As a species, we’re just beginning to recognize that the environment is vital to our health. The need to reduce acid rain emissions, stop dumping hazardous wastes, and slow down deforestation needs be addressed from the perspective of people’s health. Evidence is increasing from multiple scientific fields that exposure to the natural environment can improve human health.
The health of our environment affects human health in different forms. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are quickly becoming polluted to the point of being unsafe to consume without endangering our well-being. Will there be a point of reversal?
For Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues, the loss of 100 million trees in the eastern and midwestern United States was an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of a major change in the natural environment on human health.
In an analysis of 18 years of data from 1,296 counties in 15 states, researchers found that Americans living in areas infested by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, suffered from an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas. When emerald ash borer comes into a community, city streets lined with ash trees become treeless.
The researchers analyzed demographic, human mortality, and forest health data at the county level between 1990 and 2007. The data came from counties in states with at least one confirmed case of the emerald ash borer in 2010. The findings — which hold true after accounting for the influence of demographic differences, like income, race, and education — are published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
” There’s a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees,” said Donovan. “But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.”
Although the study shows the association between loss of trees and human mortality from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease, it did not prove a causal link. The reason for the association is yet to be determined.
We can longer neglect the mounting evidence of wasteful and destructive human activities which are undermining the capacity of our planet to provide a secure and hospitable home for all its peoples, both rich and poor.
Human activities have created a technological civilization that is now global in scale and pervasive in its influence on the lives and the prospects of all members of the world community. It has produced a world with stark dichotomies between the benefits enjoyed by the few, and the deprivation and suffering experienced by the majority. The gross imbalances created by the concentration of economic growth in developed nations and the high rates of population growth in developing countries are at the centre of the current dilemma.
It’s time we realized that our entire world is a reflection of our health and our interactions with each other. If we refuse to nurture our environment and care for our own planet, what does that say about how we think of ourselves?
About the Author
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.
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