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Is Environmental Health the new Bottom Line?

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Everything we breath, drink and eat comes from the earth’s biosphere. We are continually replenished as elements flow through us. Thankfully we are finally realizing that we have evolved to require particular nutrients from the earth for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Resource extraction, agribusiness and industrial production are, however, spoiling our nest. Mining brings toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and uranium into the biosphere. These are not good for us. Agribusiness and industry spew toxic chemicals into the airways, waterways and food chains upon which we depend. These toxic materials continually recycle and bio-accumulate through global ecological processes. We can find pesticides in the arctic, pharmaceutics in many watersheds and even plastics in the middle of the ocean.

This arrogant and misguided approach to “development” damages the biosphere from above and below. And this in turn hurts us. CFCs have thinned the protective ozone layer and increased skin cancer from UV radiation, while uranium mining bringing more radon gas into the life-support systems has increased lung cancer. The steady buildup of atmospheric carbon from burning fossil fuels is raising global temperatures and ocean levels with devastating implications for extreme weather and biodiversity. Increases in the nitrogen load streaming into the oceans from agribusiness and deforestation steadily undermines rich marine ecologies.

All the while our body burden of toxins and carcinogens grows. It should come as no surprise that cancer went from the 8th to 2nd cause of death from 1900-1950 (in the US), that many immune-deficiency diseases are on the rise and that reproductive health of many species is waning.

What we do to the earth we ultimately do to ourselves, our children, and, let’s not forget, to other creatures. We need a new credo that says “Do Unto Other Creatures As We Would Have Them Do Unto Us”. Continuing to see human progress in Promethean terms, where we treat the earth as an object of greed and contempt, inevitably undermines our individual and collective health. Economic growth that contaminates the biosphere may raise the value of some investments on the stock market, but we have long passed the point where the full cost and suffering far outweighs any short-term economic benefits.

We can’t continue to use the land, air and water as places to extract, produce and dump poisons. “Out of sight, out of mind’ is not realistic, nor sustainable. An ethic and practice of preserving and restoring environmental health is therefore becoming our new bottom line. The mind-set has to change one person, one family, one community, one province at a time.

What do we need to do to take up this challenge?