Debra Lynn Dadd
Health and the Environment
Go Hand in Hand
Though health and the environment are two separate fields in our culture, on this website and in my life they complement and complete each other.
The Earth is the foundation of our health. Without a larger thriving ecosystem in which to live, our bodies would not be able to survive. Everything that sustains our lives comes from the Earth, so to sustain our own lives, we must also sustain the source of our sustenance.
Getting enough exercise and relaxation, reducing stress, eating good food, breathing clean air, drinking pure water, living in a healthy home...all of these things are essential to the health of our bodies. But even if we did all these and more, we still need the Earth and all its creatures and elements--from earthworms to sheep to trees and flowers, minerals, and yes, even hurricanes--to provide the environment from which we draw our life.
What our bodies need to be healthy
Like other living organisms, our bodies need basic elements in order to survive. We need the oxygen present in air; the hydrogen and oxygen molecules that make up water; the energy, light, and warmth of the sun; and the minerals and nutrients of the soil that are processed through vegetation.
Our existence is dependent upon a continued supply of these natural elements, yet the manufacture, use, and disposal of many products of modern technology is damaging the quality of the Earth and depleting its vital resources. Our air and waterways are polluted, and the nutrients in our soils are being depleted, resulting in food that lacks both nutrition and life.
Our bodies can only be as healthy as the materials we use to build them. Clean water, clean air, nutritious food, and sunshine build healthy bodies.
I came to this realization from my own personal experience. In 1987, I had the pleasure of drinking for the first time from a natural spring, at the base of Mount Shasta in California. The water was unlike anything I had ever tasted--it was delicious, it was alive, it made my body feel vibrant! As a consumer advocate, I had been recommending water filters to remove toxic pollutants from tap water. I realized that no water filter was ever going to make water like this. The only way we can have the materials that Nature intended us to use to build our bodies is to protect and restore the natural world, and learn to live according to the laws that allow all life to fluorish.
With the state of the Earth today, many of our bodies are polluted and malnourished, a reflection of the poor quality materials we use to build them. The most common illnesses today are cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, respiratory impairment, and stress-related disorders--diseases of lifestyle and environment, not of bacteria or viruses.
What goes around, comes around
For the most part, in our culture, we put ourselves first. In reality, however, our own individual well-being is only part of the vast system of Life that is necessary to support our own individual lives. We are individuals, and at the same time we encompass in our lives being couples and families, communities and groups, our own human species and all species...indeed the entire cosmos contributes to the health and happiness of our lives.
We function as individuals in separate bodies, but each of our individual actions has a wide range of impact--for better or for worse--across every level of our ecosystems. It's not always easy to see how our causes create environment effects that can come back to harm our own health. Here's an example that applies to almost everyone.
Fluorescent lamps are often touted as being an eco-friendly choice because they are so energy-efficient. Indeed, in many areas of the country, building codes require them in bathrooms and kitchens for new construction.
A fluorescent lamp creates light by exciting mercury vapor; mercury, therefore, is essential to the functioning of any fluorescent lamp. But mercury is also extremely harmful to the environment and our health. It causes damage to the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and liver. It is especially harmful to small children and during fetal development.
Whenever you throw a fluorescent tube into the trash, and it goes to an incinerator or landfill, mercury is released into the environment. Power plants that burn coal also send mercury into the air through smokestack emissions. Mercury seeps out of landfills into the soil. When it rains, the rain washes mercury out of the air and soil and into our waterways, where particular bacteria turn in into even more toxic methyl mercury, which is readily absorbed by aquatic plants and fish. As these plants and fish are eaten by even bigger fish, higher on the food chain, mercury levels bioaccumulate to astronomical levels. A walleye pike, for example, can contain 250,000 times the mercury present in the water it lives in.
That one fluorescent tube you might throw in the trash contains enough mercury to contaminate a lake about the size of a football field (360 x 160 feet, or 57,600 square feet--more than a million gallons of fresh water for even a shallow lake).
And then we go to the supermarket and buy fish for dinner. But it is now contaminated with mercury. More than 40 states have issued health warnings against eating certain species of fish because of this concern, but there's no warning label on the fish at the supermarket. There is no warning label on the can of tuna, either, even though every can of tuna contains mercury. Chunk light tuna contains less mercury than white albacore. The EPA recommends that adults should eat less than one small can of chunk light tuna per week, and children should eat even less.
Where does this mercury contamination come from? From each one of us when we toss a fluorescent tube in the trash or use electricity produced by burning coal.
It really is our choice how we affect the body of the Earth, which in turn affects our own bodies. Instead of sending fluorescent rubes to the landfill, we can recycle them or use low-mercury tubes or compact fluorescents, or--better yet--cut a skylight in the ceiling and let in the natural sunlight shine in. We can help transition the production of electricity away from coal by supporting clean-burning renewable energy technologies with the purchase of green energy certificates or generating our own renewable energy. We have so many options available to us! We just need to choose them.
We are the Earth
There is a simple way to visualize how we are whole and complete within our bodies, and at the same time are the Earth.
Imagine you are looking at your body through a camera with a zoom lens that is also capable of becoming a microscope.
See your whole body from above through the lens, and then zoom inside to the microscopic world of the cells. Notice how inside your body, individual cells group together into bones and muscles of different types and into organs with different functions; nutrients flow through your bloodstream, and electricity pulses through your nerve channels. Each cell has its own function to perform, yet each cell operates within the context of keeping your whole body functioning perfectly. When there is a threat of disease or damage to your body, all parts work together to restore health.
Now, zoom outside and look at your body as a whole again. Open the lens wider and wider and see that your body, like the individual cells, lives in the system of your local community. Open the lens wider and see that it lives in the system of the whole continents. Open the lens still wider and see that you live within the system of the whole Earth.
We--as well as all the plants, animals, insects, reptiles, sea life, microorganisms, waterways, winds, storms, soil, and everything else--are cells in the body of the Earth. We each have a function and a responsibility, just like all other life forms, to do our part in the maintenance of the Earth's health.
It takes all of us
It is easy to think that one person cannot make an impact on an organism as immense as the Earth, and use this as a reason to do nothing.
Actually, our current problems are not because one person drives a car, or one person sprays pesticides, or one person uses toxic cleaning products, or one person litters. It's because hundreds of millions of people followed those examples and are now living in ways that are destroying the Earth instead of living in ways that would sustain it.
To turn our current destructive course into a creative, restorative, upward spiral, each one of us needs to choose sustainability in our own lives, in our own homes and gardens, in our own hearts and souls...and choose life. Choose to sustain and support and enhance and renew life.
We are both nurtured by the Earth and nurturers of the Earth. It's time now to care for our Earth as we care for our own bodies. All of Life belongs to each one of us. The Earth embraces us with its bounty--we can embrace it with our love.
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