Many of the greatest threats to human health today are products of our own creation. Chemicals in our water and foods breed cancer. Air pollutants clog our lungs and deplete the ever ominous ozone layer. Our ever expanding cities and industries encroach on areas never before inhabited by man, potentially holding diseases which could spread as a pandemic across the world.
Our ancestors obtained sustenance and nourishment for millions of years without the assistance of unnatural chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, yet most today believe that it is quite impossible to obtain our foods without them. The most obvious imbalance is seen in the mere twenty percent of the world’s population, those living in the developed nations, consuming more than sixty five percent of the world’s resources (McCally, 2002). Many of the chemicals contained in our foodstuffs are known carcinogens, and can aid in the spread of genetic diseases. Food that is grown organically often has a better taste, contains many more nutrients in higher quantities than in industry-standard crops, has no or little dangerous chemicals, and is usually grown in a way not harmful to the environment (Nagourney, 2007).
The first globalization saw a rampant spread of disease when people moved from small villages and tribes into great urban sprawls for groups were encountering pathogens that their bodies had never seen before and the tools to fight them off were not encoded into their genetic makeup (Hilts, 2005). We are beginning to see a very similar trend with the expansion of our cities and industries into areas previously barren of mankind. Like the American Indian’s first encounter with small pox, our trip into the vast forests may be one of curiosity and desire, it may well unleash a dangerous foe upon us like we have not ever seen before. Lyme disease began in the eastern United States after the large farms that stood there in the 16th and 17th centuries were abandoned, giving way to new growth and an unprecedented increase in the deer population. With the movement of people from the cities to the suburbs in the mid 1950s and since, society has been encroaching much closer to the young wildlife habitats. The increase presence of people in the area has seen the rise of a disease which before was not really known. Lyme disease is a direct result of human encroachment. People destroyed the original ecosystem and when they returned became the victims of the disease they virtually created. In a similar fashion, but not altogether the same is the story of Hanta virus. It is believed that the disease, carried in the feces, urine, and saliva of rodents, has existed in the four corners area for thousands of years, however the encroachment of cities into the rural, forested areas which most rodents called home has allowed for the disease to spread beyond its original area. Rats and mice love to enter the houses put up along the lake shores and under the trees spreading the virus to those who happen upon them (Walters, 2003).
While it will likely always be necessary for mankind to enter “uncharted territory” in the need for more space, there are better ways to expand than the practices which have been especially prevalent over the past hundred years. Mass deforestation, rerouting of water sources and species extinction all alter the ecosystem making what was once a predictable area quite unpredictable and therefore quite dangerous. Just as unpredictable are the effects that the massive use of chemicals over the past fifty years will have on future generations. We may see great genetic mutations, large jumps in disease numbers, and an increase in cancers, and definitely many negative things which we do not currently foresee as possibilities. All in all it is necessary that we be much more careful in how we affect the environment which surrounds us.
Hilts, Phillip. 2005. Rx for Survival: Why We Must Rise to the Global Health Challenge.
McCally, Michael. 2002. Life Support: The Environment and Human Health.
Nagourney, Eric. The New York Times. Another Benefit is Seen in Buying Organic Produce. July 17, 2007.
Walters, Mark. 2003. Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them.
This article originally written December 15th, 2008 as a final for OU IPE 3913 - Human Health, Disease, and the Environment.