Here’s an example of what I mean by rethinking everything on the environment — reframing the way we talk about it.
Human health IS the environment. Even when we talk about them together, it’s usually as two separate if overlapping things: “protecting human health and the environment.” This leads us to believe that some ways of damaging the environment don’t affect our health, or that we can be healthy on a planet that’s only a little bit sick.
But it’s not just smokestacks belching soot, or oil slicks choking coastal marshes, or even pesticides on strawberries that can hurt us.
We are “part of nature,” as the apologists for industry often tell us to excuse humanity’s latest depradation as the way things are meant to be. Well, the apologists are right about that — but they’re describing only one side of the coin. It’s not just that we are products of nature. It’s also that everything we make or do affects everthing else, including somebody downwind or downstream. Maybe a lot of somebodies, and maybe even us, too — like the PCBs in our bloodstream (or BPA, or take your pick of 400 other synthetic chemicals in the bodies of most Americans).
Another example: Industrial agriculture strips the soil of nutrients whose function we try to replicate with synthetic fertilizer. But that synthetic fertilizer is dirty to make (it comes from natural gas, mostly). And we use so much of it that it washes into waterways like the Mississippi River. Then it flows down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it’s caused a huge “dead zone” (at last count, it’s like the size of New Jersey). That was choking marine life even before BP sailed off toward its Deepwater Horizon.
We think we throw things away. But “there is no away,” as Rachel Carson wrote in “Silent Spring.” Being part of nature means that, too.
“The environment” is human health, and human health is the environment.