Get Started
Get Started

Health & Exercise Forum

Sustaining Our Planet Contributes to Health & Wellness - Earth Day Part 1

Apr 16, 2012

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumPart 1 of 2

Guest Columnist: Chris Cali

In 2006 my family and I traveled to Costa Rica with our travel mates, the Cali family, for what would become an unforgettable experience for all. In fact, last summer one member of the group, Chris Cali, a junior biology major at Villanova University, had the opportunity to study in Costa Rica at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies. In recognition of “Earth Day,” on April 22, I have asked Chris to share his experience living in a sustainable environment and how it relates to health and wellness:

I was among thirty students who spent the month learning about sustainability issues, ecotourism and the environmental problems our world faces. I knew this was not going to be the typical study abroad program when I saw a mosquito net, rubber boots, and biodegradable soap on the required packing list. However, I had one of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life. I hope to share some of my experience and discuss the topic of sustainability and how it relates to health and wellness.

What is sustainability?

The concept of sustainability addresses the issues of climate change and resource scarcity to ensure that everyone can lead healthy lives now and in the future. Sustainability is living in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The goal of sustainability is to use resources that are renewable and to limit overall use so that natural processes are not interrupted. Sustainability focuses on using local resources and building community ties, as well as being self sufficient.

At the center where I lived, we tried to be as self sufficient as possible. We ate fruits and vegetables that were grown on our campus and raised chickens. We produced almost no trash as most table scraps were composted. The extra food was used again at the next meal, and anything that could not be used was fed to the dogs. Even the napkins were biodegradable. Instead of plastic wrap, we used banana leaves to cover our food. We washed dishes in a bucket of water rather than running them under the faucet. Our waste water was filtered naturally by aquatic plants. To save electricity, we had no hot water and hung our clothes outside to dry rather than using a machine. It was not the most convenient way of living, but it was more gratifying. It felt good to live more naturally and to do without the excesses of modern life. Costa Ricans call it “pura vida”, or pure life. It is a lifestyle that requires new types of thinking. It requires long term planning rather than short term benefits. It requires recognition of the interconnectedness of the world, and that we are all responsible for others and for our planet. Living in accord with nature and with neighbors is a fulfilling experience that strengthens the mind and body. Perhaps the best teachers of sustainability are the leaf cutter ants found crawling all over Costa Rica. These ants consume only a third of each leaf and a third of the plant’s total leaves so that the colony always has a renewable food source. Each ant carries out its own task for the betterment of the entire colony. In the same way, living sustainably requires us each to do our own part.

How climate change affects our health

With climate change, scientists have observed an intensifying of natural weather patterns such as El Niño. This has both direct and indirect repercussions for our health. According to WHO, changing precipitation, humidity, and temperature patterns are causing more outbreaks of disease. Diseases and parasites once confined to the tropics are moving further north, putting more people at risk than ever before. The massive floods, droughts, forest fires, heat waves and hurricanes we are constantly hearing about in the news are not simply coincidence, as scientists are now seeing a direct link between climate change and natural disasters. The number of natural disasters has been steadily increasing, and there have been more since 2000 than in any other decade in history. Heat waves and droughts are becoming more frequent and costing more lives. These events have taken a toll on food production as well. Droughts and the price of oil have caused food prices for this year to be the highest they have ever been. This means the fruits and vegetables we need to stay healthy are getting more and more expensive. Many Americans are forced instead to buy cheaper processed food, contributing to our obesity problem. The world’s other main food source, the ocean, is being overfished and destroyed by rising temperatures. Moreover, tropical forests that provide food, medicines, building materials, and health and beauty products are at risk without a sustainability plan.

Next week, I will offer some tips on how we can all contribute to making our planet healthier.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: Chris Cali, is a graduate of Scranton Prep and is a junior at Villanova University where he studies biology and pre-medicine. He has a special interest in environmental sciences.

Read “Health and Exercise Forum” by Dr. Paul J. Mackarey every Monday in The Scranton Times-Tribune.  Dr. Mackarey is a doctor of orthopedic and sports physical therapy with offices in downtown Scranton. He is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.