Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Our Unhealthy Future

The older generation is slowly yielding to the ravages of decay and the inevitable march of time. But they have lived full lives, enjoying the greatest average prosperity the world has ever known, doing better than their parents in almost every measurable way, including financially and health-wise.

My father turned 90 the other day and apart from some orthopedic issues and a few other minor annoyances, he’s doing remarkably well. Yes, age has slowed his movements; his vision and hearing no longer work as well as he would like, but overall, he manages his life quite well.

My mother turned 85 earlier this year and is doing less well. She has a pacemaker and multiple orthopedic issues in addition to severely restricted vision, which, for an avid reader, is quite a punishment.

I write this not to elicit an emotional response, but to make the point that they have been extremely lucky. So have their children. We grew up in a time when people didn’t talk about what was happening to our environment – mostly because we didn’t really know what was happening to our world.

Serious, numerous scientific studies of our impact on the planet only really began about thirty or forty years ago. There weren’t many voices cautioning us to slow down. And even today there are yammerers telling us not to worry, that we small humans can’t influence an entire globe.

But we’ve already witnessed great change. Look at the planet from the International Space Station and tell me that humans can’t influence Earth. At night, the planet is lit up like a Christmas tree. During the day, you can see metropolises encroaching on undeveloped land.

According to the World Health Organization, only 12 percent of the people who live in cities that report on air quality (1600 cities across 91 countries) breathe air that meets WHO guidelines. And over 2 billion lack access to safe, readily available water at home, while over 4 billion lack safely managed sanitation.

Since 1970, the amount of chemicals produced and dispersed around the world has increased exponentially. Chemicals are used in as much as 96 percent of manufactured materials and products (per the American Chemistry Council). Some of these are harmless, no doubt, but many more are toxic, even though they are usually individually dispersed into the environment at nontoxic levels.

Biomonitoring shows that we all carry around hundreds of synthetic chemicals in our bodies. What is this doing to our immune systems? What is this doing to our long-term health? Does this have anything to do with the increases we have seen in autism, allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases?

Almost certainly.

And there is no escape without increased awareness and regulation by our government, which is not going to happen anytime soon. The more we cut from our science budgets, the more we relax constraints on industry, the more we champion coal and steel and consumption in general, the quicker we poison ourselves into early deaths.

I don’t expect to live as long as my father, or my mother, come to that. And for the generations that follow, I expect even shorter, harder lives. I wish that weren’t the case, but wishes count for nothing without action.


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