"Contact with Nature" vs. Your Health

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Spiked Online posts a very interesting article by Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick about a claim by a group called "Natural England" that an unspecified set of conditions it calls "contact with nature" is good for human health.

According to William Bird, a Berkshire GP and Natural England's health adviser, "increasing evidence suggests that both physical and mental health are improved through contact with nature". A campaign factsheet claims that "aggression and domestic violence is [sic] less likely in low-income families with views or access to natural green space", and "crime rates are lower in tower blocks with more natural green space than identical tower blocks with no surrounding vegetation" (no references provided).

Dr Bird is worried that "people are having less contact with nature than at any other time in the past" and insists that "this has to change!".

Natural England's campaign, which is endorsed by Britain's deputy chief medical officer and the BBC and supported by a budget of £500million of taxpayers' money, offers a curious combination of the silly and the sinister. On the one hand, the notion that a breath of fresh air and the sight of a few trees can cure the ills of both the individual and society has the aura of whacky green fundamentalism. On the other hand, Dr Bird's schoolmasterish tone and his offer of a natural cure for a wide range of social problems clearly appeals to the authoritarian instincts behind New Labour's public health policies. [minor punctuation and format changes]
Of course, by "nature", the environmentalists basically mean "anything unaltered by human efforts" because, somehow, man's rational faculty -- despite the fact that it evolved naturally over many eons -- is "unnatural".

Even leaving aside some of the wilder claims and proclivity towards social engineering of Nature England at present, and the inglorious past history of the "nature therapy" movement as explored by Fitzpatrick, let's very briefly examine the idea that more "contact with nature" is beneficial to man's health.

Environmentalists the world over regard the banning of DDT in the United States as an unqualified triumph despite (?) the fact that since the 1972 ban, millions of human beings have died since having more "contact with nature" in the form of bites from mosquitoes carrying the parasite that causes malaria. Fortunately, while the environmentalist brothers-in-spirit of the Nature England folks weren't looking, the use of DDT to fight the spread of malaria has been partially resurrected in those parts of the third world hardest-hit by malaria. Unfortunately, DDT remains illegal in the United States, where we may be about to learn on our own hides about the health benefits of "contact with nature":
Chikungunya, a severe and sometimes deadly infectious disease that has devastated the islands of the Indian Ocean, has arrived in the United States.

Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota and at least a half-dozen other states have reported cases of travelers returning from visits to Asia and East Africa sick with the mosquito-borne virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chikungunya can cause fever, chills, nausea, headache, rash, crippling joint pain and even neurological damage. There is no drug treatment, just bed rest, fluids and mild pain medication. [bold added]
DDT would not alone head off Chikungunya, but the very idea that we are wrongly forgoing even a single weapon in the arsenal against this emerging threat is unconscionable. Worse, there are still those who are working to ban DDT worldwide, and they make DDT out to be as much of an all-destroyer as Nature England makes "contact with nature" out to be a panacea!
But what about immigrants ... who ... might have been exposed to DDT without even knowing it? That certainly describes many thousands of immigrants who enter as farmworkers critically needed to keep crops from rotting in fields or on trees, as about 20 percent of this year's Florida orange crop did because of a labor shortage.

If their children are affected in the ways the Berkeley study suggested, those kids will inevitably pose problems for public schools as long as they remain here.

And what of persons who enter this country as visitors but stay to have babies, who automatically become citizens with rights to emergency healthcare?

The most spectacular recent instance of this came at midsummer, when surgeons in a 22-hour operation at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles separated tiny twins who had been conjoined at birth.

Their mother and father, Mexican nationals Sonia Fierros and Federico Salinas, entered this country last year on tourist visas and had those permits extended after Fierros suffered a urinary tract infection during a visit with relatives and learned from doctors she was carrying conjoined twins.

The couple stayed on long after their visas expired, they said, because, "We thought (the babies) would be able to get better medical care here," the 23-year-old mother said after the successful operation, which cost an estimated $900,000, a cost shared by Childrens Hospital and the Medi-Cal program.

No one knows if either parent had been exposed to DDT or whether the insecticide caused the babies' problem.


The other certainty is that the longer this country remains passive about pushing a complete worldwide ban on DDT, the worse the problem will get. [bold added]
Notice how long it is -- and how expensive it is made to sound for victims of the welfare state -- between author Thomas Elias's implication (based on an unreferenced source) that exposure to DDT might have caused a case of conjoined twins and his admission that the whole linkage is speculative at best!

It is astounding to me that such environmentalists get so much as the time of day when they so easily (and without references) exaggerate the dangers of the man-made and the benefits of the untamed natural world man's mind evolved to survive within!

But then, if the "facts" they argue from are suspect, so might be their motives. "Contact with nature" is good for us and DDT causes conjoined twins? Yeah. And maybe you guys are all with David M. Graber, and hoping that Chikungunya is the "right virus", too.

Man's mind, although it is not infallible, is what nature has given us to survive on this earth. If the environmentalists really believed that "contact with nature" were good for our health, they would not routinely come out against our use of reason to combat deadly parasites, their vectors, and the diseases they cause.

Indeed, they would not only have to count our use of the latest advances in medicine and pest control as part of nature, they would also have to admit that not everything in nature is beneficial to man. The claim that "contact with nature" is inherently good for our health is absurd because some things already in nature benefit our health and some harm it. But to allow even that observation would be to concede too much ground to reason.

And to do that would expose their profession of concern for mankind as the farce that it is.

-- CAV


Today: Three minor changes.

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