The No. 1 Health Issue of Our Time / "Save the Humans"

I believe the no. 1 health issue of our time is the environment.

When I say “the environment,” I’m referring to climate change, pollution, the chemicals we’re exposed to from our everyday consumer products and so on. 

I notice there’s some awareness that climate change and pollution are contributing to the rise in respiratory problems, such as asthma, allergies and COPD. 

But pollution and chemical exposure are involved in a number of other diseases and conditions that people don’t always connect the dots about, including cancer, anxiety, depression, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain, obesity and thyroid disease. Chemicals and toxins are also linked to behavioral problems, ADHD and shorter attention spans. 

I often think the efforts to “save the planet,” “save the polar bears” or “save the lakes” would be more effectively named if those campaigns were simply: “save yourself.” Are you willing to donate $10 a month to save yourself? To help prevent a future disease for your child?It’s bizarre to think of how we humans have trashed our own habitat. I can’t think of another animal or creature that brings ruin upon its own habitat. 

Our bodies absorb toxins through the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and even through products we put on our skin. Once toxins are inside the body, they can cause damage everywhere. 

Our children are the most vulnerable because they go through critical stages of development, during which exposure throws their bodies off course. Also, because children are smaller, the toxins they take in have a bigger effect. On top of that, our children have inherited a toxic planet, and they will have more years to accumulate additional toxins. 

In 2010, after extensive research, the President’s Cancer Panel stated that “the true burden of environmental induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and that “the public remains unaware of many common environmental carcinogens.” 

Years ago, the World Health Organization warned that chronic disease, including neurocognitive problems, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease is quickly reaching epidemic levels across the globe.

We know that toxins play a role in all kinds of chronic illnesses.

The World Health Organization also says environmental hazards overall have a “devastating impact” on global health. 

A recent study at Harvard University determined that switching to clean, renewable energy can save a region between $6 million and $210 million in public health and climate costs per year, depending on the region. 

Many efforts to reverse the damage we’ve caused for our planet take initial investment upfront, but more studies are showing there is definitely a return on investment in dollars as well as health and quality of life.

Rising rates of disease, chronic illness and physical and emotional suffering aside…our very survival depends on swift and meaningful change. Intergovernmental panels of scientists have shown undoubtedly that the planet is warming AND we are causing it AND we can all expect increasingly extreme and deadly weather in the future, including extreme temperatures, drought, flooding, fires, rising sea levels and so on. ( and (

As one scientist concisely put it: 1) It’s warming, 2) It’s us, 3) We’re sure, 4) It’s bad, and 5) We can fix it. (

Friends, lets focus as much of our attention on point 5 as we can—our lives literally depend on it. We don’t need to worry—but we DO need to ACT.

Here’s what you can do to keep the planet habitable and to curb our rising rates of disease ad illness:

-      Call your local energy provider and sign up for any renewable energy programs they have. Our country gets much of its power by burning fossil fuels, which emit toxins into the air, water and food supplies. Many energy companies use primarily coal, which is the no. 1 source of mercury emissions in this country. As consumers, we need to encourage and support our energy providers to switch to clean, renewable energy. And if you can make the bigger investments, get solar on your roof, or make your next car purchase electric, etc. 

-      Join 350 ( an international movement of people working toward renewable energy for all. Achieving this would be a HUGE step in curbing climate change and the levels of toxins in our air. This is a great organization to donate to and to find connections within your community. 

I’ve been so inspired by some of my friends, who were instrumental in getting our city to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy. They’re now working toward the same effort with the school district. My friends are ordinary people, working parents. They have good minds and good hearts, so they understand the urgency of the situation and have passionately led successful grassroots efforts.

-      Buy quality, not quantity. Embrace minimalism. 

-      Contact your elected representatives and tell them you want to see more support for the environment. Call your city council, your school board, your state and federal representatives and ask for the government to support renewable energy and all environmental efforts. Vote for people who show they care.

-      Remove swaths of your grass lawn and plant native plants and pollinators instead.

-      Start a raingarden. They require minimal maintenance, and their root systems help filter out toxins and unfiltered water from flowing rapidly into your lakes and streams. 

-      Buy organic food. Buying organic food isn’t just for your own health (there’s good research on how much conventional food increases your likelihood to develop various diseases compared to organic). Buying organic keeps swaths of land from getting doused in toxins, which means it keeps the air, water and soil healthier. 

Conventional food can be covered in chemicals SO. MANY. TIMES. First, the seed may be coated (I’ve seen the huge machines that tumble the seeds around in a chemical bath). Second, as the food grows, it may be sprayed with chemicals. Third, after the food is harvested, it may be sprayed with more chemicals while it’s being stored in order to keep pests away. 

And as for conventional, factory-farmed animal products? The pollution caused by these factory farms is tremendous. I’ve been working on my Food book, and I had to set aside my notes about what happens on factory farms (that is, in the majority of farms that are producing your meat, milk, butter, etc.) because I was so grossed out and bummed out re-reading the details of what’s happening on most farms in this country. For now, let’s just leave it at this: Buy animal products ONLY from a source you know is raising the animals well, and eat fewer animal products. 

-      Compost. Start your own garden.

-      Buy organic clothing and products to support chemical-free agriculture in general. Conventional cotton is notoriously full of toxins and requires tons of water. Buying organic cotton is a way to vote for health, keep those chemicals out of our systems and preserve water.

-      Choose natural cleaning and laundry products. See the Environmental Working Group’s website for guides on the healthiest products and my book, “Take Care: The Home Environment Guide” for more details. 

-      Drive less, bike and walk more. Support pedestrian-friendly cities.

-      Stop treating your lawn and spraying for weeds. The vast majority of companies that are treating for weeds are using harmful ingredients, regardless of whether they tell you it’s “non-toxic” (a nearly meaningless term, just ask the young man who had the good fortune of stopping by my house to try and sell his weed killing service and instead learned that he is putting himself and any future children he might bear at increased risk of cancer and other diseases, in addition to polluting the water supply of our beautiful nearby lake and further harming the pollinators we all rely on for food to grow on this planet). 

-      Plant trees.

-      Get a reverse osmosis water filter for your drinking water and cooking. You can often rent these from a company like Culligan, or install your own. Reverse osmosis is my favorite type of filtration because it can filter out much more than most other filters. And I’m sorry to have to say that typical city water is full of toxins—including hormone disrupting chemicals and pharmaceutical residue that’s been peed out and gets through water treatment. It’s gross but true—drinking normal city water means you may be drinking trace amounts of birth control pills and other medications. 

-      Stop buying plastic or items with a one-time use whenever you can. Plastic is made from materials like coal, natural gas and crude oil. Producing it is toxic, and when it gets thrown to the trash, it leaches toxins out into the earth as it VERY slowly (if ever) decomposes. As consumers, we have to stop supporting the production of toxic materials. 

-      Buy only natural body care and personal hygiene products. Again, see the Environmental Working Group’s guide for good brands my book, “Take Care: The Body Care Guide” 

-      Share your time, expertise or money with groups like 350 (, the Environmental Working Group (, The Sierra Club ( and others who are working for the environment / our health. 

-      Add your ideas to this post! And please, spread the word!

Thank you for hanging with me, this was a long article! 

For more tips and ideas, see my 7-book wellness series:

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