The term "healthy environment" is a huge one, encompassing many different meanings. To complicate the matter, environments that are healthy for one population aren’t always healthy for another. This makes it hard to agree upon what is needed in order to create a healthy environment, and to determine what has priority in this environment, such as humans, other animals, insects or plants. Usually, when people use this term, they refer to a human environment that would pose few risks for disease or health hazards.
Dictionaries may speak of environment as the sum total of all surrounding living conditions. This would mean all physical things, all growing things, all structures, all objects, and all chemicals. There’s also a sharing aspect to this. People are not only surrounded by their environment but constantly contribute to it with every behavior, including breathing. A person cannot have a smoke, clean a rug, take out the trash, do the dishes, or drive a car without having some effect on the environment.
In a sense, part of achieving a healthy environment is to determine how to live in total surrounding conditions with minimal or improving effects upon it. Obviously smoking improves nothing, threatening the physical health of the smoker and anyone who inhales the smoke. Cleaning the rug may be a bit more complicated. Will rug chemicals have cumulative effects on the health of an environment or will getting rid of dust mites be healthier for asthma sufferers in the home? There’s a growing market for a variety of products that are judged environmentally friendly, but many of these are still sold in plastic bottles, and the manufacture of these can give out chemicals that reduce environmental health.
The issue of a healthy environment goes deeper than this and it’s often pointed out that people forget the structures in which they live and which surround them. Houses, buildings and highways are taken for granted. In creating a healthy environment, though, these cannot simply be ignored while people try to change behavior. Years of research have pointed out problems with things like lead paint in homes or with asbestos, but there are other features in structures that may prove as problematic. For instance, where a structure is built can have a total effect on environment. Schools built near highways could be subject to much higher levels of pollution that contribute to poor human health and higher development of disease.
It’s common to think that simply urban environments are the problem. Studies of farm workers in many parts of the world show this not to be the case. Those who live in areas where pesticides are used frequently may have greater risk of respiratory diseases and development of cancer.
Large structures anywhere tend to affect environment adversely, and they may rely on consumption of fossil fuels, which create greater pollution. They may also, while sheltering people, decimate populations of animals that protect people. There is often much fuss when a protected species is found near a planned building site, and some feel this is overrated. Yet, when that protected species has some positive effect on the human population (the consumption of disease-bearing mosquitoes, for example), effects of removing it could be devastating and hurt people.
Given the complication of trying to create a healthy environment, it would seem almost futile to try. Many argue that this isn’t the case. Studying the environment helps people understand which issues may be causing the greatest problems. Certainly, understanding that lead paint could harm kids, or that DDT was creating high risk of disease were important findings which have helped eliminate these environmental hazards in certain parts of the world.
Many people devote their lives to finding ways to create a healthy environment for all residents of the planet, and they may focus in different areas. They can examine human behaviors that risk things like lung cancer, diabetes, or perpetuation of abuse. Others study the effects of chemicals, gases, changes in climate, or changes to the total environment. Thus the answer of how to create a healthy environment is not likely to come from a single source, but instead it comes to humans in bits and pieces, like a puzzle. Each human then has the responsibility of deciding how to fit those pieces together to create a healthier world.