Global Warming is not the Biggest Environmental Threat

There’s a lot of talk going on about global warming again. Some of that is coming from it being the environmental topic that politicians fall back on every election cycle. But our president is also in his last year and struggling to complete his agenda of bringing the United States’ policy into greater integrity in this area, especially with the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this month. 

So if I told you that global warming isn’t the biggest environmental threat to our demise, you might be surprised. We are all seeing the photos of receding glaciers and starving polar bears on our Facebook feeds and it is looking rather dire. However, we are also seeing radical increases in Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disease, and cancers localized to neighborhoods and regions and there is no news blasts nor political discourse about how the environment is contributing to our health decline and death TODAY.
Right now – the pesticides being sprayed on our crops and the pollution created by cars and industry is killing our children, rendering us infertile, and creating epidemics of new diseases considered rare just 20-30 years ago. Some of the illnesses we have now were unknown then and our researchers and doctors don’t know what causes them or how to effectively alleviate suffering. Yet research is showing the origin of many of these ailments are stemming from pollution and toxins we are exposed to every single day. The amount and concentration of these pollutants is, in some cases, higher and more chaotic than before. New chemicals are being produced and put to market every year. Some argue that not enough testing is being done on single chemicals, let alone all of them mixed together.

Photo credit: Flickr user kris krüg (Creative Commons)

I’ve been doing a great deal of research into this in the last month and it has honestly scared the crap out of me. I am worried about the future of my son and his peers and ashamed of what I will have to tell him about how we have handled our world and what we have chosen to ignore. The door blew open for me in doing some reading about Parkinson’s and discovering this is a disease that science has determined to be environmentally derived. If you’ve lived in a rural area, near factories or farms, for a decade or more count yourself lucky if you don’t get Parkinson’s or another neurological disease.
Asthma, respiratory diseases, and cancers are strongly correlated with air pollution. In fact, emergency room visits reliably increase when air pressure changes keep ‘normal pollution’ from city living from dispersing with typical wind patterns.

Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which contains glyphosate. Photograph: Studioshots/Alamy

The World Health Organization recently came out with a statement condemning glycosphate, a component of Round-Up (which is commonly used in both agricultural and residential weed killers) is a ‘probable carcinogen’. Round-up is the most popular and widely used herbicide in the world. Even if you are eating GMO free, your neighbor is probably spraying Round-Up in the yard and your city may be spraying it in parks, alongside highways, and in other public areas.

Perhaps it is safer to talk about global warming because it is a threat that is breathing down our neck, but not yet at emergency levels. It’s easier to discuss something that is in the near future, coming toward us, than something that we are surrounded by right now. Maybe it feels safer to discuss policy to save ‘future us’ than to stare in the mirror and address that the food we are eating, the water we are drinking, and the air we are breathing is killing us right now. Today. Regardless, to focus our environmental efforts to global warming is, I believe, doing the world’s population a serious disservice right now.

In my next post I will share with you what I am doing as the best form of damage control I know how to do right now. I am still learning and adapting to all this knowledge, but we are not without some control over our outcome, regardless of how little control we have over what is being used in our environment.

Romieu, I., Meneses, F., Sienra-Monge, J., Huerta, J., Velasco, S., White, M., Etzel, R., and Hemandez-Avila, M. (1995). Effects of Urban Air Pollutants on Emergency Visits for Childhood Asthma in Mexico City. American Journal of Epidemiology, 141(6): 546-553

Tanner C.M., Kamel F., Ross G.W., Hoppin J.A., Goldman S.M., Korell M., Marras C., Bhudhikanok G.S., Kasten M., Chade A.R., Comyns K., Richards M.B., Meng C., Priestley B., Fernandez H.H., Cambi F., Umbach D.M., Blair A., Sandler D.P., Langston J.W. (2011). Rotenone, paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease. Environmental Health Perspectives 119(6), 866-872.

Willis, A.W., Sterling, C., and Racette, B.A. (2009). Conjugal Parkinsonism and Parkinson Disease: A Case Series with Environmental Risk Factor Analysis. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 16(3), 163–166.

Guyton, K.Z. et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. The Lancet Oncology , Volume 16 , Issue 5 , 490 – 491

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