And being an individual is important, but being a member of a productive society is important and protecting our global commons, I think trumps it all.

Given all the tough issue and the complexity of your days, it must be nice to have your own organic farm. I mean that’s basically living your philosophies and it must be great to have that to go home to. Can you talk about that transition that you have to go through and what it’s like for you when you are on the farm?

Well, I spend my weekends on my family farm, I used to live there fulltime, but because of the incredible traffic in the Washington area and the three and a half to four hour commute that I have come to have, I now spend my weekdays in Washington. But I find that going home to my farm just keeps me in touch with the environment. I mean I do a lot of the things that I have always done. I love to can, I love to cook, I love to walk, and it just reminds me of what we're all fighting for, and I just feel super, super privileged to have that opportunity.

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