The 3-C challenge: Minimizing Cancer, Chronic Disease and the Climate Crisis
Canada is at a cross-roads. Our climate is changing more rapidly than the global average, and the climate crisis is the largest single threat to global health.
Time is short, and every decision counts. Clear, common vision is essential to make hard choices, wisely and nimbly. Today’s decision-making frameworks and methods created these problems and therefore will not solve this predicament, especially if we demand stringent scientific proof of harms before ruling out poorer choices.
The road straight ahead, business as usual, is blocked by fires, floods, giant storms, deserts and potential starvation. The alternative paths are narrower and trickier, with alluring branches diverting us back to the present road. Choosing wise alternatives now is are our only hope for our children to have a liveable, biologically rich and somewhat stable world with healthy, diverse ecosystems, and clean air and water.
Canadian healthcare professionals are looking for action. The Canadian Paediatric Society outlines how air and water pollution, food insecurity and infections will increase, whereas responses that blunt climate change such as walking and biking for transportation, and greener landscapes, can improve environmental and human health. The United Nations reported that agriculture and land use is responsible for 23% of greenhouse gases. Improving agriculture and our consumption of plant-based, less-processed foods will reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). As well, improved diets reduce disease.
Cancer is a helpful framework. The Halifax Project: Rethinking Cancer examined 10 mechanisms related to the development of cancer. Many of these mechanisms also lead to birth defects and chronic disease. Costs include lifelong adversities and heartache, and billions of dollars annually for health care.
In 2015, 350 scientists from 31 countries showed that together, common chemicals in consumer products and foods triggered all 10 biological mechanisms. Everyday exposures can combine to equal a “complete carcinogen,” whereas chosen wisely, everyday foods and substances are beneficial.
Just as contributors overlap, cures abound across the board for the Climate crisis, Cancer and Chronic disease (3Cs), in making informed, wise, pragmatic choices.
One problem is, we don’t regulate reality.
Pesticides, chemicals in consumer products, pollutants, and radiation from our technology amplify one another’s harms, but are siloed by laws, policies and regulators using outdated methods. Environmental exposures are generally considered benign until proven otherwise (requiring decades of research). Environmental agents are regulated one-at-a-time (not in mixtures) based on single modes of action despite the complexities of chemistry and biology. Without systematic science and informed analyses, lax standards and protracted, reactionary processes leave human health at risk.
Prevent Cancer Now and others with centuries of cumulative experience are working to modernize approaches to: include low dose effects such as endocrine disruption; improve chemicals management; promote pesticides reduction and sustainable agriculture; and advocate telecommunications that minimizes wireless radiation. Major concerns are summarized in our submissions, including amendment of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
We don’t even track reality. Research on environmental and human health hinges on knowing exposures in the real world. Data is sparse, but collecting and centralizing “exposure” data, to be meshed with health data (human or environmental), is essential to understand interacting effects of everyday agents. Data also helps to prioritize actions.
Getting started, combatting complex interacting causes of the 3Cs
Are products and exposures of concern really necessary?
Every product comes with impacts and greenhouse gas footprints, from resource extraction through manufacturing, transportation, use and recycling or disposal. There is scant industrial accountability for materials introduced in the marketplace and environment such as plastics, persistent, toxic anti-stick, anti-flame, anti-stain chemicals, and pesticides. Sewage solids spread on agricultural soil, chemicals and drugs that go down the drain, and persistent chemicals leaching from dumps all pollute the biosphere, and then return via food and water to harm us. What can we do without? What is the best fate for trash?
Are there better options?
Greenscreen, Safe-by-Design and Six Classes are three programs that aim to end a sorry history of regrettable substitution of known toxicants with other toxic options. These programs expedite identifying and adopting safer options to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), persistent halogenated chemicals, and other toxic substances such as heavy metals.