Guest Columnist

Acting on what we know about public health

UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education

A #x201c;Good Neighbor#x201d; sign showing that no weed killers were us
UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education A “Good Neighbor” sign showing that no weed killers were used is displayed at Seerley Park in Cedar Falls. The sign is part of an initiative to reduce unnecessary urban pesticide applications.

The current crisis we are enduring reminds me of the floods of 1993, 2008, 2010, 2016 and all the images of heroic sandbagging, devastated homes, but absolutely no images of cities allowing building in and degrading the floodplains, putting people in harm’s way. We have known with a high degree certainty that several upstream factors exacerbate flooding, but we seem uninterested or unwilling to act on that knowledge, to walk upstream to address what keeps giving us flooding disasters.

Given the crisis we are in, it is refreshing to see that the entire nation is listening to and acting on science and evidence as advised by public health officials and scientists. I was astonished and disappointed to learn that infectious disease experts and biologists had warned for decades that this sort of pandemics (rooted in illegal wildlife trade and so called wet markets) would happen, and had suggested ways to prevent them and reduce their likelihood. That this pandemic the world is suffering from was preventable. But public officials of the world did not act on that knowledge and here we are.

So, it is seems reasonable for us to ask what other bodies of knowledge are sitting on and not acting on because we have been unwilling or have not had the courage to do so? Let me nominate just a few:

Pesticides and public health: Homeowners, school officials, park managers, colleges continue to treat their lawns with weed killers known to be highly hazardous to children and to pollinators while polluting Iowa’s streams. The evidence is robust and sobering — neurodevelopmental disorders, cancer. Act on it. Panther Lawns (purple violets & gold dandelions) will not harm anyone, 2,4-D and dicamba will. You can learn more from this UNI program: www.goodneighboriowa.org and commit to health.

Improving our collective diet: We have also been in the midst of another global pandemic — unhealthy diets leading to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. We are the evidence: 70 percent of Iowans are overweight, half of whom are obese. Only 6 percent of children in Black Hawk County eat enough fruits and vegetables. This is entirely preventable if we act on what we already know: The food environment of our community needs to offer much less sugary, fatty, salty, highly processed foods, much more fruits, vegetables and plant-based protein, and much less animal-derived foods. The consensus is clear, yet school meals, most restaurant meals, etc. remain unhealthy. Let’s organize ourselves to change this, while supporting food and farm businesses near us.

Protecting Iowa’s soil, water and biodiversity: Iowa’s health is intertwined with the health of Iowa’s soil, air, water, and biodiversity. Current state and federal agricultural policy, shaped by powerful global corporations and their agents in Iowa, are damaging Iowa’s soil, water, and livelihood of Iowa’s rural communities. We already know what food and agricultural strategies will enrich and protect Iowa’s soil and water while reviving rural economies, but we are not acting on them. I encourage you to learn what we can do to protect this American land for many more generations.

My hope is that we begin to expect our public and elected officials to pay close attention to science and evidence as the basis of all decisions affecting our well-being.

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Will our current situation help us mobilize and act for our future in so many fronts? Education is about action, otherwise what is education for?

Kamyar Enshayan is an agricultural engineer and served on the Cedar Falls City Council. He works at University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. kamyar.enshayan@uni.edu

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