There is a growing consensus amongst health care providers who embrace the concept of holistic medicine that part of the "whole" in the term holistic encompasses living in harmony with nature. If one views the earth as "the patient," the prognosis is indeed guarded.
The oceans, which one can envision as the circulatory system of the planet, are seriously ill. Ongoing stressors include a growing demand for fish as a healthy food and fish oil as a beneficial supplement, rising water temperatures due in part to global warming and melting of the polar ice caps. The air and the land are "sick," too.
The statistics are staggering with regard to the ways in which mankind is altering the environment. There are 80,000 chemicals registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, with 1,600 new ones submitted for approval every year. According to the EPA, in 2000 more than 4 billion pounds of chemicals were discharged into the ground, nearly 2 billion chemicals were released into the atmosphere and 260 million pounds of chemicals were discharged into surface waters.
About 1,500 hazardous substances can be found in the typical North American home. For all the health benefits of breast milk, there are so many toxins concentrated in breast milk that, if the EPA had to approve breast milk today as a new food, some experts say it would not be approved.
In 2005, interim results from Greenpeace's Mercury Hair Sampling Project at the University of North Carolina-Asheville reported that mercury levels exceeded the EPA limit of 1 microgram of mercury per gram of hair in 21 percent of the 597 women of childbearing age tested.
Testing of non-occupationally exposed adults for 215 common high-use compounds revealed an average of 91 toxins per person. These chemicals, which are concentrating not just in our bodies, but the bodies of all plants and animals on the planet, may well be a major factor in the increasing prevalence of certain types of cancer and chronic diseases.
What can each of us do in our own lives to decrease the strains and stresses on the earth, its land, air and water?
We can recycle -- paper, plastic, metal and glass. We can reduce our use of plastic products.
We can walk or bicycle instead of taking the car, or at least combine errands to minimize gas mileage. Families with two or more cars can consider an electric car as the next purchase.
We can choose organic foods to reduce the use of pesticides -- and thus our exposure to them -- and preferably food grown geographically close to home to minimize the natural resources needed to get the food from the farm to our plates. And we can turn down the thermostat a degree, and wear a sweater.
It is easy to adopt a fatalistic attitude when confronted with the depressing information on the poor health of our environment.
At this time of year, when we tend to make New Year's resolutions, I believe that the health of our planet depends in part on each of us making specific and attainable commitments to a few changes we can make in our day-to-day lives to live in greater harmony with nature, and to utilize fewer natural resources.
What a wonderful gift to our children, grandchildren and future generations.