Preventive Medicine: Out of the closet, because we need #EarthAlert

Dr. David Katz

Dr. David Katz

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, deck the halls, peace on Earth, good will toward people, pandas, and puffins, and… so on. I would really love to linger here. I love the holiday rituals, and especially gathering with my family. I love pretending for a moment we mean the things we say and sing about peace and love and solidarity, and one great human family of common cause.

But this year, I have found the contrast between platitude and practice more jarring than ever. I receive news alerts nearly every day, as I’m sure do you, about the devastation we are perpetrating on the planet, our shared home.

Yellowstone is changing irrevocably, and fast; so, too, the Galapagos. The Arctic is melting faster than most models predicted (yes, the models of climate change are imperfect, but that means they can be wrong in either direction). There are ever more refugees from ever more places parched and starved, burned and flooded, hitting “the wall” of xenophobia and nationalistic hostilities wherever they go. Massive loss of biodiversity is threatened, and so, too, our own extinction. We are so far into the depletion of pollinators it is known simply as “the insect apocalypse.”

I get these alerts, as do you, and am then virtually slammed into a cultural onslaught of indifference, denial, and myopic profiteering. We see all the same goads for all the same excesses of consumption this year as every year prior. At what point does our culture behave in accord with the crisis? To make it vivid and visceral and blunt: at one point, do you think, did they close the concession stand on the Titanic?

I have long been outraged that in a world of epidemic obesity and diabetes, America proudly runs on Dunkin; that sugar-sweetened — beverages are the national approach to hydration; and that multi-colored marshmallows are glibly marketed as part of a child’s complete breakfast with apparent impunity. I have long been outraged that our food supply is willfully engineered to subordinate public health to corporate profit; and even more outraged that everyone seems to be OK with all of this. I am outraged, in other words, that I am apparently alone in my outrage.

I have long been outraged that while knowing the merits of the Mediterranean diet and the blessings of the Blue Zones, we are committed to replacing both with the blight of American Frankenfoods, and the burdens of our epidemiology: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia.

But I find my outrage of late reaching unprecedented levels as our exploitation not just of one another, but the planet as a whole, is practiced with stupefying audacity in the full light of day. In a world increasingly prone to thirst, we know that literally hundreds of liters of water are consumed to manufacture one liter of sugary (or alternatively sweetened) soda in its plastic bottle. We know as well that such beverages contribute singularly to the pandemics of obesity and chronic disease. And we know that puffins and polar bears face extinction in our lifetimes, the latter as the Arctic ice on which they rely to make a living melts out from under them.

So the only question about TV commercials featuring soda-drinking cartoon polar bears in an Arctic fantasy-land left to pose is: which element in this display of callous, pecuniary disregard is the best reason for projectile vomiting?

Reflecting, and gagging, on all of this — I’ve decided to come out of the closet. We all know what that means. It means to reveal a veiled but fundamental truth, at the risk of derision. To honor the holiday season this year, and our collective hopes for peace and good will, I propose we come out of the closet together. I will start: I am #EarthAlert. I intend to fly that flag everywhere I go.

You are #EarthAlert, too, if you are awake, aware, alert to what’s happening here, in our home, the only one we will ever know. Climate change is advanced, costly in every measure, and destined to be calamitous without strenuous corrective action. Humans are responsible for it — and these are established facts. There are no healthy people on a ravaged planet, and healthy people are my business.

Besides, there’s no place like home for the holidays — and this planet is our home.