Environment becoming health issue

Preventing illness is the best way to get health-care costs down. So why aren’t governments doing more to protect the environment?

Preventing illness is the best way to get health-care costs down. So why aren’t governments doing more to protect the environment?

We’ve long known that environmental factors contribute to disease, especially contamination of air, water, and soil. Scientists are now learning the connection is stronger than we realized.

New research shows that 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans — those that rapidly increase in incidence or geographic range — start with animals, two-thirds from wild animals. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS, AIDS … these are just a few of the hundreds of epidemics that have spread from animals to people.

A study by the International Livestock Research Institute concludes that more than two million people a year are killed by diseases that originated with wild and domestic animals. Many more become ill.

According to an article in the New York Times, “emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century.” The increase is mainly due to human encroachment into and destruction of wildlife habitat. For example, one study concluded that a four per cent increase in Amazon deforestation led to a 50 per cent increase in malaria because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the cleared areas.

Another example from the article shows how interconnected life is. Development in North America has destroyed or fragmented forests and chased many predators away. This has led to a huge increase in white-footed mice, which carry Lyme bacteria. The mice are not good at removing ticks and their larvae and so the ticks pick up bacteria from the mice and spread it to other mammals, including humans. Because the number of Lyme-infected ticks has multiplied, more are transferring the disease to humans.

“When we do things in an ecosystem that erode biodiversity — we chop forests into bits or replace habitat with agricultural fields — we tend to get rid of species that serve a protective role,” Lyme disease researcher Richard Ostfeld told the New York Times, adding that our actions tend to favour species that act as disease carriers.

Global warming is adding to the problem.

A study in the journal Nature, Impact of regional climate change on human health, notes that heart attacks and respiratory illness due to heat waves, altered transmission of infectious diseases, and malnutrition from crop failures can all be linked to a warming planet.

And economic and political upheaval brought on by climate change can damage public health infrastructure, making it difficult for people to cope with the inevitable rise in sickness, according to a study in the Archives of Medical Research, Global Warming and Infectious Disease.

Research has also shown that warming ocean waters are increasing the incidence of waterborne illnesses, including those caused by toxic bacteria in shellfish.

This is costly to the economy as well as to human health and survival. The World Bank estimates that a severe influenza pandemic could cost the world economy $3 trillion. Environment Canada says air pollution alone costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars a year because of increased health-care costs, missed work days, and reduced productivity.

A key solution, according to the One Health Initiative, is to look at the links between human, animal, and ecological health and to manage our activities in a sustainable and holistic way.

The U.S.-based initiative is bringing experts in human, animal, and environmental health together to study these links.

Another promising area of research is natural capital evaluation. Although it’s difficult, if not impossible, to put a dollar value on the numerous services nature provides, leaving them out of economic calculations means they are often ignored. Forests and green spaces filter water and store carbon. Urban green spaces provide cooling and protection from storms. And, ecosystems in balance help to protect us from disease outbreaks. Destroying these systems and replacing them with human-built infrastructure or paying for the consequences often costs much more than profits gained from exploitation.

With the world’s human population now at seven billion and growing, and the demand for technology and modern conveniences increasing, we can’t control all our negative impacts. But we have to find better ways to live within the limits nature and its cycles impose. Our physical health and survival, and the health of our economies, depend on it.

Online:

• New Infectious Disease research (NYT article):

• Climate change and increased illness:

• Archives of Medical Research article – Global Warming and Infectious Disease:

http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsacd/cd68/AKhasnis.pdf

• Global warming linked to shellfish eating risks:

http://straight.com/article-749396/vancouver/global-warming-linked-shellfish-eating-risks

• Environment Canada – air pollution costs:

http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=en&n=D189C09D-1

• Natural Capital Evaluation:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/wildlife-habitat/projects/natural-capital/what-is-natural-capital/

• Everything Under the Sun:

http://www.dmpibooks.com/book/everything-under-the-sun

Scientist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki wrote this column with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A 19-day trial has been set for June 2022 for Chase Freed, who is accused of shooting to death a shopper outside the southside Red Deer Walmart and firing shots at two other people in the parking lot. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Man who killed a shopper outside Red Deer Walmart in December 2019 to go to trial in 2022

Chase Freed charged with second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
All adult Albertans to be offered first dose of vaccine by end of June: Premier

Alberta’s premier says the province will be “back to normal” when 72… Continue reading

Black Press Media file photo
Alberta doctors say trust must be rebuilt after proposed new labour deal rejected

EDMONTON — The head of the Alberta Medical Association says many factors… Continue reading

Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Expert says gathering outside Alberta church attended by many conspiracy theorists

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — An expert investigating hate groups says a weekend… Continue reading

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
Canada set to receive 1M Pfizer-BioNTech doses, Moderna playing catch-up

OTTAWA — The federal government is expecting Moderna to make good on… Continue reading

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
New regulator to stop sexual exploitation of children online: public safety minister

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the government will introduce… Continue reading

Gordon Greenwood Elementary Grade 7 students were assigned to write about climate change. The Langley Advance Times is pleased to present a selection of their writings. (Sasha/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

OTTAWA — A new report shows Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he will vote against a… Continue reading

Eugene Kwon of Gratia Bakery and Cafe says the business will be relying on take out orders and a small patio. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

OTTAWA — A group representing thousands of the country’s small businesses says… Continue reading

Ron Howard is photographed at the "Inferno" film premiere on Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS)
Brothers Ron and Clint Howard have memoir coming in October

NEW YORK — Filmmaker-actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, brothers, former… Continue reading

FILE - In this Saturday, March 27, 2021 file photo, Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Boston. The Buffalo Sabres could trade 2018 MVP Hall, who signed for just this season and is a pending free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston Bruins acquire Taylor Hall to kick off NHL trade deadline day

Trade deadline day in the NHL has started with the Boston Bruins… Continue reading

The Huawei logo displayed at the main office of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Poland’s Internal Security Agency has charged a Chinese manager at Huawei in Poland and one of its own former officers with espionage against Poland on behalf of China. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Huawei, HSBC agree on document deal for extradition case

HONG KONG — Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei said Monday that it… Continue reading

The Montreal Police logo is seen on a police car in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

MONTREAL — Hundreds of protestors gathered in Montreal on Sunday in defiance… Continue reading

Most Read