Chapter three

Scientific and policy issues affecting the future of environmental health sciences

Bernard D. Goldstein

Contents

I. Introduction 28

II. Environmental health science for the next century 29

III. The Gaia Hypothesis: a human health model 31

IV. Global climate research 32

V. Biological markers as a basis for regulatory control of toxic agents 32

VI. Impediments to research as a mechanism to anticipate and solve 21st century problems 33

VII. The sure thing 35

Acknowledgments 35

References 35

Abstract Human development can be summarized as our species response in the last million or so years to the environmental challenges of our planet. For 5 billion years, Earth had been on automatic pilot, governed by planetary geophysical and biological processes and by feedback loops that controlled its development. In a relatively short time, our planet has moved from automatic to manual, from a natural unfolding of evolutionary processes to a significant measure of human domination of these processes. The essence of the environmental movement is recognition that there are major dangers to

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ourselves and our planet from this attempt at human domination, and any control of our environment must be done with a high level of respect for the natural forces that truly dominate our planet and for the cultural value and wisdom of those who have wrestled with these forces. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Arctic. The human health and ecosystem challenges there are unparalleled, and they exemplify the interaction between local and global environmental issues. Sustainable development of the Arctic requires an approach that is built upon knowledge and upon the basic concepts of prevention. Understanding sources and pathways for environmental degradation and adverse human health impacts allows eradication or replacement of the sources and interdiction of the pathways. Developing and applying biological markers of exposure, effect, and susceptibility will be central to this effort. Success in applying advanced scientific tools to the challenges of the Arctic depends upon respect for the geophysical, climatic, and biological forces that shape the Arctic environment and for the indigenous human cultures that have wrestled with its challenges. Environmental health science can and should be a major facilitator of appropriate stewardship of our planet and its biosphere. But achieving this role faces major impediments that extend beyond the limitations imposed by scientific understanding.

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