We’re all in this together — let’s start acting like it

Vaccines have sparked a conversation about the need to collectively protect each other — a conversation we need to apply to environmental challenges.

By David Doody (@dlukedoody) for Ensia

It’s easy to make the case that we need to work together to reduce the sources contributing to a lower quality of life for millions of people or worse, killing them.

Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth, an organization that works to clean up communities around the world where toxin substances greatly affect health, recently wrote in Ensia that pollution killed about 9 million people around the world in 2012, and the vast majority of those were the poorest and most at-risk people in the world, incapable of simply moving away from polluted areas. “Our economy is global and so are the pollutants it generates,” Fuller wrote. “Contaminated air from China can now be measured in other countries. Mercury from gold mining and coal plants can be found in fish, and arsenic has been found in rice. Many highly polluting industries have moved from developed countries to poor countries with less environmental regulation and technology to manage and remediate chemicals.” Compare that 9 million to the 668 cases of measles reported in the U.S. to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014, and it’s easy to make the case that we need to work together to reduce the sources contributing to a lower quality of life for millions of people or worse, killing them.

If we get down to it, a lack of solutions isn’t really the problem we face today — only the will to implement them.

I don’t live in an area of the world likely to face the worst of environmental consequences, now or in the future. So, believe me, I understand the inclination to call for action on things that seem more immediately relevant to one’s life. Unlike the possible repercussions of an unvaccinated child in our midst, the environmental effects of our lifestyles often manifest themselves among unknown people in far-off places and in future times (we reap the benefits today, but don’t realize the harm until much later). So, as the world warms and other people suffer the consequences of our collective assaults on the environment, it’s easier (and natural) to debate choices that are closer to home, but don’t have the same impact on a scale across time and place. It seems hard to solve all the world’s problems, so we focus on issues we feel we can solve. But it’s simply not fair to reap the benefits of our lifestyles while outsourcing the costs to other people, places and times.

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Ensia is a solutions-focused nonprofit media outlet reporting on our changing planet.

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