We’re drowning in pollution - a carbon tax won’t stop that
The carbon tax debate has completely missed the point when it comes to looking after our environment and our health. It’s time to broaden the debate and realise that a healthy planet means much more than just the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Does it really matter if the earth remains a nice balmy temperature if the fish I eat are full of mercury, the air I breathe is full of particulate pollution and my fruit and veg are laced with organophosphates?
A new law is set to be passed in Bolivia - it’s called the ‘Law of Mother Earth’ (la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra). Once enshrined it will grant nature the same rights and protections as human beings; it refers to natural resources as ‘blessings’. Sounds pretty out there, doesn’t it?
It will be very interesting to see how this law works in action. For instance, how will the rights of the land to “continue vital cycles free from alteration” be balanced with the population’s need for food?
How will nature’s ‘right to life’ be balanced with the forestry workers’ need for a job?
How will the environment’s “right to not be polluted” balance with the rights of the country’s mining industry? The debate will be fascinating and worth having.
Bolivian president Evo Morales said:
If we want to safeguard mankind, then we need to safeguard the planet.
This quote rings true. What we are learning as more research comes out is that the environment is a critical determining factor for our health.
Studies into the world of epigenetics are showing that even our genetic expression can be influenced by the world around us.
Whether it’s the quality of our food, the air we breathe, the way we move (or don’t move) or the stress levels that surround us, that environment has changed dramatically and continues to do so at an ever-increasing rate – and it is being matched by spiralling rates of chronic diseases.
What does this have to do with the carbon tax debate? Well, one thing Bolivia has got right is that they have taken a much more holistic view of the climate change debate.
Rather than just looking at temperature change or levels of carbon dioxide, they are focusing on life, cycles, on pollution as a whole, clean air and water. And this is where the environment debate starts to get interesting, when we start to look deeper into the health impact of our polluting ways.
In the US alone over 500,000 people die every year from cardiopulmonary disease that is linked to breathing “fine particle air pollution”.
The World Health Organisation has declared that there is no safe level of mercury exposure due to the damage it causes to the nervous system. And organophosphates are linked with adverse effects in the neurobehavioural development of foetuses and children (even at very low levels of exposure).
This is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about how the degradation of our environment is impacting on our health.
So it’s time to broaden the debate.
We don’t necessarily need to start talking about ‘mother earth’ or ‘blessings’, but we do need to start talking about more than just carbon dioxide.
How about we start setting more ambitious targets for mercury in our water, or particulate matter in our air or chemicals in our food?
Not just for the sake of our planet. For the sake of our health.
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