The forests are in trouble. The water is, too. The people who make your clothes risk death from the factory, their workplace, collapsing. You leave a building with a headache or a stomachache, and don’t know why. Your food is poisoning you, and the earth. Species and habitats are being irrevocably damaged. Your loved one was diagnosed with cancer. So was your neighbor.
What do these issues have in common? The answer is simple: their complex, ambiguous cause; their result; and their need for change.
Before I dive in, it’s important to acknowledge that most people do not intend to cause harm to others or to damage the environment. Unfortunately, the environmental and health movements are a response to exactly such harm and damage. To summarize, the forests are in trouble due to overzealous logging and profit focused forest management practices. It’s a complex issue that deeply affects the lives of whole communities and the existence of many species. The water is in trouble due to an onslaught of pollution from agriculture, plastic waste, the chemicals of manufacturing, and old lead pipes (to name a few). The people who make your clothes come to work for low wages in poor conditions because employment options are very limited in many parts of the world, and the pressures of cheap, fast fashion and globalized competition causes manufacturers to pass on the economic squeeze to their workers through lower pay, longer hours, and unsafe workspaces. You leave a building with a headache or stomachache because volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are being released into these spaces, polluting the air you breathe and causing something called Sick Building Syndrome. Your food is sprayed intensely with chemicals, whose long term effects are still not completely known; the animals you eat are fed food with hormones, and drink water that may be polluted or contain trace amounts of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic compounds (PBTs), which make their way up the food chain to you. This accumulation of man-made chemicals and pollution is destroying habitats and pushing more species to distinction. Our political system’s reactive regulation is often too little, too late, with too narrow a focus. There are thousands of man-made chemicals that have never been tested for human and environmental health or impact, and many of them could be making us sick. Continue reading “Why Transparency Matters”