The week’s news focused on climate change and the administration’s decision about the Paris Accord. Several people have asked me about it and I have to admit to them that I am not an expert on global warming. Those friends and colleagues may have assumed some knowledge on my part because of my deep understanding and passion about how the environment affects human health.
I ask anybody who has strong views on either side about the Paris Accord itself to take a step back and look at the overall picture of how we are tied to our environment. The evidence-based science is all around us.
It’s most clear when you look at the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors. It’s one thing for adults, and even more important for children whose whole systems are under construction. Their undeveloped systems are fragile and do not have full capacity to fight adverse outcomes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “an estimated 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 — nearly 1 in 4 of total global deaths according to new estimates.”
Of those deaths WHO reports, cancer due to the environment is the cause of 1.7 million deaths annually.
The President mentioned in his speech pulling out of the Paris Accord that “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Just 24 miles down the road from Pittsburgh is Donora, Pennsylvania, where in 1948 there was a historic wall of smog that killed 20 people and sickened 7,000. After the smog lifted another 50 died, and many had lung and respiratory issues for the rest of their lives.
If there is the cataclysmic reason to stay in the Paris Accord, it could be to prevent any more Donoras.
Donora’s smog event, the worst air pollution disaster in U.S. history, led to the Clean Air Act.
Working class people dropped dead in the name of economic ambition — ambitions which ignored the environment and human life.
So while the inclination is to talk about the Earth’s temperature, and rising sea levels, this issue of climate change translates into actual increased risks for human health, increased illness and preventable cancers. Turn the phrase “climate change” into “climate cancer” and think of the lives that are destroyed by unhealthy environments.
As a child, I remember stories of dead fish on the shores of Lake Erie as an outcome of the industry pollution. Remember in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River that feeds into Lake Erie caught fire?
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. President Richard Nixon had established the EPA in 1970.
It was also President Nixon who signed an act in 1971 declaring “War on Cancer.” It is a far cry from how the current president sees these issue, unplugging any safeguards that prevent harm and protect both human health and the environment.
While I appreciate what President Nixon achieved, we now have a new way of approaching the fight against cancer. At the time it was a model of “break and fix”, the notion that best practice is making a mess of everything and then coming up with the best way to clean it up. Typically “messes” are made in the name of private gain, with the clean up left to the public’s resources.
But the reality is these kinds of environmental “messes” cause great harm to human health including cancer.
Look at Flint, Michigan, or the wealthier Seacoast Region of New Hampshire, where children are the target in a designated double cancer cluster: rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a rare type of soft-tissue cancer and Pleuropulmonary Blastoma, a rare lung cancer. Additionally, in the same area, there are higher than expected rates of rare pediatric brain cancers.
While Government officials indicate they don’t know what may be causing it, there are several environmental reasons including two Super Fund sites. They don’t need more information to understand that children are dying from the environment. There is lots of blame to allocate for causing this disaster, but it is up to the state of New Hampshire to fix it. To escalate matters to get these families help, New Hampshire State Representative Mindi Messmer will be drafting legislation to ensure families will be safe from environmental cancers associated with the Seacoast area. You can rail against the Paris Accord all you want, but the real consequences of ignoring the environment are all around us, in every locality.
Since 2004, every waking moment for me has been about the impacts of the environment on human health. While we are known as “Less Cancer,” but we are formally known as “Next Generation Choices Foundation”, a 501c3, a public charity, because everything we do is about small and large actions now that will impact future health.
It was founded to end the preventable suffering associated with cancer with the goal of ending the preventable cancers.
The issue of cancer prevention did not arrive without reason my loss from cancer is significant, close up and personal.
The work for Less Cancer will long be needed after our lifetimes. We have built a community that reaches around the globe. We are very interested in strengthening our relationships and work for Less Cancer. We as an organization are committed to protecting the future and the health of our children and their children that they will never know the suffering that comes with cancer here in the United States and globally.
First Published in Thrive Global