Ah 2021, the surprising year. I think we all made unexpected discoveries last year. Certainly I did. The pandemic has a way of doing that.
One of my surprises sprung from the health and wellness movement. I've been part of this crowd all my life, and thought I knew it pretty well.
A bit of context. My parents raised me in a faith tradition that mingles healthiness and holiness. I never could make sense of the holiness bit. But the health focus sparked a life-long interest and passion. Health for people and nature. An easy fit alongside a broader environmental mindset, striving for a more planet-friendly future.
What sort of health and wellness movement am I talking about? Nothing wild. Just the basics like regular exercise, healthy and organic foods, mindfulness, natural products. For nearly five decades, I've spent time and energy connecting with family, friends and colleagues who put this sort of wellness at the centre. Often linked with yoga studios, health food shops, holistic medicine practitioners and the like. Yes sometimes outside the mainstream, but wonderful energising people and places.
In many cases, there's a heap of good evidence supporting health and wellness. Take herbicides for instance. They're massively over-used to over-produce food, and to kill unwanted plants in and around the city. Many of these poisons do incredible harm to people and nature, just read about the neonicotinoids if in doubt. So it's absolutely brilliant that alongside staunch environmentalists, the health and wellness movement is often front and centre, calling for cleaner food production systems, and urban public spaces free of poisons.
So yes, I'm genuinely surprised that some of these same wonderful people and places, who've invested much in striving to support their own health and the health of others, are seemingly unable to link their natural lifestyle choices with the tremendous value of the Covid vaccine to their own healthy future, and the health of those around them.
Sure, an overall goal of keeping things as natural as possible is sensible. It guides much of my own life. But for otherwise health-savvy people to opt out of the protection offered by the vaccine in the face of a swift and deadly Covid pandemic was quite a surprise. A narrow, but very real, blind spot. Yes, it can challenge self-imposed desires for purity and perceived naturalness. But the benefits are huge, massively outweighing any cost or risk.
Even if your agenda is natural purity, have a think about it. Being unvaccinated massively increases your risk of needing hospital care in an outbreak. With that comes a raft of pharmaceutical drugs, on top of the magnified dangers associated with the actual disease. How is that good for a natural lifestyle, those around you, or the health system?
Of course, many local health and wellness-oriented people, businesses and organisations do understand and promote the Covid vaccine. Which assures me greatly. Despite there being some misinformed voices and choices in the health and wellness movement, there are many who are able to assemble and assess evidence, and objectively weigh risks and benefits for themselves and those around them. And do so with a generosity of spirit, considering the direct impact of personal choices on the people around them, and the natural world.
All of which is what the health and wellness movement, and the wider environmental movement and society, needs as we navigate a just transition to our shared future.
Eco-tip: Help reduce single-use plastic waste by getting the Covid vaccine. Have you seen how much single-use plastic is required for each patient with Covid?
• Brent Barrett is an environmental advocate, city councillor and scientist. The views expressed here are his own.