2020 / 10 / 18
Researched by Academy House Team
Edited by Mousab Kassem Azzawi, MSc, MD, PhD.
In this lecture, we will discuss the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and how climate change, the industrialisation of food, and the liberal use of synthetic chemicals and plastics are altering the health of humans and the health of our planet. You will also get some glimpses into some of the steps that we can take to start improving both our health and our planet’s health.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was called for by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan back in 2000. Over 2,000 authors and reviewers worldwide contributed their knowledge, time, and insight to this document. The objective was to assess the consequences of ecosystem change on human overall health and well-being, and then to establish the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report cited the following conclusions:
* At least twenty-five percent of mammals and 30 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction.
* Two-thirds of major marine fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited,´-or-even depleted.
* Ninety percent of the total weight of the ocean’s largest predators had disappeared.
* One billion people lack access to fresh, clean water.
The report concluded that human activity is putting a colossal strain on the earth’s ecosystems. As humans, we can no longer ignore the fact that our health is intimately linked to the health of the planet.
The intragovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) published an alarming report back in 2007. Many countries in the world will experience four- to eight-fold increase in heat wave days by the end of the century. Heat stress is bad for humans and can lead to large death tolls. When heat increases beyond a certain level, accompanied by high level of humidity, it could make life impossible for human beings.
Climate change is not just about heat. The IPCC report also stated that the movement of homes to areas where we have to rely on automobiles and the use of the agricultural industry of land has resulted in air quality disruption.
Between 1960 and 1990, the number of people working outside their home cities and towns increased by over 200 percent. Although it seems like a good intention to move out of cities to be surrounded by more green land and trees, this has resulted in vehicle miles travelled increasing by 250 percent from 1960 to 1997. This resulted in an exponential increase in air pollution levels worldwide.
In fact, urban outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year, and those individuals living in middle-income countries are disproportionately experiencing this burden.
Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to cardiovascular disease. Studies of mice show that even animals on a high-fat diet do alright in terms of plaque formation in their arteries, but they get sick and form more plaque—nearly double the amount—if they are given a high-fat diet combined with air pollution.
In 1996, the Atlanta Olympic Games were taking place in the downtown area, and a decision was made to-limit- automobile use in the area. Automobile use was reduced by 22.5 percent, and subsequently, hospital admissions for asthma in the area decreased by 41 percent.
Another contributor to poor air quality is the agricultural industry. In 2006, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that livestock production contributed 18 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions—which is more than transportation.
Another interesting study in 2006 at the University of Chicago concluded that a person switching from a typical Western diet to a vegan diet—a diet without animal meat, eggs,´-or-even milk— with the same number of calories would prevent the emission of 1,485 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
The livestock industry may also be affecting human health in another way. Very frequently, animals are kept on feedlots, which are confined quarters, instead of being able to graze freely in the grass. Because of this, they are routinely given antibiotics to prevent infection—not to treat sick animals. This is a true misuse of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are a true medical miracle and are to be used when needed in the correct way. People should take antibiotics when they need them, but the use of antibiotics is becoming increasingly liberal.
The agricultural industry uses approximately 71 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States, for example, and there is a strong link between antibiotics used in agriculture and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A report from 2000 looked at an antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak that occurred in the United Kingdom. It traced the outbreak to a dairy farm where a particular antibiotic was used the month before the outbreak. The use of the antibiotic in the dairy resulted in resistant infections in humans.
The American Society for Microbiology, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Association have called for substantial restrictions on antibiotic use in animal food production. They are calling for an end to all nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock.
The other problem is that animals are being fed corn and other grains that are high in omega-6. These grains raise the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Because of this, meat—primarily red meat—is recognised as being pro-inflammatory, which means that it can induce and exacerbate inflammation within the human tissues.
In 2009, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals. The CDC measured 212 chemicals in people’s blood´-or-urine, 75 of which have never been measured in the U.S. population in the past. These new chemicals include arsenic, environmental phenols, and bisphenol A.
One of these major environmental toxins is Bisphenol A (BPA), which is an industrial chemical that has been used to make plastics and resins since the 1960s. These plastics are often used in containers that store our food and beverages, such as canned foods and baby formula cans. The health concern is that the BPA that lines cans and bottles can seep into our food.
The results of in vitro and in vivo studies on BPA, as well as the results of epidemiological surveys on BPA showed toxic, hormonally disruptive, mutagenic and cancerogenic effects of BPA on human health. Moreover, data suggests that exposure of human to BPA may elevate risk of obesity, diabetes, and coronary heart diseases. Finally, biotransformation of BPA in animals, plants, and microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, algae), result in the formation of various metabolites that exhibit different forms of BPA toxicity to the human cells.