We live in an era of increased awareness of our delicate balance with nature. Over half a century ago, Rachel Carson warned of impending dangers to ourselves and our environment if we did not heed the signs of our negative impact upon it. Silent Spring, published in 1962, had a great impact on my impressionable mind as an undergraduate science student taking a course on ecology. My own career path centred on neuroscience but the early lessons in ecology and ecosystems remained with me. Thoughts about my own fragility within a larger environmental context took me back in time to Silent Spring, and the impact of pesticides on me, living in this environment. The invitation by my friend and colleague at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Richard (Dick) Philp, to write a foreword for his latest eBook on the impact on our health of changes in the environment caused by industry, particularly the petrochemical industry rekindled my own thoughts as a part of this larger context.
This is a particularly timely contribution. "Environmental Issues for the 21st Century and Their Impact on Human Health" presents us with some of the current 'hot button issues' in a readable, journalistic style that is very accessible to those of us who are not experts in the field, yet who are concerned about how we are treating the environment upon which we are so dependent for life. It is a compelling 'must read' also for students of environmental studies, drawing us into subjects that are of topical interest, such as the Gulf Oil Spill and the radiation fears following the earthquake and Tsunami in eastern Japan, which are considered by many to be among the stories of defeat. Although we continue to search for stories of victory we are reminded of contemporary ailments that are environmentally related, such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and the health effects of aerial spraying over urban areas with presumed harmless agents. We fear what lurks over the horizon as a result of persistent organic pollutants. The balance that concerned Rachael Carson has not improved greatly. This eBook again highlights our fragile nature within the larger context of this ever-changing environment.
Will earlier events help to shape future approaches to issues such as extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands? Is potable water a human right and should it be protected from commercialization? Dr. Philp poses many questions, provides insights into many answers, and presents a case for responsible, proactive, knowledge-based legislation. Governments are representatives of the people. The ultimate responsibility remains with us, not only to be aware of our delicate balance with nature and the environment, but also to participate actively in steering policy.
James L. Henry
Professor Emeritus McMaster University
Events of the first decade of the twenty-first century do not assure us that our species has learned much from the lessons of the past. Our thirst for fossils fuels continues unabated. Oil is sought in increasingly risky venues with disastrous results as witnessed by the fire and explosion of the Deep Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Greed rules, it seems. The Gulf oil spill was in part due to inadequate inspections if not outright corruption. Development of the Alberta oil sands, the greatest, single-point source of greenhouse gases in North America, continues at a breathtaking rate and development of the Saskatchewan oil sands is poised to follow suit. Deep drilling for oil is already occurring in the Arctic off the coast of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic may be next. Governments too often are dazzled by the prospect of increased tax revenues and creation of jobs (i.e. votes) to express much concern for the environmental costs of development. The quality of life, if not the outright health and safety of nearby residents may be sacrificed to the perceived greater good as apparently is occurring with the methane fracking operations in the United States and Canada. Native communities too frequently are caught up in the wake of fossil fuel exploration and development with disastrous consequences. Corporations obsessed with the bottom line may not give enough thought to worker safety as numerous mining disasters testify.
On the home front citizens are not responding adequately to the need to conserve energy and water and to reduce their carbon footprint. Changing public attitudes and behaviour is like trying to do a U-turn with a super-tanker. Climate change deniers, especially op-ed columnists concerned mostly with readership numbers, give some elements of the public an excuse to avoid making even minimal sacrifices. Municipalities also may opt for cheaper means of pest control, reassured by government scientists that such measures are safe, even when a small percentage of persons are made ill by aerial spraying over urban residential areas.
Is there hope? New technologies are coming on-stream that offer alternative propulsive means for vehicles, eco-friendly construction techniques, low flow toilets and faucets for public washrooms and rainwater collection systems for use in them. Substitute fuels for coal-fired generators and the installation of solar generating panels may also offer hope although in this author’s view, wind turbines do not. The clock is ticking and doomsday may be closer than we think.
The purpose of this eBook is to inform students, especially those in environmental studies programmes, and members of the public of these and other issues pertinent to the twenty-first century with the hope that, as pressure is brought to bear on governments and corporations, more and better steps will be put in place to protect the environment and the citizenry.
Richard B. Philp
The University of Western Ontario, Canada
List of Contributors
Richard B. Philp
Emeritus Professor, The University Of Western Ontario
“…Philp succeeds in providing a balanced approach to the underlying problematic: The complex integration of our air, water and land resources with respect to chemical threats to our health… ...for those of us… who match environmental concern with proactive change in everyday practice, this book is a trusty reference.” – Kane Faucher - Western News, December 6, 2012