The greatest human impact on Earth has been the billions of tons of chemicals we emit and circulate in our normal daily and industrial activities. Global poisoning threatens human survival, and it must be addressed in such a way that none of the other existential threats we face as a species are even worse than they already are.
This is the theme of Earth Detox: how and why we need to clean our planet, by Julian Cribb. The author reminds us that we now inhabit the Anthropocene, which is the age when human action occurs on such a scale that it changes the Earth itself and its systems.
Cribb is punchy and quick to say it as it is:
“Ours is a poisoned world, its system imbued with the substances we deliberately or inadvertently produce during the extraction, manufacture, use, combustion or rejection of the many wonderful products upon which life depends. modern. “
Lest we think that the chemical basis of our daily lives is a standard that has existed in humans for eons, the author reminds us that the chemical age is quite new. It “has blossomed so rapidly that most people are still not aware of the extent or the magnitude of the peril in which it places each of us and our grandchildren.” Indeed, the book begins with the hope that the young members of the author’s family “may inherit a brave new world as free from poisons as the one our ancestors enjoyed.”
This era is a “beast” known as anthropogenic chemical circulation.
Because synthetic chemicals are an integral part of our daily routines, and because there is no industry or activity where they are not used in our Western lives, man-made chemicals are everywhere in the world. everything we do:
- in clothing, bedding and furnishings
- in electronics and plastic
- in cars, airplanes and ships
- in the air we breathe and the water we drink
- in construction and manufacturing
- in pest control
- in products that we put in our own bodies such as cosmetics, medicines, foods, drinks, tobacco and drugs
While there are many sources of chemicals, the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas, tar sands, etc. – poses multiple threats to human health, in particular to developing children and unborn babies. Our emitted chemicals don’t just disappear, as most people assume and the petrochemical industry has us believe. The chemicals go on forever, “reforming, recycling, recombining, reactivating in multiple forms” and being part of an “endless, ever-growing, ever-flowing planetary river”.
Here are 6 examples that Cribb describes in which human-made pollution circulates around the Earth:
- Dissolved or as particulate matter in water, including rivers, lakes, groundwater, rain, snowfall, and ocean currents
- As airborne vapors, gases, microscopic chemical particles or attached to dust particles
- In the bodies of living animals and in plants
- Via the food chain, which has been contaminated by the previous 3 pathways on this list and by the intentional use of pesticides, packaging chemicals, food preservatives, colors and additives in food production
- In the manufacture of goods – traded, transported and used by humans, whether deliberately or not, and in their disposal as waste
- In humans ourselves, being transmitted from mother to embryo in the fetal blood supply and subsequently in breast milk; from parent to offspring and offspring in damaged genes; and, in the drugs we take
Deep dives in chemical toxicity that we can see and understand
Under the Trump administration, more than 125 environmental laws have been watered down or eliminated. Favoring poisoners over victims has caused unnecessary illness and death and will take years to mitigate.
Air pollution. Deaths from air pollution mainly result from heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease (COPD), lung cancer and acute respiratory infections. Air pollution is increasing death rates from infections such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Oceans. Our oceans are so vast that even toxic chemicals dilute and lose their effective toxicity, right? We can dump unwanted chemicals or materials into the oceans without causing significant damage, right? Nope. There is no place on Earth that is so far away that it is safe from increased anthropogenic chemical circulation. A process known as biomagnification occurs, in which toxic substances initially released in small amounts can concentrate in the marine food chain until they eventually reach human consumers in toxic doses. Dead zones – those areas of the ocean contaminated by erosion of agricultural soils and fertilizers – will also expand as the fertilizers we use to grow our food double by the middle of the 21st century.
Plastics. Because plastics are very resistant to rotting and decomposition, they stay with us for a long, long time. Plastic pollution is increasing at a rate of 9% per year, driven by an industry that makes more than $ 600 million a year from it. Total global plastic production and its impact on the climate are expected to triple by the middle of the 21st century.
The water. Groundwater is one of the greatest natural resources on Earth and represents 97% of the fresh water available on the planet. Groundwater travels far in its underground pathways, so if it is contaminated, people far from the source of the pollution can be affected. The main sources of groundwater contamination are leaky landfills, hazardous waste disposal, illegal industrial landfills and landfills, infiltration from old garages and fuel stores, factory sites and gasometers, dams mining and tailings, hydraulic fracturing, oil and chemical spills, fire-fighting chemicals, dry cleaning and mechanical solvents, severely damaged sewage systems, drugs, urban runoff and agricultural chemicals. It is estimated that 2 billion people drink contaminated water daily.
A readable tale with a spooky chemicals subtext
Detox Earth presents an alarming array of examples of how we are immersed in a chemically infused environment every hour of every day. But the book is quite readable, which makes the message digestible for its interested audience. Each chapter is divided into short sections, and each section contains a balance of anecdotes, statistics, peer-reviewed research, multiple data sources, and summaries that provide insight into the effects of chemicals on humans.
The book could be read as a prediction of doom without recourse. However, Cribbs ends the book with a ten point plan to reduce the toxic burden on ourselves, our children, and life on Earth. It’s a great list, sure, but it’s a viable starting point.
- Form an alliance of people, institutions and businesses concerned with detoxifying the planet, raising awareness, motivating the adoption of clean products and production systems and educating citizens to become “clean consumers”.
- Campaign for a universal Human right not to be poisoned.
- Establish a new international scientific body to measure the full extent of human chemical emissions, assess their toxicity and impact, monitor changes, and oversee the task of cleaning up the planet.
- Tap for universal testing of all new and suspicious chemicals. Share the results openly and globally. Maintain an open global registry of toxic substances.
- Lobby for the replacement of all coals, oils, gases and other fossil fuels with clean energy and non-toxic raw materials for industry.
- Banish known toxins from the food chain, water supply, air and the wider environment through informed consumer choice and regulation. Increase scrutiny of suspected toxins.
- Lobby for a priority policy of disease prevention in medicine over chemical cure. Educate healthcare workers to recognize, diagnose, report and prevent illnesses resulting from chronic or acute chemical exposure, and educate the public on the risks and solutions.
- Train all young chemists, scientists and engineers in their social and ethical responsibility to “Help. But first, don’t hurt.
- Educate our children to choose the safest and least toxic products and services wisely. Give them the means to educate us.
- Empower and reward the industry to profit ethically by producing clean products that do no harm. Encourage the universal adoption of stricter codes for clean industry, recycling, zero waste, green chemistry and cleaning.
Cribb forces us to recognize …
“… We are now faced with compelling evidence that our combined chemical outpouring threatens human civilization, jeopardizing the health, happiness, intelligence and well-being of all. Now is the time for us to clean up the Earth. Together.”
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