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Future health cannot be based on guesswork

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Paul Hyett considers sustainability to be a concern for public health (AJ 20.7.00) and there is one similarity.

Environmental campaigns of the past and the push for sustainable development today are socially inclusive because nobody wants poor health and a worse future.

Investment in sewers to improve sanitation and reductions in atmospheric pollution from factories and homes were not against development. They were reforms that modernised industrial growth by requiring cleaner technologies, and were concerned with the society of that time. However, sustainability is defined as concern for the wellbeing of future generations.

Sustainability requires us first to consider whether development is necessary at all, and only then to use modernised techniques that are assessed by some supposedly clairvoyant authority as beneficial to their imagined society. Not only is development suspect, but we are expected to act in the present on the basis of implausible assumptions about the future.

Over the past two centuries it was reasonable to have the foresight to build sewers and tackle chimney emissions. We can also anticipate with Martin Pawley that most of our children will live in the megacities of the twenty-first century (AJ 20.7.00). It is unreasonable to imagine labour intensive sanitation and de-industrialisation in an urban future.No environmentalist explains how billions of composting toilets are to be produced and installed in sufficient houses, or acres of reed beds established, with populations prepared to service them.

Industrialised society stopped sending children up chimneys, but with industrial inertia we seem to think our children will welcome unpleasant chores and rationed resources. Public health requires infrastructure, for example, but advocates of sustainability consider that unsustainable.

Ian Abley, audacity.org

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