What do contaminants in cord blood and climate change have in common? One answer: fossil fuels. Last week, a study published in Environmental Science and Technology showed how 87 commonly found chemicals pass efficiently from mother to fetus during pregnancy, and a vast majority of those chemicals are derived from petroleum. Last month, at the UN climate change talks in Cancun, side events sponsored by NGOs highlighted rising health concerns for children and other vulnerable populations related to climate change. Climate change, as scientists have demonstrated repeatedly, has in large part been catalyzed by the widespread development and use of petrochemicals and their by products, which are fast changing the delicate balance of our earth’s systems. In other words, fossil fuels are us, inside and out – with huge economic and social consequences for human and ecological health.
We can all point to numerous reasons why we continue to invest far more in the extraction of oil, coal and natural gas, rather than using those research dollars to develop renewable energy technologies. Most of these reasons can be enumerated, in their essence, as expressions of some of the least desirable human qualities: greed, indifference and fear. When jobs are few, foreclosures are high, and the future feels more tenuous than ever, our inclination is to become even more myopic. We try to glean any short-term gain, rather than realizing that those short-term “wins” are only leading us further down the rabbit hole and diminishing the chances of our children and grandchildren ever eating wild salmon, drinking from glacial streams, and intimately knowing the features of the land that sustains us – not to mention, living without the shadow of ever-increasing chronic diseases and disabilities.
How do we move from being a reactionary culture that focuses primarily on finding cures and developing more sophisticated technologies that address symptoms not systems, to being a society committed to primary prevention and to sustaining the natural riches of the earth for generations to come? Most of you have pondered this question in one form or another, likely for decades, and have chosen a path to catalyze positive change based on your particular interests, skills and gifts whether as a scientist or a community advocate. CHE’s response in trying to address this question is to:
- provide a variety of forums in which emerging health science on everything from contaminants to climate change can be discussed with civility
- encourage those in health-affected sectors to become informed spokespeople on the science and to promote health-centered reforms on local, state, national and international levels
- incubate and facilitate cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral initiatives; articulate an ever-evolving framework for understanding how multiple, cumulative and interacting factors impact health across the lifespan and
- promote a primary prevention-oriented, systems approach to improve and protect human and ecological health over time.
This month, we are very pleased to offer a CHE partner conference call entitled “Cumulative Impacts and Environmental Justice: A Conversation with Dr. Manuel Pastor,” facilitated by Sharyle Patton, that will focus on how racial discrimination continues to be one of the strongest currents undermining the health and well-being of countless communities around the country. We have also helped plan an environmental health science and advocacy training in which representatives of close to 20 different health professional groups and health-affected organizations will participate on January 24th in Washington, DC. In addition, in early February, we are hosting a conference call on marines with breast cancer who were exposed to contaminated drinking water and organizing a call on the experience of NGOs working on health issues at the UN Climate Change talks in Cancun.
In short, our work is about making unconventional connections between seemingly disparate health concerns based on cutting-edge, evidence-based environmental health science. Please plug into our efforts in whatever ways you find most useful and inspiring. With warm wishes for the New Year,
Elise Miller, MEd,
Director, Collaborative on Health and the Environment