DEAR READERS: Making America “green,” with clean air, clean water and safe, nutritious food for all, calls for government administrations that do not roll back protective rules and regulations, allowing industries to pollute our environment and harm our health. There is no lack of evidence of linkages between environmental pollutants and a host of diseases. All should determine if their worldview and actions cause more harm than good beyond the narrow circle of their vested interests and investors.
America can be great again, but not until individual liberties are coupled with individual and corporate responsibility for environmental protection, conservation, restoration, animal rights and related public health. We especially need to make international trade “green.” America should not, for instance, be importing beef from Brazil if that country is destroying the Amazon forest to raise cattle and livestock feed.
Here are some critical issues that call for international collaboration to arrest climate change and loss of biodiversity, which imperil our own future and quality of life on Earth.
-- Our forests are the main “carbon sinks” that absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and give off life-sustaining oxygen. Warming temperatures are fueling the expansion of pine and spruce beetle outbreaks across North America, Europe and Siberia, ravaging tens of thousands of square miles of woodlands. Scientists warn that some forest ecosystems may never recover.
-- Because pesticides leach into groundwater and eventually into lakes and rivers, and are also lifted into the air in dust particles, they tend to spread to remote regions. This is why neonicotinoids -- banned in Europe, and implicated in causing birth defects in deer, birds and other animals -- have been found in deer throughout Minnesota and other states. These pesticides are used on commodity crops like corn and soybeans for animal feed and for export, and are responsible for the poisoning and decline of some birds and other insectivores, as well as many beneficial insects -- including pollinators. Insects most likely to survive are those whose larvae are protected inside the trees: the bark beetles. Millions of acres of dead and dying forests mean more devastating forest fires and more air pollution.
-- Particulate air pollution comes, especially, from the burning of fossil fuels. According to the EPA, this pollution causes early death (from both short-term and long-term exposure); cardiovascular harm (heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, congestive heart failure); respiratory harm (worsened asthma, worsened COPD, inflammation); may cause cancer and reproductive and developmental harm; and cause inflammatory and degenerative changes in brain, pancreatic and other organ functions.
-- Polluted cities mean less sunlight and solar-sourced vitamin D for inhabitants, which can increase their susceptibility to infection. So-called philanthropist Bill Gates is promoting another global “solution” that may cause far more harm than good by blocking UV light: He is now funding research proposing millions of tons of chalk dust be spread in the upper atmosphere to shade the Earth from the sun.
-- Exposure to DNA-damaging and immunosuppressing electropollution by telecommunication and other devices emitting nonionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields of varying intensity put people at risk where they live and work. 5G is of particular concern -- it is close to microwave cooking energy and is documented to kill insects.
-- The COVID-19 pandemic pales before the enormity of the issue of plastic pollution. Plastics are burned in many countries, releasing cancer- and birth defect-causing, lung- and brain-damaging dioxins and other chemicals into the air that eventually settle on the crops we eat and the waters we drink. Plastics in our oceans break down into microparticles, and are in the fish we eat, the water we drink and air we breathe, along with toxic chemicals that adhere to these microparticles.
Scientists have linked ocean microplastics with declines in ocean phytoplankton, which are a major source of atmospheric oxygen and a “sink” for absorbing carbon dioxide -- ecological services similar to what our declining forests provide for all life on planet Earth. Phytoplankton -- along with zooplankton, which are also harmed by microplastics -- are the foundation of the marine food chain, the other end of which is threatened by overfishing. A huge amount of carbon stored at the bottom of the ocean is released every year as massive fishing nets are dragged along the sea bed, whirling up marine sediment. Scientists estimate that carbon dioxide emissions from bottom-trawling amounts to 1 billion tons per year, on average -- exceeding carbon emissions from global air travel.
The COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic socioeconomic recovery should not distract us from the urgency of addressing the above interconnected issues in order to secure some quality of life for whatever generations are to inherit this Earth.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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