Investing in the Environment Via Lifestyle Practices That Serve the Public Interest

Everyone knows that wellness seekers and promoters value fitness, nutrition, fun and a host of other positive lifestyle matters – in addition to investments for the future that enable economic choices associated with quality of life. Most familiar with health promotion also realize that the term wellness, though widely used commercially in varied and even contradictory ways, entails more than NOT doing high risk things, more than foo foo spa treatments and more than medical assessments of hazards existing and likely to develop. A wellness philosophy entails so very much more than simply a willingness to avoid attitudes and behaviors that risk illness and disease, like smoking, overeating, remaining sedentary or being a grump. In fact, wellness – the conscious choice to pursue health and life quality well above the common standard of normal mediocrity, does not in its original or best sense emphasize any of these last mentioned aspects. Wellness properly described and embraced entails the study and integration of mental and physical health-enriching qualities into one’s daily life, starting with fitness and nutrition but including much else.

On many occasions, I have suggested the use of the term REAL wellness to emphasize such positive non-medical realms as the quest for added meaning and purpose, the cultivation of an increased capacity for reason, exuberance and liberty, critical thinking, applied ethics, positive psychology (happiness) and environmental awareness.

Wellness seekers and promoters need not feel remiss about advocating personal advancement via exceptional lifestyles. Such a focus does not equate with self-absorption or neglect of the commons (the larger environment): instead, it reflects a deliberate focus on what one can do for him or herself. Enjoy and go for it. Too bad more people don’t do the same. If most did, the U.S. medical system would not be so bloated as to consume 17 percent of GDP.

In addition to looking after ourselves, we are wise if we also work together, with others, to promote favorable environmental priorities. What can REAL wellness seekers do about environmental awareness? What, exactly, IS environmental awareness?

On their own, there is not much any individual can do about the great physical issues we face in this country and around the world. Similarly, we are limited in what we can do about economic and social problems, which also fall in the category of environmental awareness. Yet, we cannot focus only on our own situations while the environment around us deteriorates and social and economic conditions worsen. Being happy, in top physical form, mentally acute and otherwise fit as a proverbial fiddle won’t matter much if the wells go dry, the economy collapses and the air becomes toxic, for starters.

The community, state and the world need our attention. If any of these jurisdictions fall apart, individual wellness will mean little. A willingness to do one’s part to safeguard and promote the greater good is a positive wellness trait. Given the serious problems in this country and around the world, wellness seekers and promoters must also focus on a selection of green issues of their choice. In this way, a positive lifestyle will serve as a complement to outreach efforts beyond the personal. Pressing national and global concerns very much affect the quality of an individual’s quality of life. Of course, there are so many concerns, issues, problems and challenges, from economic crises to global warming to conservation and so on, that no consensus among wellness enthusiasts on which national and global concerns are most important is likely anytime soon. We must all choose our own priorities for outreach services for the general good.

What might such an agenda look like?

The possibilities are nearly endless, given the range of problems at the community, state, national and world levels. Disparate individuals will not agree on the most pressing interventions. Here is a listing of 21 topical areas in the fields of science, engineering and medicine assembled by a team at the National Academies, best known for their work last year organizing the Science Debate 2008. Which areas would you emphasize?

Stem Cell Research 
Healthcare Costs and Access 
Feeding the World 
Ocean Health 
Education and Learning 
The Aging Population 
Climate Change 
National Security 
The Nation’s Aging Infrastructure 
Biodiversity and Extinction 
Crime and Justice 
Emerging Infectious Diseases 
Mental Health 
Space Science and Exploration 
Future of Aviation 
Water Resources 
Chronic Disease 
Toxic Agents in the Environment 
Children, Youth, and Families

Well, we can’t do everything, at least not right away (actually, we can’t do anything right away), so to get things started, here is my own REAL wellness priority list, beginning with environmental concerns (economic and social priority areas will be listed separately).

The National Wellness Institute (NWI) in Stevens Point, WI could play an important role in this process. So far, it has done little. The NWI could elect to serve as a lead agent to gather, prioritize and promote the shared concerns of environmentally conscious wellness seekers, promoters and organizations. In this role, the NWI could direct resources, energies and talents to fashion a common agenda on environmental matters large and small, local and planetary. I propose that wellness enthusiasts, under the leadership of the NWI, adopt just such an agenda in order to connect personal and organizational wellness with wider economic and environmental advances. And to speed things along, I am willing to offer a few suggestions about the possible nature of an environmental awareness agenda for NWI’s initial consideration.

First, a list of environmental priorities seems in order.

* Promote energy independence, sustainable fuels and efficient power sources. Subsidize personal initiatives that advance these objectives (e.g., weatherizing of homes and other structures).

* Reduce global warming AND the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels (e.g., oil), especially oil from the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela.

* Promote a worldwide effort to resurrect oceanic dead zones, while preventing further mortality of coastal-waters. All ecological threats should be addressed, including global warming, freshwater depletion, contamination by antibiotic residues/synthetic chemicals and heavy metals, but cleaning up ocean dead zones should be more urgent than the rest, given the destructive potentials of oxygen-free waters. (For more on this element, see Tom Flynn, A Unfruitful Plea, Free Inquiry Magazine, January 5, 2009.

* Mitigate global poverty, a foundation for all manner of perturbations, such as religious fundamentalism and subsequent mindless violence. Approximately two billion people are struggling to live on $2 a day or less.

* Conclude the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (estimated financial cost – $10 billion a month!) – other costs, such as lives lost and bodies severely damaged, are beyond calculation. Consider that $540 billion a year, in addition to the $120 billion annually for two wars, goes to other military spending. (Source: Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator, Where Do We Go from Here? BuzzFlash, 12/29/2008.)

Next, economic and social awareness challenges must be addressed.

* Deficit and national debt reduction. The latter is now at $10.4 trillion dollars.

* Identify and eliminate abusive tax breaks for the rich – develop a system for a somewhat more equitable distribution of wealth, based more on merit than inheritance.

* Support the rebirth of a strong middle class and a decent level of security, education and care for the poor. Among other aspects of such a goal, emphasize steps that will reduce childhood poverty and extreme gaps in wealth and income distribution.

* Reform the infrastructure of regulation and monitoring undermined during the eight years of the Bush Administration. Insure that Wall Street, insurance and drug companies, the military-industrial-complex, the oil and coal companies, big media and other powerful special interests do not bring America to its knees, where it is today.

* Discontinue selective taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street firms, auto makers and other businesses.

* Institute health system reforms that emphasize, support and reward wellness lifestyles.

* Focus on quality education at all levels by modernizing schools, boosting teacher training and increasing pay levels for positive student performance.

* Boost employment levels and job opportunities. Seek finance reforms and employ other methods of advancing the public interest.

* Do what is needed to stabilize the housing industry.

* Establish safeguards to protect saving and retirement accounts.

* Last but not least, launch a concerted effort to promote greater democracy at home.

Well, this is a substantial list of project possibilities for society and possibly the NWI. The Institute, like the rest of society, can play but a modest part, but in doing so can channel the concerns and labors of wellness enthusiasts toward the great environmental challenges of our era.

The Institute and wellness seekers alike will, of course, continue to advance health and well-being in lifestyle areas. There are many reasons to add an environmental awareness dimension to the wellness agenda. One is that seekers and promoters of good living will avoid guilt based on a pursuit of personal life quality enhancement at the expense of a balanced commitment to a larger (ecological) good. Reaching out beyond self benefits those who do so, as well as recipients of the good works. The latter are usually personally rewarding.

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