Environmental health writing

Cover of the encyclopedia
Ed. Richard Crume. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO (Greenwood Imprint), February 2018.

In late 2015, I started working with Richard Crume to contribute encyclopedia articles about environmental health.

What did I know about environmental health? Not much, in fact. I convinced Rick, the editor, to let me join in the project by showing him the environmentalist magazines I’d produced as a college student.

Even then, when I thought of the environment, I usually thought of exploitation. In the past, I’d written about Indonesians burning the rainforest to grow palm trees for oil, National Park tourists trampling wilderness areas, and the tiny ocean zooplankton that are dissolving in carbonic acid in the ocean as we speak.

But every harm people do to the planet is boomerang-ed back to us, even if it’s something as distant as the connection between meltwater floods in the Tibetan Himalayas and the gasoline burned by American vehicles in 1970.

So I began to learn that “environmentalism” is not the same as “environment.” I studied the ways that we as humans put ourselves at risk of adverse health effects when we swim, drink water, eat food, breathe air, etc.

I started with a 750-word article on ocean dumping and the Pacific garbage patch. I learned that every ocean has a garbage patch, not just the Pacific, although its patch was discovered first, in 1997. I saw pictures of albatross chicks whose stomachs were full of plastic, fed to them by unsuspecting parents. I felt my little environmentalist flame burn brighter.

I moved on to biomimicry solutions. Now this is a pretty feel-good topic—it’s all about getting inspiration from nature’s engineering solutions. The Shinkansen trains, modeled after a kingfisher beak, look modern and cool. No harm done here.

I carried on through unexploded ordnance, green packaging, personal care products, and the health benefits of composting. I kept writing for these reason: I am an environmentalist, I wanted to see my name in print, I wanted to own a book with my writing in it, I wanted to be paid to write, I wanted to be “a writer.”

A screenshot of my completed entires in Google Drive

By January 2016, I’d written five articles. I felt a huge sense of relief, but I also missed the thrill of completing a project. So I signed onto write five more, eventually writing 11 in total. The last article I submitted was about the Exxon Valdez incident, wherein a ship leaked 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

My favorite article was “Environmentalism.” How much better does it get than to write the entry on “Environmentalism” for an environmental encyclopedia? It doesn’t. I tried to represent the topic well, in that neutral, omniscient voice that people expect from encyclopedias. (People don’t write encyclopedias. Encyclopedias are written.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Inspired by ecology, environmentalism promotes a sustainable relationship between humanity and the natural world.

(This is the only sentence from my introduction that the editors left untouched. LOL.)

I waited about 10 months between finishing the Exxon Valdez entry and holding the published 2-volume set—and the check from the publisher. I posted a picture of the hardcopy on Instagram. I flipped to every entry that I wrote to see whether the editors inserted strange words like “life-forms” into my words (they did). I read parts of the entries out loud to my parents against their will.

I am now working with the same editor to write several book chapters about urban health. I’ve graduated from 750 words to 2500 words. I still procrastinate, spend too much time on research, and re-write three times before sending it to my editor. 

And I still can’t wait to see my name in print again, even it takes until the end of 2019. I’ll be even prouder than I am now when I can say that I wrote three entire chapters! 

Sample entry


Contributor, Environmental Health in the 21st Century: From Air Pollution to Zoonotic Diseases. Ed. Richard Crume. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO (Greenwood Imprint), February 2018. “Biomimicry Solutions,” “Bisphenol A in the Environment,” “Communication of Environmental Risk,” “Environmentalism,” “Exxon Valdez Incident,” Green Packaging, “Composting, Health Benefits of,” “Life Cycle Assessment,” “Ocean Dumping,” “Personal Care Products,” and “Unexploded Ordnance”.

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