Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are We Poisoning Ourselves?

I came across two items over the last few months that have challenged the way I think about the way I live. The first is a documentary that I watched on Netflix entitled Plastic Planet, directed by Werner Boote. The second is a book that my wife picked up out of curiosity one day at the library: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. These have both left me asking myself the following question:

What if the way we live is killing us and destroying the future of our planet?

In Plastic Planet director Boote explores the impact that the production, consumption and disposal of petroleum-based products has on our environment, including our very bodies. We have become dependent on these products but the chemicals they are made of enter the environment, poison our food chain and eventually ourselves. His efforts to raise questions about this with the petroleum and plastics industry are met with glib assurances about the benefits and safety of plastic and, as he continues to push the issue, with stony silence and closed doors. He also shows how easily we accept the benefits of technology without questioning their effects, simply because we are reassured by those who want us to consume their product. This documentary opened my eyes.

I'm still reading Silent Spring and, quite frankly, may not finish it. It is not an easy read, but it wasn't meant to be. Many credit Carson and her book with initiating the environmental movement. Reading the book I understand why. Carson explores the impact of the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides to keep our gardens, fields and cities pest free. A statement she makes early in the book struck me quite powerfully:

“It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.”

But this, she argues and illustrates through examples, is precisely what we are doing. Although her book resulted in some legislation and civic action to curb the use of certain pesticides, Americans continue to use millions of pounds of them every year. We have poisoned our soil, our air and our water in our efforts to rid ourselves of various plants and animals considered to be pests. This is not to say that some plants, insects and animals may be undesirable in certain contexts. But Carson would argue that there is a better way that mass spraying of pesticides. Ideally one utilizes natural controls, although Carson seems to allow for limited, focused use of pesticides in certain situations.

Both of these items make me wonder about what appears to be a growing incidence of illnesses that we hardly encountered even a generation or two ago. I'm not a scientist and will make no claim to a direct causal link, but after watching the film and reading the book, I cannot but question whether the cumulative effect of all the plastics and poisons in our world have sickened us. In fact they may be slowly killing us. Both the film and the book present evidence to this effect. I consider my own situation. I suffer from sinus allergies fairly severely, though not as severely as could be. Since the pollens and such that trigger my allergies have always existed, what is it that makes myself and so many others respond to them now with such severity? Could it be an effect of the chemicals that have damaged our environment and my own body? Those who advocate maintaining the status quo, or are enamored with the power we have to control our environment through chemicals and plastics, will strongly answer “No.” But I'm sceptical, highly sceptical. I think that, while the links may not be clearly established throughout the chain, it is highly plausible that our modern way of life has in fact contributed to the damage of our bodies and our planets.

I'll return to this topic tomorrow, but I invite your thoughts on this important issue. What do you think, is our way of life and our use of plastics and pesticides damaging our environment, ourselves and our future? 


  1. If you want to watch something truly disturbing, look up the documentary "The World According to Monsanto." It may be hard to find, as I believe the company has worked hard to bury it. But it is worth watching.

    1. I'll have to try to find that, although I don't know how many more disturbing media reports I want to read. I have heard a lot of negative buzz around Monsanto. I can't say I'm surprised. I think these huge corporations concern themselves far more with corporate profits and control than with concern for the future, for the environment and even for their consumers.