HEALTHY CITY, HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, HEALTHY PEOPLE
We are a Cambridge based group that bridges activism and academic based approaches to tackling environmental challenges. We follow the Ecological Public Health and Planetary Health principles that highlight the interlinked relationship between environmental, climatic and human health and are working to rid synthetic pesticides from Cambridge's streets, verges, homes, businesses and schools. We believe that there is considerable power in focusing on the potential for changing localised, community level behaviour as a means of tackling global problems.
We are working together with Cambridge City and County Councils with the aim of making our city pesticide-free in the interests of health and biodiversity. We also work with a number of allied groups with which we share overlapping agendas and with whom we regularly exchange resources and information as far as they relate to environmental sustainability-issues in Cambridge.
Please support our efforts to make Cambridge a healthier place for its inhabitants, both human and non-human, by getting involved with our Pesticide-Free Cambridge focussed campaigns!
ABOUT OUR INITIATIVE
Bridging academic and activist-based environmentalism
Our initiative is aimed at maximising biodiversity, and improving air quality and public health in Cambridge during and following Covid-19 by tackling Local Authority, business, and private use of non-agricultural synthetic pesticides.
Throughout this website we use the term ‘pesticides’ to refer to both herbicides and insecticides used on plants, as well as within indoor and outdoor built environments. In recent years, largely following high-profile legal cases that have highlighted the health dangers of glyphosate-based weed-killer, there have been growing numbers of campaigns aimed at stamping out Local Authority use of herbicides within towns and cities.
We work closely with local councillors and officials from Cambridge City and County council, as well as with a number of allied groups including PAN-UK's Pesticide-Free Towns movement that through a growing number of regional campaigns like ours, are taking important steps towards encouraging Local Authorities across the country to ditch glyphosate-based weed control. However, we are also highlighting the problem of herbicide-use by private individuals as well as local councils, and also to non-plant-based insecticide applications within indoor and outdoor built environments. Many such insecticides are considerably more toxic and environmentally persistent than herbicides that have dominated media attention in recent years, especially when used indoors. This is obviously something that needs to be problematised, especially since many people still assume that the term 'pesticides' refers only to plant or garden applications.
Further, in addition to the devastating impact of pesticides on the decline of insect populations and biodiversity loss, we are trying to raise awareness also about the fuller picture of pesticide use in the public/private sphere as well as plant/building contexts, with an emphasis on the deeply entwined environmental:human health fallout of such practices.
Of particular relevance here are emerging research strands in Ecological Public Health that demonstrate how our increasingly synthetically altered environment is also bringing about profound intergenerational changes in human and non-human animals through epigenetic, genetic and endocrine disruption. Growing awareness of the inherent permeability of the human-animal-environment encounter means that any healing of the human body needs to go hand in hand with healing of the environment, and that effective environmental activism can no longer be separated from human health concerns.
We have the following aims:
To raise public awareness about the links between synthetic pesticide use and our growing environmental / climate change / biodiversity / human health crises.
To campaign at a local level towards the phasing out of all Local Authority Council use of glyphosate-based herbicides in Cambridge's parks, playgrounds, verges, streets and pavements.
To work towards the banning of all synthetic pesticides in Cambridge's schools and colleges.
To work towards greater regulation of irresponsible public use of synthetic pesticides across Cambridge's homes, gardens and businesses, highlighting the problem of pesticide 'drift', that is the spread of pesticides beyond the original site of application, to the detriment of public and environmental health.
To promote Cambridge as a model city that showcases its commitment to public and environmental health, that can fruitfully be applied at a national level.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
“The crusade to create a chemically sterile, insect-free world seems to have engendered a fanatic zeal on the part of many specialists and most of the so-called control agencies”
WHY PESTICIDE-FREE CAMBRIDGE?
Pesticides are everywhere!
Many of the quotes that you see throughout our site come from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. The book, a major landmark for the global environmentalism movement, was written in 1962 but after over 60 years of inaction and collective amnesia, and as we continue to destroy nature at an alarmingly accelerated rate, its message is more relevant for us today than ever. As Carson so forcibly argued, we have been duped into believing that both the green fields and forests of our bucolic countryside, as well as our city gardens and parks are epitomes of 'nature', and that the homes and buildings in which we work, study and play are safe havens, when in fact there's no knowing which of these seemingly benign places have been laced with poison.
Although there have been some notable positive developments in recent years including a much belated awareness that pesticides don't only impact on rural populations, and in Cambridge, the City Council's decision in 2019 to stop spraying herbicides in children's playgrounds and open spaces, there are ongoing significant problems as outlined below.
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The Council continues to carry out blanket spraying of herbicides on Cambridge's verges, pavements, roads, and pesticide treatment in and around public buildings is widespread.
"Do we still still raise [children] who roam through woods or fields and might even explore the margins of a river? If so, who guarded the poisoned area to keep out any who might wander in, in misguided search for unspoiled nature? Who kept vigilant watch to tell the innocent stroller that the fields he was about to enter were deadly and all their vegetation coated with a lethal film?"
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Pesticides are central to the entwined climate change, environmental breakdown and inter-generational human health crises
We believe that synthetic pesticides have no place in city such as Cambridge that prides itself on its natural and cultural heritage and two universities that boasts numerous scholars working on environmental matters. Ubiquitous pesticide use in Cambridge is especially problematic against the widespread acceptance of the entwined human-environmental impacts of chemical-based air pollution.
Developments within Ecological Public Health, epigenetics and exposome research reveal how our synthetically altered environment is changing human and non-human animals at an intergenerational level through epigenetic, genetic and endocrine disruption, and that tackling major public health challenges can no longer be effective without direct engagement also with remedial environmental action.
A host of additional factors make the continued use of pesticides completely at odds with the principles of Ecological Public Health:
Widespread acceptance of the impact of access to ‘nature’ on physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The singling out by the United Nations of unsustainable chemical use and waste as a key obstacle to achieving its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and as a major contribution to air pollution far over and beyond that related to vehicular fumes.
The huge impact of both agricultural and non-agricultural pesticide use on declining insect populations and the consequent loss of biodiversity.
The negative health impact of both agricultural and non-agricultural pesticides use on a wide range of human illnesses including cancers, chronic neurological conditions such as ME/CFS, endocrine disruption and DNA alteration, as well as autism and learning difficulties in children.
Recent high-profile court cases that have set a legal precedent for demonstrating the negative health impacts of glyphosate-based herbicides and that have helped to raise public awareness of the dangers of their widespread use in our built environments and green spaces.
Acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic represents a failure to respond to the message of the Ecological Public Health model, and a symptom of entrenched human-environmental imbalances that include the erosion of nature and biodiversity. Calls have been made to extend the improvements that have been made to air quality and biodiversity during the Covid shutdown to post Covid-19 phases as part of a green recovery plan. We believe that the elimination of pesticides should form part of any such proposed healthier 'new normal'.
"What sets the new synthetic insecticides apart is their enormous biological potency. They have immense power not merely to poison but to enter into the most vital processes of the body and change them in sinister and often deadly ways... they destroy the very enzymes whose function is to protect the body from harm, they block the oxidation processes from which the body receives its energy, they prevent the normal functioning of various organs, and they may initiate in certain cells the slow and irreversible change that leads to malignancy. Yet new and more deadly chemicals are added to the list each year and new uses are devised so"
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
BUILDING ON POSITIVE CHANGE
We wish to build on the existing positive steps that have been taken at a local, national and international level to tackle non-agricultural pesticide use in towns.
While much has been achieved already there is still a huge amount of work and awareness building to be done.
In particular, we note the following recent developments in Cambridge and at a local and international level.
"It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. All this has been risked for what? Future historians may well be amazed by our distorted sense of proportion. How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?"
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
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"Notions that humans are self-contained and impervious to context have now been largely swept away, not least because denial of a socioecological perspective hugely undermined attempts to address the most serious contemporary health challenges. Also instrumental in challenging the notion of the self-contained body has been an environmentalist movement with a particular interest in pesticide and other chemical contamination of the biosphere. The toxic effects of chemical contamination reinforce the reality of a body that is permeable and invariably in a state of intimate exchange with its surroundings."
George Morris and Patrick Saunders. The Environment in Health and Well-being (2017, 21).
We regularly have stalls at environmental-themed events and are hosted for talks by a range of campaigning/academic/community organisations. See below for details on past and upcoming events. Do come by and chat with us if you're around, and pick up some of our information sheets on how to go pesticide free in your school, community, business or home. And please get in touch if you'd like us to speak at, or hold an information stall at an event you're organising.