Mar 15

Newsletter essay
CHE’s 15th Anniversary: March On!

Elise Miller, MEd photoBy Elise Miller, MEd

CHE was established 15 years ago this month. At that time, a small group of us imagined what we might next do to build a stronger environmental health movement. We wondered if health-affected groups and others, emboldened by knowledge of the emerging environmental health science, might create a groundswell of new voices demanding more prevention-oriented public health policies. We considered whether a variety of different learning forums based on civil dialogue might help launch more cross-sectoral collaborations to reduce exposures to chemical contaminants that can lead to chronic disease and disability. (See Michael Lerner's letter dated March 21, 2002.)

Fifteen years later we can point to CHE's vibrant learning community and say 'yes', our strategy has been effective. We have advanced the environmental health movement in vital ways, such as these:

  • Producing an award-winning multimedia e-book on multiple contributors to specific health problems, entitled A Story of Health, with continuing education credits hosted on the US Centers for Disease Control's website.
  • Playing an instrumental role to establish the first major academic program in the US on reproductive health and the environment (based at the University of California, San Franciso);
  • Providing critical materials and testimony for a hard-hitting report from the President's Cancer Panel on links between hazardous exposures and cancer and the need to make reducing toxic chemicals a national priority;
  • Empowering national learning and developmental disabilities organizations to become influential voices in reducing exposures to toxic chemicals;
  • Developing over 60 publications for researchers, health professionals, decision makers and consumers to better understand new research and to utilize in prevention-oriented actions;
  • and much more....

Many of you have been intimately involved in shaping and spearheading these efforts, and we are gratified by your contributions.

As I prepare to hand CHE's reins over to my successor, Karen Wang, on April 1, however, I am well aware that many of the hard-won victories for public health over the last couple decades are being undermined and even reversed by the current Administration. According to a Washington Post article published Monday, "President Trump has moved to fill just one of 46 key science and technology positions that help the government counter risks ranging from chemical and biological attacks to rising seas." And that is just one concern on top of many other policies and institutions being targeted in ways that could leave our health and future more vulnerable than ever.

Moving forward, we cannot allow the current assault on clean air, water, food and soil to be defined by the media as another "crisis of the week" and then dropped when attention spans wane, as though Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" applies to human and planetary tragedies. Anyone involved in any major social movement knows that perseverance and grit are as essential as brilliant strategies. And anyone involved in science knows that when the scientific method is conducted with integrity, we can address critical problems, based not on anecdotes, but on tested observations and evidence.

Given this, CHE needs to evolve with the times to become an even more compelling voice for evidence-based science and to reach broader audiences than ever before. Exactly how this is done will be up to Karen and the rest of the CHE team. What we do know is science is an essential pillar of democracy. Without it, the survival of our society is at stake as well. This means CHE partners in the US and across the world must work harder than ever to safeguard evidence-based science as the cornerstone for health-promoting policies and interventions. For some this may mean participating in the March for Science on April 22nd in Washington, DC. For others, "marching" for science will take place in laboratories and classrooms, in stores and on farms, and in conversations with colleagues, friends, community members and decision makers at every level of society.

As director of CHE, I have had the distinct privilege of working with so many of you. I could not ask for more exceptionally bright, dedicated and thoughtful colleagues. I've learned so much through your insights, expertise and fortitude. In short, I will greatly miss getting to collaborate with you closely on issues that will always remain close to my heart.

That said, I am heartened to know that based on an ecological model of health, wherever I next put my energy in the system of life will bolster the work you are undertaking and vice-versa. Because of this inherent interconnectedness, our collective efforts to push the needle towards improved health and well-being in a world that faces a very uncertain future will continue.

Though I'm not clear yet what form my next service to the Commons will take after April 1, I very much look forward to staying in touch and will send my contact information in a separate email.

Do take a moment in the coming weeks to welcome Karen as CHE's new director. I wish her, and every one of you, the greatest success in forging the healthiest possible future for all.

With infinite gratitude for sharing this journey with me over the years—march on!

Tag: science

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