Copenhagen Zoo Euthanize More Healthy Animals

lions

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the latest series of healthy animals that were euthanized by the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark.

Even though the Copenhagen Zoo certainly didn’t need any more bad publicity, it has nonetheless decided to euthanize a family of lions in order to incorporate a new male lion into the population without fear of compromising genetic purity.  The Zoo received a major backlash in February for euthanizing a healthy giraffe known as Marius.[1]

The healthy giraffe, informally called Marius, was a popular attraction at the Copenhagen Zoo.  The zoo officials decided to euthanize Marius when it received word that it would be introducing a new giraffe into the population for breeding purposes, and that there would be no room for Marius as a result.

Rather than allow one of the many other interested zoos that did have room to have Marius transferred over to them, the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize Marius, butcher him in front of a crowd, and feed him to the lions.  Zoo officials argued that doing so was for the educational benefit of the observers, many of them students from various local schools.

Ironically, the lions that fed upon Marius are the same lions that were euthanized.  The lions were a 14 year old female, a 16 year old male and their two cubs.  According to representatives from the zoo, the cubs were in danger of being preyed upon by the new lion, and the new dynamic would have caused the older male lion to view his own offspring as suitable mates, thereby creating inbred offspring.

European zoo protocol is very different from practices embraced in the United States. In Europe, zoo animals are not sterilized; the animals are simply put down rather than risk the possibility of inbred offspring.  Zoologists argue that euthanasia, rather than contraception, is the more efficient means of preserving genetically desirable animals, and that sentimentality rather than science could result in an abundance of inbred zoo animals.

It is very interesting that science and nature are the first arguments that zoo officials turn to when it comes to making decisions about zoo animals’ genetic desirability.  None of the zoo animals are fit to be returned to the wild; every one of them will spend the remainder of their lives either on display for a paying public or at a protected animal sanctuary where their environment is wholly controlled.

If the idea is that these animals are to be kept as nature intended, then it is supremely ironic that it makes absolutely no difference in terms of the global wild animal population.  Furthermore, how does systematically butchering a giraffe and feeding it directly to a population of captive lions educate anyone on wild animal behavior?

All in all, the argument about the scientific rationality in euthanizing healthy animals in order to protect the gene pool is what magicians call a plausible diversion: The part of the trick that keeps the audiences’ eyes away from where the switch is being pulled.  The zoos’ main concern is revenue; they want a robust population of captive animals, they want them to behave as closely as they would in the wild in order to keep patrons happy and they don’t want the expense of dealing with animals that are inconvenient.  If we aren’t comfortable with the reality of zoos’ operations, then maybe we shouldn’t fund their practices by visiting them.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Bilefsky, Dan: Danish Zoo, Reviled in the Death of a Giraffe, Kills 4 Lions 3/26/2014 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/world/europe/lion-killing-at-danish-zoo-provokes-fresh-outrage.html?_r=0

Obese Father’s May Be Linked to a Child’s Risk for Autism Disorders

FatDad and Son

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses a new study about how paternal obesity was strongly associated with an increased risk for autism disorders in children.

In the May issue of Pediatrics, Pal Suren, MD, MPH, and his colleagues of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo wrote that children of obese fathers had an increased risk for developing autistic disorder and Asperger disorder, and the risk grew with increasing body mass index (BMI). [1]

The risk of autistic disorder was 0.27% in children with obese fathers compared to 0.14% in children whose fathers were not overweight or obese.

For the risk of Asperger disorder, 0.38% for the children with obese fathers and 0.18% in children with normal-weight fathers.

These results differ from a 2012 study that found mothers who were obese before pregnancy had a 67% increase in having children with autism spectrum disorders. [2]

“We had thought that maternal obesity may somehow be related to autism, but this is the first time anyone has looked at paternal weight, and the findings suggest we may have gotten it wrong,” commented Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in Lake Success, N.Y.

Adesman, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that it is not clear from either of the studies if obesity plays a role in autism. Even if future studies did show cause, the impact of parental obesity on autism spectrum disorders is likely to be small.

“Most of the children with autism in this study were not born to obese fathers and most of the children born to obese fathers did not develop autism,” said Adesman. “The risk increased (for autistic disorder) from 15 per 10,000 cases (children with normal weight fathers) to 25 in 10,000 (children with obese dads), which is still very, very low.”

The study used a population study that included a sample of close to 93,000 children (mean age being 7.4) in Norway derived from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.  At the end of the follow-up in December 2012, autism spectrum disorders had been diagnosed in 419 of the children, which specifically was 162 cases of autistic disorder, 103 or Asperger disorder, and 154 of pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

Among those cases, 43% had been clinically assessed through the Autism Birth Cohort Study while 57% had autism spectrum disorder diagnose confirmed by a specialist.

The results are not definitive, and even the researchers wrote “The potential effects should be further investigated through attempts at replication of our analysis, and, if these are positive, through genetic and epigenetic studies. It should also be explored whether paternal overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of other neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”

By Michael Omidi

 

Sources:

[1] Stenberg N, Identifying children with autism spectrum disorder at 18 months in a general population sample. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24547686

[2] Paula Krakowiak, Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/04/04/peds.2011-2583.abstract

http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/Autism/45127

North American Ducks Dying All Along the Great Lakes

dead_ducks

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the phenomenon killing North American ducks all along the Great Lakes, as well as the efforts to save the survivors.

This past fall and winter have been very hard on many species of North American wild animals; moose have been dying in record numbers, and now, ducks.

North American ducks have been dying by the thousands, at a rate unmatched in recent history.  Biologists from the state Department of Environmental Conservation have tallied duck carcasses littering the shores all along the Niagara River corridor since the beginning of this winter, which has been especially perishing.[1]

The unusually blistering cold has caused the lakes to freeze over completely, rendering the only food source for these ducks inaccessible.  The bodies of the birds are largely completely starved, with only a thin layer of skin stretched over their bones and nothing but parasites in their digestive tracts.

Others have been forced to eat Zebra mussels, which carry fatal toxins.  The weakened state of the ducks has compromised their ability to look for sustenance elsewhere, and many of the birds were found further south, having expired from the effort of migrating.

The alarming rate at which these ducks are succumbing to starvation has caused environmental offices to take drastic action.  Rather than watch the duck population diminish, representatives from the Erie chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have decided to intervene by capturing the surviving population and feeding them.

At this time of year, hundreds of thousands of red-breasted mergansers migrate south from Alaska to the Great Lakes.  This particular breed of ducks cannot eat the typical scraps that are left over from, or given to them by, humans; they can only digest fish.  A red-breasted merganser must eat approximately 250 live minnows per day.  Thus far, the SPCA has tried to rescue more than 150 starving ducks from starvation.

These ducks, which were found by regular citizens wandering in public lots or in yards, are being tube-fed, until they are strong enough to eat live fish.  These species of ducks are almost entirely water bound for their natural lives, and don’t really spend much time on solid land at all.  However, many of the birds have been so depleted of strength and fat, and are so weighted down by mud and road salt, that they cannot even float.

After several weeks of rehabilitation, the birds will be released back into the wild.

The Erie county SPCA has served its community since 1867, and after the ASPCA (an independent entity and not related to the Erie county SPCA), is the oldest humane society in the United States.  The facilities manage over 14,000 animals per year.

The SPCA has done remarkable work for these ducks, and hopefully those that have benefitted from the care will be able to help restore the North American duck population after this unfortunate weather aberration.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Esch, Mary: Fish-eating ducks hard hit by severe winter, ice Associated Press 3/15/2014 https://news.yahoo.com/fish-eating-ducks-hard-hit-severe-winter-ice-163621475.html

Do Brain Teaser Puzzles Really Strengthen Cognitive Ability?

brain_puzzle

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the science behind the belief that brain teaser puzzles strengthen cognitive ability.

There is a burgeoning industry dedicated to strengthening memory, improving response skills and staving off dementia via a series of electronic games that can be downloaded onto computers, tablets and smartphones.  However, there is scant evidence that these puzzles and exercises are capable of enhancing memory beyond the scope of what is necessary to complete the games efficiently – you will eventually become skilled in completing the puzzles, but not exceptionally so in other unrelated tasks.

These companies are trading on what is inconclusive evidence that digital brain puzzles can promote mental acuity.  The marketing has been so successful that Medcaid and Medicare have received proposals for reimbursements for what have been called “memory fitness activities.”  Unfortunately for those who wish to claim their subscription to Luminosity as a part of their medical costs, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that the claims of comprehensive cognitive improvement were tenuous at best.

The study followed more than 2,300 subjects, whose average age was 74, as they engaged in brain training activities that were specifically designed for either memory, reasoning, or speed of processing.  The sessions lasted between 60 and 75 minutes, and were conducted over a period of six weeks.  The participants were then tested for the next 10 years for any lasting results of the exercises.  It was found that while there was no improvement in memory, the participants who were given the reasoning and speed of processing exercises demonstrated some improvement, but only in the specific exercises they were given. [1]

However, there has been another study that drew more reassuring conclusions.  Research performed by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco found that there was improvement in reaction skills by subjects who were given a simulated driving task to master.  The participants showed improvement in short term memory and performance in tasks that weren’t necessarily related to the game they played.

If brain functionality is the main objective, physical exercise might be the way to go.  Several studies have found that people who exercise regularly have enhanced cognition, and are even able to stave off the effects of dementia in its early stages.  Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found that people who engage in 30 minutes of exercise at least three days per week have superior cognitive skills, in addition to heightened creative thinking.  Creative, or divergent, thinking is the ability to imagine multiple solutions to any one problem, or multiple uses for any one object.[2]

While it might not be necessary to abandon crossword puzzles or Sudoku if your goal is to sharpen your mental tools, it is certainly a good idea to begin an exercise routine, since it appears that the increased flow of oxygen to the brain from rigorous cardiovascular activity could help boost brain performance.  So, in order to maximize both mental and physical health, get out and get moving!

By Michael Omidi



[1] Pope, Tara Parker: Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure New York Times 3/10/2014 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/do-brain-workouts-work-science-isnt-sure/?src=me&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Most%20Emailed&pgtype=article

[2] Cohen, Howard: Regular exercise improves brain health and stimulates creativity Miami Herald 1/24/14 http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/24/3890857/regular-exercise-improves-brain.html

 

 

Wild Animals Are Not House Hold Pets

wild_animals_pets

In the following article, Dr. Michael Omidi discusses keeping wild animals as pets, and the recent case in Illinois of a man bringing a tiger into a public bar.

Keeping wildlife as pets is, quite simply, a horrible idea and an abominable practice.  Capturing an animal from the wild, restraining it, caging it, shipping it to a foreign climate and environment and keeping it caged for the amusement of its purchasers is thoroughly despicable morally, as well as a threat to human health and safety.

Even wild animals that were born in captivity aren’t fit as pets; although they have absolutely no experience of the wild, they are nonetheless wild animals, and are therefore subject to hardwired genetic instincts and predispositions.

A man in Lockport, IL was recently charged with animal cruelty after bringing a tiger into a bar, only restrained by a leash.  The man, John Basile, is the owner of Big Run Wolf Ranch, a federally licensed educational facility and sanctuary.  Whatever his credentials as a wildlife educator may be, taking a tiger into a bar and exposing it to patrons is nothing short of foolhardy.

In December, according to the lawsuit, he brought the tiger to a Christmas party where it bit the arm of a party goer.  The bite wasn’t severe enough to drive the victim to filing charges at the time (a tiger biting with purpose will take off a human arm easily), but the incident illustrates how little control Mr. Basile had over the animal, as well as a complete lack of judgment, since he elected to bring the animal back to a public area two months later.[1]

There is no federal law overseeing pet wildlife – the regulations that exist vary from state to state.  Because the laws vary and it is difficult for officials to oversee wild animal keepers (particularly unscrupulous ones), not even the United States Department of Agriculture – the federal regulating body for the Animal Welfare Act – has accurate data for how many exotic animals are kept in captivity. [2]

As attached as these misguided wild pet owners may be to their animals, the fact remains that no amount of affection will predict a wild animal’s behavior.  Owners can coexist with their wild pets for years before the pets turn aggressive and violent.  One woman kept a chimpanzee for 20 years before it attacked her closest friend.  Another woman was attacked and killed by a 350 lb black bear she kept in a cage.

There is no reason to keep a wild animal as a personal pet.  Doing so threatens the safety of the animal and the community, should the wild animal ever escape.  Hopefully, there will soon be strict national regulations regarding the possession and sale of wild animals as pets, because regardless of how tempting it may be to have a tiger prowling around the home, there is no valid reason to keep a wild animal anywhere but the wild.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Hosey, Joseph: Taking Tiger Into Bar a Bad Idea, Says Animal Welfare Group 2/28/2014 Joliet Patch http://joliet.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/taking-tiger-into-bar-a-bad-idea-says-animal-welfare-group

[2] Kendall, Jodi: Wild at Home: Exotic Animals as Pets National Geographic Animal Intervention http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/animal-intervention/articles/wild-at-home-exotic-animals-as-pets/

Living Conditions & Nutritional Food Are Key Factors to Better Health

poverty

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses how living conditions and proper food can help low-income families preserve their physical health.

According to a report issued by the University of Maryland, the vast majority of funds for medical assistance in the United States goes to physician and hospital care, rather than preventative care.  Preventative care would be classified as programs designed to keep the population healthy – physical education initiatives, drug prevention, healthy food drives and quality of life improvements.  In an effort to keep their populations healthy, several organizations are working to keep the community properly fed and housed; two conditions that can ensure either health or illness.[1]

The Affordable Care Act allows hospitals to pursue the implementation of programs that address food related illnesses – malnutrition and/or obesity.  A study performed by the University of California at San Francisco found that hospital admissions for hypoglycemia and congestive heart failure was directly related to assistance payments running low before the end of the month.

Because food related medical conditions affect the influx of patients in community clinics and hospitals, many medical centers are assisting patients with their applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is more commonly known as food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs.  Moreover, other hospitals including Massachusetts General, are evaluating incoming patients for food insecurity, and opening food pantries.

Older patients are especially sensitive to illnesses related to food deprivation.  New Milford Hospital in Connecticut began a “Senior Supper” program to help keep older members of the community fed, so as not to aggravate existing medical conditions.  New Milford also has a “Chef Advocates” program for local youths that addresses nutrition and diabetes.  Both programs stress the importance of fresh foods, portion control and eating locally.

In Washington D.C., in order to address the issue of low income families living in unfurnished homes, a nonprofit organization named A Wider Circle has provided a resource for furniture, beds and other amenities that help to make a home a home.  Living in a dwelling with bare floors and possessions stored in shopping bags does not promote emotional or economic stability.

Sleeping on a mat for weeks at a time with no comforts; having no place to sit and eat meals and nowhere for children to do their homework or play can be demoralizing, and contributes to the cycle of poverty.  Because poverty can accelerate depression, which in turn can aggravate as well as trigger physical health issues, including insomnia, heart disease, and diabetes. [2]

In addition to donating free furniture, A Wider Circle assists with developing life and job skills and nutritional guidance.  To date, A Wider Circle has helped more than 120,000 furnish their homes and improve their lives overall.

Living well and eating well are two powerful tools for maintaining physical health, and if our communities and local governments provide plentiful and easily accessible resources for assistance, society will be rewarded with lower medical care costs and a fitter, stronger population.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Gearon, Christopher J: Treating Hunger As a Health Issue US News and World Report 2/13/2014 http://health.usnews.com/health-news/hospital-of-tomorrow/articles/2014/02/13/treating-hunger-as-a-health-issue

[2] Klairmont, Laura: Tackling Poverty in Nation’s Capitol, One Bed at a Time CNN 2/28/2014 http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/27/us/cnnheroes-bergel/

Loneliness Worse For Health Than Obesity

lonelines

Loneliness has been found to contribute to early death in older adults, according to a recent study. Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the ways feelings of chronic loneliness and social isolation can result in physical decline.

Sometimes, feelings of loneliness are unavoidable.  Even if we have loving families and a network of caring friends, we cannot always be surrounded by an emotional support system, and we might consequently feel occasionally depressed or neglected.  However, if those feelings are chronic, and we don’t even have close friends or family, we might suffer from more than just the blues.  Our health could suffer.[1]

It has long been believed that seniors who live alone and do not engage in regular social activities are more likely to suffer from depression, dementia and even cardiovascular disease.  However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago have found that older people who live alone and who are unconnected to peers or family are 14 percent more likely to suffer from premature death compared to their socially engaged peers.  The study also concluded that the loneliness factor had nearly the same risk for early death as poverty, which is an increased risk of 19 percent.

The study author, psychology professor John Cacioppo, found through his research that chronically lonely older adults are more than twice as likely to die early as obese older adults.

Loneliness and depression can result in physical decline, due to the increase in the stress hormone cortisol.  Lonely people are vulnerable to high blood pressure, are more likely to suffer from fitful sleep and are less well equipped to recover from illness.  Moreover, feelings of loneliness and emotional pain could lead to dependence on alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Additionally, some of the symptoms of physical decline – loss of hearing, sight or chronic pain – could contribute to internal feelings of isolation just as acutely as being disconnected from loved ones or friends.

Retiring can also contribute to loneliness.  Not having regular interaction with coworkers or daily employment can hasten feelings of uselessness, and this is especially true of early retirees.  It has been found[2] that people who retire at the age of 55 are 89 percent more likely to die within the following ten years than people who retire at age 65.

Feeling lonely is natural; human beings are conditioned to function in communities, and without a peer group or close family, it is easy to become used to living alone.  However, being perpetually lonely will only lead to depression, which in itself is a degenerative emotional illness.  It is very important to remain as physically and emotionally active as possible, by participating in community activities, volunteering, making an effort to connect with family or even adopt a dog, which in addition to providing companionship, can encourage social interaction through taking it for walks or to the park.

By Michael Omidi



[1] McNamee, David: Loneliness Increases Risk of Premature Death in Seniors Medical News Today 2/17/2014 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/272705.php

[2] DeNoon, Daniel: Early Retirement, Early Death? WebMD 10/20/2005 http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20051020/early-retirement-early-death

Civic Duty Commends the Work of Kakenya Ntaiya

Kakenya quote

In the following article, Dr. Michael Omidi profiles Kakenya Ntaiya, a community leader in Kenya who opened the region’s first primary school for girls.

Female circumcision is a cultural rite of passage in numerous countries on the Sub-Saharan African continent, as well as several Asian and Middle Eastern regions.  It is a practice wherein pubescent and even prepubescent girls are made to undergo ritualistic removal of portion of their genitals, including the clitoris and both the inner and outer labia.  These procedures are performed not by physicians, but by local circumcisers with unsanitary tools.  The results of female circumcision can be chronic, severe and even fatal.

The process has been made an outlaw, but the laws are difficult to enforce due to the fact that it is seen – by men and women alike – as a sacrosanct part of their cultural and religious identity.  Nevertheless, there is a growing population of women throughout these regions that is fighting against the ritual, which they see as oppressive and barbaric.

One of these women, Kakenya Ntaiya, has managed not only to give young Kenyan girls an invaluable educational opportunity, she has also convinced many villagers, including an influential village elder, to reconsider their beliefs about women in general.[1]

As a child, Ms. Ntaiya negotiated a deal with her father: She would go through the circumcision ritual if he promised to allow her to complete her high school education. Although her father was poised to have her married, he relented when her academic performance earned her a scholarship to a university in the United States.  The village rallied to get her the airfare, and she set off, promising that once she completed her degree she would return to help her community.

And return she did.  After earning her doctorate and working with the United Nations, she opened the Kakenya Center for Excellence in 2009.  The school serves girls between the fourth and eighth grades, and even provides boarding, so that the girls do not have to make the sometimes dangerous walk to and from school.

The Kakenya Center for Excellence, accepts only 30 students each year.  The parents of each child are required to agree that they will never have their daughters circumcised or subject them to childhood marriage.

The school is located in Enoosaen, a village in the western region of Kenya.  The population is largely of the Maasai tribe, who, historically, have not placed a high premium on female education.  Even though Kenyan law mandates that all children attend primary school, only 11 percent of girls ever finish.

Even though the school has been open only for the past five years, it is already exceeded the general scholastic standard of the district, and is ranked one of the top schools in Enoosaen.

One of Ms. Ntaiya’s greatest triumphs is changing long-held attitudes about girls’ education.  Chief John Naleke, a village elder who had once declared that there was no need to educate girls, is now united with Ms. Ntaiya in her efforts to bring the women of the Enoosan community a better life.  It was the fact that Ms. Ntaiya kept her word and returned to the village that won him over.

Civic Duty commends the work of Kakenya Ntaiya, and we hope that her school serves as a model for social change in the region.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Toner, Kathleen: Woman challenges tradition, brings change to her Kenyan village 11/10/2013 CNN http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/14/world/africa/cnnheroes-ntaiya-girls-school/index.html

Obesity in Kindergartners

Obesity-a-Major-Concern-in-Kindergarteners

A new study has found that child’s likelihood that he or she will struggle with obesity could be established by the age of five years. Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the study’s conclusions, as well as the current anti-obesity strategies.

Childhood obesity is, without question, an international problem. The resulting health problems experienced by the young and overweight have caused medical scientists to predict that this generation of children might be the first since the industrial revolution not to outlive its parents.

In order to combat this crisis, there have been numerous school programs initiated in order to curb this problem, from education and awareness campaigns to healthy school lunches. However, the results of a new study indicate that the focus might need to shift to the youngest children in order to have any real benefit.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed more than 7,500 students from kindergarten up to eighth grade. Of the total number of participants, approximately one-quarter were classified as being either overweight or obese.

By the time the students entered the eighth grade, the percentage of overweight and obese students jumped to more than 35 percent, with 75 percent of the obese 5-year-olds remaining obese by the time they were 14. The study concluded that obese 5-year-old children are between four and five times as likely to become obese later in life than children of a healthy weight.[1]

These findings cause us to ask the question: Should the strategies of anti-childhood obesity efforts be altered? Should we place the focus of the anti-obesity campaigns on the youngest children?

According to the authors of the study, by the time a child is 5-years-old, his/her weight destiny might have been determined. Whether or not this is due to environmental or biological factors hasn’t been definitively established, but it seems clear that an obese child is more than highly likely to become an obese adult, or at least struggle mightily with his/her weight.

The study results might also explain why many anti-obesity campaigns targeted at elementary and high school children have yielded mixed results. By the time an obese child has entered high school, the behaviors or genetic factors may have already been cemented to the extent that generalized, healthy-lifestyle changes might not be sufficient.

This new and important study highlights the folly of believing that a chubby kindergartener will just “grow out of it.” The only way an obese child will grow out of his or her obesity is by dramatically altering that child’s habits. If you can plant the seeds of good nutrition and vigorous activity in a child by the time that child is able to walk, you will help your baby to become a healthy and vigorous child, teenager and adult.

By Michael Omidi


[1] Kolata, Gina: Obesity Is Found to Gain Its Hold in Earliest Years New York Times 1/29/2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/science/obesity-takes-hold-early-in-life-study-finds.html?ref=health

In the Spotlight: Pete Seeger

pete-seeger

Civic Duty would like to spotlight the career of the late Pete Seeger, who died on Monday, January 28th at the age of 94. While Mr. Seeger was a celebrated folk artist, he was no less a humanitarian and social activist. Dr. Michael Omidi discusses Mr. Seeger’s extraordinary life, and his environmental organization Clearwater.

Pete Seeger, the renowned folk artist and activist, recently passed away at the age of 94. His legacy includes not only a catalog of the most important American music ever written, but also a career of thoroughly selfless community and environmental work.

If you’ve ever sang “This Land is Your Land,” “Where have all the Flowers Gone?” or “We Shall Overcome,” then you’ve sung songs that were either written or popularized by Mr. Seeger. Almost all of today’s popular folk cannon either originated with or was inspired by his recordings.

As a folk artist, Mr. Seeger was unparalleled; as an activist, he was tireless. In the 1940s, he campaigned against the Jim Crow laws in the south, and performed at countless labor rallies. In the 1950s, his social fervor led him to be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his early Communist Party affiliation, but he nonetheless continued to record and perform.

The song, “We Shall Overcome,” based on a traditional gospel song but arranged and adapted by Mr. Seeger, became the 20th century’s protest anthem. All of the song’s royalties are donated to the “We Shall Overcome Fund,” which supports African Americans’ efforts to enact social change in the South.[1]

In later life, Mr. Seeger championed the cleaning of the Hudson River, which had been used as a waste channel by General Electric. For decades, the corporation had been dumping Polychlorinated Biphenyl, a chemical known to cause cancer in wildlife, into the river.

For nearly 40 years, through his organization Clearwater, Mr. Seeger lobbied to not only clean the Hudson, but also inform the public about the critical importance of a healthy natural environment. The river cleanup is continuing to this day.[2]

Clearwater has evolved into a highly valuable and valued environmental organization. It has united with public schools and civic leaders in order to educate the public about environmental concerns, and continues to support environmental action initiatives and youth empowerment programs.

The Hudson River Clearwater sloop, Clearwater’s official sailing ship, has become a nationally recognized symbol of environmental activism. Thousands of people were introduced to the Hudson River’s complex and beautiful ecosystem while aboard the sloop, and in 2004 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

Civic Duty would like to salute the life and work of Pete Seeger, one of the most important artists the United States has ever produced. Every time we sing a traditional American folk song around a campfire, or enjoy a healthy and thriving Hudson River, we will enjoying the gifts of a truly remarkable artist and humanitarian.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Pareles, John: Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94 New York Times 1/28/2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html?hp&_r=1

[2] Clearwater.org