Deep Ecology - Health, Disease and Nature
The search for solutions from medical problems often means breaking through common assumptions and prevailing dogmas. We think that common sense and good environmental practice can accomplish as much or more in health matters than all the high technology in medical institutions.
Dr Gislason wrote: "When I was five years old, my family moved a new suburb on the edge of Toronto, a typical North American city beginning its post-war growth spurt. My back yard was a forest that led down into a river valley - still natural and full of wonder. For a few years, I enjoyed this natural environment and made friends with trees, flowers, birds, raccoons and fish in the river. I discovered peace and joy in the natural environment. The city grew, as I grew, and I watched the cherished natural environments of my childhood disappear -swallowed up and replaced by houses, roads, and shopping malls. I adapted to an increasingly urban existence and enjoyed parts of it, but for many years I dreamed of returning to a place of nature. Eventually, I found my way back to a more natural environment on the West Coast of Canada and restored there a sense of well being and kinship with the ocean, forest and mountains. I regretted the destruction of the natural world of my childhood and to this day have a deep, relentless sense of foreboding- little good can come out what we have done to our precious Mother Earth. I see the health of individuals and populations all inextricably meshed with world ecology and I see our species in trouble. We are creatures with a tragically split personality. Part of us is destructive, selfish and confused and needs to change quickly. The other part of us is tender, affectionate and feels reverence and awe whenever we make ourselves available to perceive the natural world in all its splendor. "
Gary Snyder suggested in Practice of the Wild:
"Deep Ecology thinkers insist that the natural world has a value in its own right, that the health of natural systems should be our first concern, and that this best serves the interests of humans as well...Environmental concerns and politics have spread worldwide. In some countries, the focus is almost entirely on human health and welfare issues. It is proper that the range of the movement should run from wildlife to urban health. But there can be no health for humans and cities that bypasses the rest of nature... A sophisticated postindustrial 'future primitive' agriculture will be asking: is there any way we can go with rather against nature's tendency?"
Biological Science and Health
More than ever, we appreciate that we are constructed of intricately designed, dynamic molecular structures, amenable to our study and manipulation. We also appreciate that the human body is an open-ended, self-regulating system, highly responsive to the molecular determinants impinging on it through food and environment. Human health depends on the proper supply of food, air and water. Infection, injury and toxicity are environmental problems. There is a consensus that smoking, drinking and accidents are important preventable health hazards. The control of infectious disease through improved hygiene and immunization is one of the great health achievements of the past century. The improvement in the diversity and availability of foods has been a mixed blessing with major problems emerging to negate the potential benefits. Food is the most intimate part of the environment because we ingest it. When something goes wrong, it makes good sense to look at the flow of substances through the mouth for the source of the problem. We look not only at the composition of the food but also, and more importantly, at the interaction of the ingested molecules with body. Adverse reactions to food are common and produce many disturbances by a variety of mechanisms. Diagnosing adverse reactions to food is an important task of clinical medicine, despite the fact that it is not currently taught in medical schools.
A proper biological method of medicine must begin by recognizing and solving problems in food, air, and water supplies. A steady flow of molecules from the environment enters the body of each individual through the air breathed and the food and liquids ingested. This body-input determines health and disease in whole populations over the long-term and the moment to moment functional capacity of the individual. A person's performance can change dramatically with changes in this molecular stream. The quality and composition of air, food, and water changes continuously. The illusion of food continuity in the supermarket conceals changes in the growth, contamination, storage, spoiling, transportation, and merchandising of food products. To understand environmental reactivity we must deal with changes, variability and inconsistencies, and we must seek adaptive, flexible responses to changing circumstances.
The biologist sees living creatures connected to and interacting with their environment. It is normal for a biologist to think in terms of populations, food supply, seasons, weather and social-behaviors. Biologists do field studies that reveal patterns of adaptation to specific changes in the environment. Anyone who has worked with animals or fish in closed environments knows how critical environmental conditions and diet are in determining both the behavior and the physical status of the residents. When a fish in an aquarium displays disturbed behavior, you do not call a fish psychiatrist and prescribe Prozac; you check the oxygen concentration, temperature and pH of the water. You have to clean the tank and change the fish diet.
Each person interacts with home and work environments, which determine biological fate. In industrialized countries, the microenvironment of each person is controlled by human constructions and is generally polluted by toxic substances. The extent of this is seldom measured, and the effects are poorly understood. As environmental problems multiply, new ill-defined illnesses will increase.
We have abandoned the idea of neatly packaged diseases. Health problems tend to cluster in groups and evolve over time. Many factors contribute to the final end-stage disease, listed as diagnoses in medical records. Non-specific illnesses may be misunderstood by physicians who have been taught to make diagnoses of specific disorders. Often patients with mild symptoms are heading toward a major illness, but they may suffer in an ill-defined state for months or years. As illnesses progress, more specific features tend to emerge-dysfunction and tissue changes become more obvious, and medical diagnoses become more useful. A heart attack or stroke, both calamitous events with obvious features, fit the medical model well and tend to be diagnosed reliably and treated in a standard fashion. These are end-point events - the underlying pathology takes years to develop and increasing dysfunction is often ignored as the pathology progresses toward a dramatic conclusion. Other processes may remain ill defined; chronic fatigue, muscle pains, headaches and cognitive dysfunction may make life miserable for many years before a more definable disease such as arthritis becomes apparent.