When we neglect to notice the ways we interact with the natural world every day, it is easy to forget how entwined the health of our bodies is with the health of the earth.
Meaning-making systems such as religion carry messages that help remind us of our call to be good stewards, but it is also helpful to understand the connection between our own bodies and the elements.
Daily living conditions and interaction with the natural environment can affect physical and mental health. Although the burden of poor environmental health may be more noticeable in less developed countries, there are many problems that impact people living in the United States.
An understanding of these issues can help us promote positive environmental and human health at a community and individual level.
For instance, air pollution and ground-level ozone, called smog, can make asthma and allergies worse, especially in children and elders. High concentrations of small particulates can reach into the deepest part of the lung and impair lung growth and cause asthma and cancer.
As global climate changes lead to longer pollen seasons, those with allergic sensitivities and asthma are suffering increased negative health effects. Smoke from wildfires is also an increasingly prevalent air pollutant, causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems. We can each take action to improve the air quality in our own neighborhoods.
Water and Earth
Water and soil quality also affect our health. Water quality is crucial, from the water that we drink to the bodies of water that we use for recreation. Natural watersheds and municipal water systems form a complex water environment that requires monitoring on many levels. Pools, lakes, rivers, and oceans can become contaminated with harmful chemicals, bacteria, or other organisms.
Climate scientists expect that changing temperatures will cause increased precipitation and flooding, which will increase the level of exposure to toxins used on crops and livestock in the water supply. Water-borne illnesses will likely increase as well, because higher water temperatures provide a more hospitable environment for bacteria.
Food grown with pesticides can have a negative impact on your health. In particular, fumigants are hazardous not only through direct consumption, but also to people living in communities surrounding areas of fumigant application. Numerous pesticides can be found in your diet, and certain types of fruits and vegetables have higher concentrations than others. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative health impact of pesticides, but they can also be protected with diligence and advocacy.
In addition to the impact on human health, the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture can degrade soil quality and decrease soil biodiversity. Pursue strategies to promote sustainable agriculture and ensure a healthy future for our planet and future generations.
Green Space and
A recent study of data from over 290 million people globally has shown that spending time in nature not only has psychological benefits but wide-ranging physical health benefits as well.
Exposure to green space reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, among other conditions.
And yet, cities fundamentally require urban landscapes to function—the concrete streets, buildings, and infrastructure we are all familiar with.
This means that living in a city, away from nature, takes a toll on people. But there are many ways to incorporate more green space into cities, from greenways to city parks to urban gardens. And there are numerous benefits to doing so.
Urban forests, for instance, provide not only green space but also food to local communities. They reduce energy use by providing shade in the summer and wind breaks in the winter. They also reduce stormwater runoff, remediate soils, and provide animal and plant habitats. Urban parks are particularly important, as they provide easy access to natural spaces that offer human health benefits as well as economic and environmental benefits.
While government-led initiatives are important, so are grassroots efforts. You can get involved by starting an effort to build a community garden or create an outdoor community space. Find support for starting your own from the Yale Urban Resources Initiative.
- Visit https://www.airnow.gov/education/what-you-can-do/ to find out how you can contribute to cleaner air
- Take steps to reduce your exposure to air pollution