Some people are innately tuned to the earth while others see it as a resource to be burned, twisted and manipulated. One person stands at the foot of the mountain, admiring its grace and majesty as it protrudes from the earth and pierces the sky. Another sees the untapped riches beneath its shell waiting to be exploded and used to heat our homes, fuel our cars or dangle from our ears. Is one more environmentally sensitive than the other? Both appreciate the beauty and wonder of Earth but feel differently about its purpose and what it yields.
Is the earth a natural wonder to behold only with the eye and leave untouched for future generations, or a raw material to be pounded by the human hand to serve our purposes today? Can both visions peaceably coexist? I think they can.
This is where I tend to differ from hard-liners on both sides of the green movement. One has to admire the incredible advances humans have made by tinkering with our surroundings. Some are better than others, of course, but overall the last 100 years have been nothing short of a spectacular display of human ingenuity. Unfortunately, we as a species are sometimes too fascinated by progress to acknowledge the potential downside and health risks associated with it. We also don’t know how to stop after things have gone too far in the wrong direction.
If we simply evaluate everything from the vantage point of human health, the discussion comes more into focus. We also have to learn to trust our instincts as people more than we have in the past few decades. But sometimes it’s hard to walk away from something that you have worked so hard for. For example, people stay in toxic relationships longer than they should because it’s difficult to give up on something you have so much invested in. No one enters a relationship with the intention of ruining another person’s life and their own in the process; it just happens that way. The key is to walk away before it kills you and makes everyone around you sick.
Likewise, when a corporation spends billions to develop a product, it too can be difficult to walk away from. Tobacco company executives know their products aren’t safe. But they sure make a lot of money from them. Monsanto executives know their products make people sick, but the cost of settling the lawsuits against them is a lot less than the profits generated from injecting our food and spraying our crops with their synthetic madness. Do vaccinations and prescription drugs have negative side effects on some people? Yup. Just not enough to dissuade pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying firms from pushing the government to make sure everyone is required to get vaccinated and has access to drugs. Does the president of McDonald’s know that you cannot possibly produce a healthy meal for three bucks? I think you get the point.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there and it’s difficult to sift through and digest. The key is to use your head when evaluating the information presented to you and do your own cost/benefit analysis. From the smallest to the largest detail, America’s environmental balance sheet is better analyzed with common sense rather than dollars and cents.
If emissions from fossil fuel power plants are contributing to killing the planet and have definitively harmful effects when inhaled, it’s probably better not to build more of them. Especially when we know there are other ways to generate clean energy. (And no, there’s no such thing as clean coal.) If girls in elementary school are developing breasts, they’re probably drinking milk and eating food laden with hormones. That’s what hormones do. Therefore, we should probably stop injecting cattle with hormones and antibiotics that are making our children ill.
If we know that certain chemicals from stain-resistant carpeting, dust from drywall materials and fumes from paint can cause respiratory harm, why would we still allow people to build with them? When nearly half of the kids in school have an inhaler it should tell us that there’s something unusual and very, very wrong.
These things don’t require white papers, demonstrations or lengthy debate, just a little bit a common sense. Then maybe our grandchildren too can stand at the foot of the mountain in wonder—because it will still be there.
Wouldn’t we be better served if our government made policy decisions in the context of public health? Rather than being guided by a strict set of ideological standards, every debate should settle on one question: Will this decision negatively impact human health? It’s surprising how disruptive this question can be. Ironically it is the one question missing in the debate that is currently raging over healthcare reform in America. The centerpiece of the discussion thus far has been money; this will inevitably have disastrous consequences.To illustrate this point I want to share a personal healthcare story that opened my eyes to a new way of thinking that is actually a fairly old way of thinking. It’s just that it was new to me.
My wife and I have two girls, 6 and 3. Our eldest came into the world and landed softly in a nest of first-time parent neuroses. A couple of years of over-parenting, a completely sterilized environment and a diet consisting of canned/jarred/packaged “nutrients” more appropriate for an astronaut than a baby and our 21st century experiment was on her way. Except her little adventures kept taking familiar turns toward the doctor’s office, where she was met with more solutions in a bottle concocted by science, sold by drug reps to over-booked doctors being greeted by angry mobs of parents demanding pharmaceutical solutions to the most mundane health issues.As the story goes, better safe than sorry—just take the antibiotic.After being on antibiotics one too many times for the dreaded ear infection, my wife noticed behavior in our daughter that was unsettling. Other children exhibited similar behavior and talk of occupational therapy, pathologists, and early intervention was the norm in our circles. None of this was acceptable to my wife who believed there had to be something we were missing.Looking back on it, so many disparate pieces of the puzzle that is our daughter had to come together that it could only have been fate or divine intervention that interceded on our behalf. Many of these pieces are people who deserve dedicated columns and praise. But this is about the man they all unwittingly conspired to bring us to.Dr. Larry Palevsky is quite unlike any doctor we have ever met. That is, until we met his partner in the practice, Alan Sherr. Together they own and operate the Northport Wellness Center. Larry is the resident pediatrician in the group.Our first meeting was caustic. A total shock to our parental systems that assailed everything we knew to be true about raising a healthy child. After only 90 minutes my wife was reduced to tears and I was left speechless, the latter being no small feat. He deconstructed the ear infection in the simplest of ways and offered the riskiest advice to new parents in today’s world.The lessons he taught me made me resolve to not stay silent for too long.Strip away, if you can, everything you have ever learned about antibiotics, viruses and colds and consider the following logic. An infection, such as common ear infections in children, presents itself in three primary ways—inflammation, pain and heat. Antibiotics pinpoint these symptoms by reducing inflammation, mitigating pain and cooling the body. Problem solved? No, problem masked.It’s at this point in the story I usually lose people, and am pegged as a New Age crazy. This is because my wife and I traveled down the rabbit hole and emerged into an alternate (or, alternative) medical universe that looks amazingly like the 1940s.Larry contends that the antibiotics place the virus in a dormant state, only to return in short order in a slightly more aggressive fashion. After several reoccurrences the antibiotic may even cease to be effective, at which point the prescribed antibiotic is either changed or the dosage is intensified. All the while these foreign chemicals are gradually wreaking havoc on tiny bodies and systematically breaking down their natural immune systems.He was delivering this information very cautiously. He spoke in measured sentences and never changed his tone. He was used to having parents storm out of his office at this point in the initial consultation. But we were transfixed.This is not a new age healer with a wild look in his eyes talking about government conspiracies. This is a board-certified medical doctor who believes the patient holds the key to healing common ailments; a man who believes in logic and common sense and thinks that listening is the most important thing a physician can do. But his words are strangely frightening. I suppose it is because he questions conventional wisdom. As the publisher of an alternative weekly newspaper, I get that and therefore I get him. But it was only after this consultation that I realized I was so busy questioning everything around me that I was blinded when it came to what matters most—the health of my family.Thankfully my wife had the audacity to question commonplace medical practice and seek out other voices who speak so softly that they are drowned out by the chorus of the pharmaceutical industry. Larry’s didn’t have to speak loudly to be heard. His words, absent any outside influences and noise, were so clear and piercing they were all we could hear.The truth has that effect.Larry told us that we had to make up our own minds. He said children’s bodies allow second chances and that we could begin again. Our first task was to allow the next virus to run its course. Do nothing. Let her body retrain itself and do what it is better equipped to do than any human-made drug: Heal.Her fever hit 103 and she was in pain. We held her close, called Larry (what seemed like 1,000 times) and did nothing. During every phone call he told us that this was a choice and that there was no shame in wavering and choosing antibiotics. If we had any doubts, he encouraged us to take her to a conventional doctor.“Conventional doctor.” It was the first time I had heard that term.Needless to say our daughter made it. It has been more than three years now since her last antibiotic. Our youngest has never been on one. Neither of them is sick that often and when they are it never lasts more than 36 hours. All this by caring enough to do nothing. And doing nothing turned out to be a lot more difficult than doing something.Every circumstance is different and no one diagnosis fits all. Doctors should always be consulted and not even Larry has all the answers. The point is that we have become detached from our senses and instincts as parents and reconnecting with them, while painful, is more important than ever.We live in a far more toxic world than our parents and grandparents did, so we need a new way of looking at the world, no matter how old these views may be.