Many Paths Pavilion - Mother Earth Area

Healing Our World
Weekly Commentary
By Jackie Giuliano

It's Official - Greed is Killing Us

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. -- The Buddha

At least 40 percent of the world's deaths can be attributed to environmental factors, says David Pimentel, a professor of agricultural sciences and ecology at Cornell University. Malnutrition, smoking, cooking fires, skin cancer, chemical exposures, radon pollution, water pollution and air pollution top the list as killers.

Dr. Pimentel admits that his figure is conservative, and I believe that if you include sickness and disease from the production of food and the many deaths that are not reported to official agencies, the figure is probably much higher.

Virtually all of these causes of premature death are due to our endless quest for resources and consumer goods. And this quest is killing us.

The journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported these findings in their February 1999 issue. It is worth examining some of the details.

Malnutrition Three billion people worldwide are malnourished. It is endemic to areas marked by political unrest, poverty, soil degradation due to overfarming, overpopulation and urban expansion. Six to fourteen million people die worldwide each year from malnutrition says the World Health Organization. Of those, nearly two million die of vitamin A deficiency. This could be prevented by spending a few pennies on vitamins each week. Is there really any excuse for anyone to be hungry in our wealthy world?

Smoking Three million people die each year from smoking. This figure will increase to 10 million by the year 2020. It is unbelievable that governments around the world solidly support such a killer. It is no surprise since this industry earns many billions of dollars each year.

Cooking Fires This cause of death will surprise many, but a large portion of the world's population cooks by burning coal, wood and other organic materials. Smoke from fuelwood fires kills many. At least four million children each year die from it. The resulting atmospheric pollution has many additional negative health effects as well.

Skin Cancer The number of new cases of skin cancer has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Nearly 10,000 people die each year from it. The release of ozone destroying chemicals into the atmosphere is the cause, and every one percent decrease in the ozone layer increases the amount of Ultraviolet-B radiation by 1.4 percent. The incidence of skin cancer then rises at the same rate. Each time we throw out an old refrigerator and the refrigerant is released, the ozone-destroying chemicals begin their 50-year journey to the stratosphere. Even if we stopped producing those chemicals immediately, the 1,800 tons of ozone destroying chemicals released today would still cause harm 50 years from now.

Chemical Exposures Pesticide poisoning and the use of other hazardous chemicals results in an estimated one million deaths per year. The real figure is probably many times that, since most deaths occur some time after exposure and often affect those with little visibility or power in our culture such as farm workers. Their suffering is rarely reported to a data-collecting agency.

Radon Exposure

Radon is a radioactive gas naturally found in soil. The more we disturb soil, the more we are exposed. This gas would normally mix with the air and leave the site, but because we build our homes to be insulated from the elements and the natural world, the gas seeps in through cracks in the foundation and becomes concentrated in our living spaces. In the U.S., it is estimated that 14,000 deaths occur each year from radon exposure.

Water and Air Pollution Worldwide, nearly 2,000 children under the age of five die each hour from diarrhea from polluted drinking water. In less developed countries, 95 percent of the untreated sewage is dumped into rivers, lakes, streams and the ocean. In Los Angeles, one wastewater treatment plant dumps 400 million gallons of partially treated wastewater each day into the ocean. Untold numbers of ocean swimmers become ill who may never associate their sickness with their innocent dip in the sea. In a report recently released by Congress, the cancer risk in Los Angeles was found to be 426 times higher than health standards established by the federal Clean Air Act enacted in 1990.

The death toll among animals from the above factors is equally horrifying.

The dreams most people in developed countries are trying to achieve were artificially created after the second World War: a new house, a nice car, a job that pays lots of money and allows the purchase of all the latest gadgets. But what happened to wanting a safe home and a happy and healthy life as core values?

Changing the situation described above may seem impossible. But is actually achievable. The solution begins with a giant, initially difficult step: to get up in the morning and say, "Today, I will not consume anything the production of which may harm me or anyone or anything else." This idea may be the last thing you need to buy.


The only way to eliminate these deaths is to reduce our consumption. Use the links below to help you in that journey.

1. Read a Los Angeles Times article about the recently released Congressional report about Los Angeles air pollution at

2. Keep track of happenings around the world that effect people without power. Visit the Indigenous Environmental Network at

3. The Pure Food Campaign at will help you keep your food safe.

4. The Healthy Child Newsletter will help you keep your children safe at

5. The Context Institute at will help you create a sustainable life.

6. PR Watch will help you figure out what is true in the media at

7. Adbusters at help you kick the consuming habit.

8. The Corporate Dirt Archives at will help you decide who to patronize.

9. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they stop considering our health a reasonable tradeoff for business gains. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at or you can search by state at You can also find your representatives at

10. Learn about the issues. A great alternative bookstore is Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon at where you will find a wonderful alternative to the massive chain bookstores taking over the market.

Visit the Healing Our World Archive and check out the many resource links in past articles.

This Healing Our World article appear courtesy of Jackie Giuliano (copyright 1998)
and is printed with the permission of the
Environment News Service.

Jackie Giuliano, a writer and a Professor of Environmental Studies, can be found in Venice, California, looking around at all his high-tech toys and feeling guilty. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at 

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