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We have come to a point of instability. Our environment is under siege and our human population is increasing at an unsustainable rate (Lappe, 2010). The greatest paradox in the environmental crisis is that it is of human origin (Briggs, 2003). Pharmaceuticals, pest pollutants, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, hormones (Edwards & Meyers, 2008), agricultural wastes, improper waste disposal, transportation (Briggs, 2003), radiation (Page, Petrie, & Wessly, 2006), and animal agriculture (Lappe, 2010) are some of the significant polluters of industrialization, globalization, and human psychological misconception. Animal agriculture is the most significant (Lappe, 2010). Environmental pollutants are responsible for our current climate change (Roberts & Bacon, 1997, Lappe, 2010) and strongly connected to human psychological and physiological “dis-ease”.

The Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) describes how human beings distort their true nature of being interconnected with all beings and all things (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). It is a paradigm that believes that we are the doers and that the earth was created for our control, just as in man’s misinterpretation of the Book of Genesis, believing that man has dominion over Nature (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). The DSP brings to attention the previous and current beliefs held by humans that there are unlimited resources, that private property is a right, growth is necessary, living in harmony with nature threatens economic growth, and that science will be able to solve all environmental problems (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). Perhaps the greatest human misconception is that we can create or think of anything as permanent.

Man’s perception that the earth is here for us to control, weak environmental legislation (Briggs, 2003), lack of policy, and conflicts of interest between corporate economic growth and environmental protection (Jaffe, Newell, & Stavins, 2004) has led to our increasing environmental health risks, especially in developing countries (Briggs, 2003). There are study correlations between environmental pollution and cardiovascular disease (Brook, Franklin, Cascio, Hong, & Tager, 2011), breast cancer (Wolf & Toniolo, 1995), Lung cancer (Page, Petrie, & Wessely, 2006), birth defects (Brook, et al., 2011), respiratory disease (Frampton, Samet, & Utell, 1991), anxiety, depression, and fear (Page, et al., 2006). One of the greatest challenges to environmental disease theories is that it takes time for a disease to develop and time for critical levels of exposure (Briggs, 2003). There is also the challenge of individual freedom versus policy change (Schneider, 2006). Many people still believe that environmental protection is up to the government and don’t pay attention to how their actions can contribute to environmental pollution or protection (Schneider, 2006). Education, research credibility, self-reflection and policy change are some necessary actions that need to be implemented, and we are running out of time.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) formed as an activist group to protect the scientific integrity of research from political manipulation especially when it comes to the subject of environment, environmental degradation and pollution and the severity of their consequences, which is climate change (Schneider, 2006). The lack of policy and governmental protection has resulted in increasing public distrust and fear (Page, et al., 2006). The hope is that there will be a cooperative and collaborative shift in consciousness, as most people still perceive environmental pollution as an involuntary consequence of human growth (Page, et al., 2006).

Behavioral, psychosocial, and environmental dimensions, prevention and public policy implications will be discussed as well as how we have created our current problems and how we can create the solution. It is time to take responsibility for environmental healing, which will be an incredible challenge, as it involves shifts in perception and cognitive-behavioral change. It will also take disempowerment of the ego and power state of individual consciousness, mindfulness, action, and hope.

Behavioral Dimensions:

As mentioned earlier most environmental pollution is of human origin (Briggs, 2003). Industry, transportation, waste disposal and agriculture are all human activities that are now contributing to environmental pollution. Spills, such as the Exxon oil spill and the Fukushima Nuclear crises, may not be intentional, however people are not conscious of how our current actions are affecting our future. Environmental pollution and its chronic health effects are not only preventable, but also capable of healing (Briggs, 2003). Industrialization and Westernization has been quiet about their detrimental environmental outcome, until now (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). The desire to create more wealth and the behavior towards creating more wealth has put a large amount of society at risk, especially the poor and disadvantaged (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). The history of science has neglected ethics and values in public policy and has silenced the community (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). The Law of Nature, or cause and effect, states that all of our actions will have a reaction and that it is the intention of the action that will create the end result (Gannon & Life, 2002).

Scientific evidence, although attempted by government to cover up and hide from the public, supports the conclusion that carbon dioxide has reached an “eight-hundred-thousand-year high” (Lappe, 2010, p. 14). Human behaviors such as factory farming and the meat industry are responsible for the greatest percentage of environmental toxins and pollution, more so than transportation and industry combined (Lappe, 2010). The unethical practices of food production and its transportation and packaging are the major contributors to the environmental crisis that we now face (Lappe, 2010). The solution is literally at the end of our forks! As the depletion of our soils, water, air and the production of low nutritional content foods and their consumption are not only the major contributors to environmental pollution but to the chronic disease epidemic. A new way of eating and cultivating food can reduce global warming as much as 75% (Lappe, 2010).

There is a current paradigm shift from the Dominant Social Paradigm to the New Environmental Paradigm, which states that we can no longer be bystanders to the environmental crisis (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). The New Environmental Paradigm supports the human beliefs that resources are limited, growth needs to be restricted, environment needs to be protected and nature needs to be respected (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). In a study to measure environmental concern through economically conscious behavior over 1,500 adults were surveyed (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). Results showed that those who measured environmentally aware and more sensitive were also more mindful in their purchasing (Roberts & Bacon, 1997) and food consumption (Lappe, 2010). This study suggests that people must be aware of the consequences of their behaviors and consumption, and become responsible for protecting the environment.

Ecologically Conscious Consumer Behavior (ECCB) supports the buying and use of environmentally safe products, energy use responsibility, environmental appreciation and concern, responsible use of transportation, recycling behavior, water and electricity minimizing, and conscious eating (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). Cognitive-behavioral change, mindfulness, and attitude-behavior correspondence are theories to support positive societal change when it comes to environmental pollution and the role of individual human behavior and responsibility.

Psychosocial Dimensions:

Surveys reveal that people perceive pollution as an involuntary consequence therefore they have an increased fear factor, versus voluntary consequences such as the health risks associated with risky lifestyles (Page, et al., 2006). “This paradox of health is that although we have increased technology and medicine people today are feeling less well, experience more illness, and are more fearful of environmental pollution and the future” (Page, et al., 2006, p. 414). This may have strong implications into the human resistance towards humility. As, it is a challenge to see and admit the truth about our selves, and our roles in creating our current problems. Many are trying to avoid this realization, trying to cover up, change or fix what we have created for ourselves. This describes the actions of our administrative leaders. The lack of policy and governmental protection of the environment has created a distrust and fear within the people (Page, et al., 2006). Surveys have also shown that people are now fearful of household chemicals, food, medical practices and perceived environmental hazards such as cell phones, nuclear accidents, toxic sites, industrial accidents and natural disasters (Page, et al., 2006). This has led to a mass hysteria and, “psychogenic illness” based on the perceived impact and health risks of environmental pollution (Page, et al., 2006).

Perception of an event can determine the stress response associated with that event (Monat, Lazarus, & Reevy, 2007). Studies have shown that there is a correlation with perceived risk and symptom identification (Monat, Lazarus, & Reevy, 2007). Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a field of science concerned with the interaction of the central nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system, and how these systems can be altered through behavior, stress and the environment (Glaser, 2005). The immune, nervous, and endocrine systems communicate to maintain health (Lekander, 2002). PNI is interested in the effects of thoughts and emotion on immune functioning (Lekander, 2002). This is an area of research that can be applied to environmental pollution, stress and disease, as it supports that psychology and immunity are interconnected. The individualistic social construction of Westernization and globalization is contributing to the human psychological state of building, increasing technology and competitiveness (Briggs, 2003), anxiety, depression, and behavioral change resistance.

Social changes are necessary when it comes to environmental pollution and health (Jaffe, Newell, & Stavins, 2004). Environmental pollution exposure and injustice is more likely to occur in lower socioeconomic communities (Elliot & Wartenbery, 2004) as environmental pollution is a strong influence in health disparities (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). The desire to create more wealth has put a large amount of society at risk (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). Environmental inequality is a social process and as mentioned above social change is necessary for environmental restoration and respect (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). Research has shown significant results for the correlation between environmental pollution, or disconnection, and “dis-ease” of the heart (aka Cardio Vascular Disease). Are we creating our own heartbreak?

Environmental Dimensions:

Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection states that traits associated with survival and reproduction are the most likely to be passed on from generation to generation and allow for a species to evolve (Pinel, 2009). If we apply this theory to our current environmental state it becomes clear that the human consciousness of power and greed over the environment and others is no longer sustainable to our evolution. In order to evolve we need to develop a more collective and collaborative consciousness.

Spatial epidemiology is the research into the relationship between geography and variations in disease, and is important information that can support policy change (Briggs, 2003). Studies have shown that developmental countries are at an increased risk for environmental pollution, poverty, and health disparities (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). As much as, 25 to 34% of all disease is attributed to environmental factors (Briggs, 2003). The pathways for environmental pollutants include soil, water and air, and exposures to pollutants can be through ingestion, skin contact, inhalation, and injection (Briggs, 2003). Environmental pollution upsets all ecological systems (Briggs, 2003). The steady increasing in health disparities is associated with environmental injustice and racism (Brulle & Pellow, 2006).

Spatial epidemiology research has shown that more poor people and people of color live near environmentally hazardous facilities and have greater risks for toxic exposures (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). Epidemiological studies have shown that when air pollutants are measured in high concentrations that there is an increase in hospitalization and mortality due to cardiovascular disease (Brook, Franklin, Cascio, Hong, & Tager, 2004). Man produced pollutants such as; motor emissions, road dust, industrial-combustion, construction and demolition, factory food production practices, and metal processing are responsible for the majority of air pollutants (Brook, et al., 2004). Such pollutants are shown to increase the incidence of heart disease, inflammation, and oxidative stress (Brook, et al., 2004). Recent spatial epidemiological research has shown an increased incidence of diseases and mortality in the Los Angeles region (Jerret, Burnett, Ma, Pope, & Thun, 2005). This study enhances the discussion that chronic health problems are strongly associated with environmental pollution and population density (Jerret, et al., 2005). Unfortunately, science has known such information for decades (Brook, et al., 2004) and has ignored the existence of environmental inequality (Brulle & Pellow, 2006).

Studies have also shown that environmental pollution can change the way genes express themselves (Edwards & Myers, 2008). Epigenetics is a field of research that is interested in how environmental pollutants such as pest pollutants, industrial chemicals, synthetic hormones, as well as nutrition, thoughts, and behaviors can all change gene expression (Edward & Myers, 2008). Research supports that if environmental pollutants were decreased there would also be a decrease in human illness and diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, infertility, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular disease (Edwards & Myers, 2008).

Prevention: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary

Since many of the health problems associated with environmental pollution are avoidable (Briggs, 2003) primary preventative interventions may be the most effective. Primary prevention includes education to individuals about energy use and conscious consumption behavior (Roberts & Bacon, 1997), clean technologies and raising awareness about the psychological and physiological health risks associated with environmental pollution. Educational interventions to raise awareness about food choices and their environmental effects, such as where to find farmer’s markets, and nutritional coaching on how to identify and find cost effective organic foods, or community gardens can all be positive primary interventions. Educational workshops on how to grow and store your own food can also support environmental healing and mindfulness.

Psychological interventions towards the cognitive-behavioral change of humans eating plant based diets versus humans eating animals. Perhaps the most effective form of primary preventative measures is to change the social construction and norm towards The New Environmental Paradigm discussed earlier, as environmental injustice and individual responsibility for environmental health is a social construction (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). Collaborating locally and establishing community is not only beneficial as it creates the feeling of belonging and social support, but can also become the foundation for positive solutions. With the support of mindful communities there can be opportunity for individual reflection and self-growth, as Gandhi’s words so gently remind us that, “we must be the change we wish to see.”

Secondary prevention can target increasing environmental protection and policy change, epidemiological research and surveillance, and screening. Tax credits, research credits, and governmental incentives to reduce polluting technology can assist in regaining the public’s trust (Jaffe, Newell, & Stevins, 2004). Energy efficient standards on home appliances and carbon reducing fossil fuels are steps in the right direction, as well as credits for purchasing and using renewable energy products (Jaffe, Newell, & Stevins, 2004). Emission caps and reductions should be enforced as technological policy, and industries should be offered incentives to minimize pollution (Jaffe, et al., 2004). Creating incentives such as reductions in eco-friendly technology costs, or just policy and regulations that all industries have to update to new clean technologies or risk losing licensing for production and practice (Jaffe, et al., 2004). There is also a need for more scientific research and ecologically conscious engineering.

Unfortunately the issue of environmental pollution and disconnection has exceeded to the need for tertiary preventative interventions yesterday. What we need is global collaboration and cooperation and more mindful governance. Tertiary prevention could include environmental rehabilitation and restoration projects, environmental engineering, increases in resource protection, and the ceasing of animal agriculture business.

Public Health Implications:

Environmental pollution is a major public health concern (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). Perhaps the most effective means towards positive solution is to support humans in their re-adaptation to Nature and to themselves, as the true self is not separate from Nature (Roberts & Bacon, 1997). Industrial systems will need to be modified to continue maintenance of the current system or new systems of be-ing will need to be developed. Perhaps the two will come about simultaneously, because environmental concern is a multilayered construct. It is however clear that environmental pollution can alter molecular functioning and ultimately lead to illness and disease.

Environmental inequality needs to be integrated into research and is in need of support and the collaborative efforts of the effected populations, with the understanding that the environmental pollution inequalities are reflections of our current social belief system (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). There is an interconnection between social systems, technology, environmental pollution, and degradation. Unfortunately industrialization and globalization has been inconsiderate. Brulle and Pellow (2006) discuss the concepts of capitalism, continued growth and consumption for the government’s capital gain with disregard for the well being of the people. Thus, the result of increasing health disparities, environmental injustice, and pollution is now being observed. With the same consciousness, and desire for continued economic growth companies are trying to create new technologies to calm the public fear and awakening, and to continue with economic growth (Brulle & Pellow, 2006). This again will support an unsustainable future. If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get what we have always gotten.

Mindfulness theory is the practice of increasing mindfulness and decreasing mindlessness (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000). Mindfulness theory is acceptance towards the ever-changing world (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000), with the goal to increase cognitive flexibility, unconditional self-acceptance, and to decrease self-evaluation and rigidity (Carson & Langer, 2006). It simplifies and honors the interconnectedness between all perceptions by focusing on the present moment. Practice of mindfulness theory allows the individual to observe multiple concepts and to shift behavior and cognition based on the present concept. When we mindlessly act according to a limited and single perspective, behavior will become automatic. When one attaches to a single perception they become rigid (Carson & Langer, 2006). The adaptation to new levels of consciousness and mindfulness are necessary and the potential solution of our current environmental and health crisis.

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