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Reversing global warming requires eliminating our modern economy’s dependence on chemistries of fossilized carbon. And just as greenhouse gases are the direct result of carbon-based fuels, so too are an almost limitless array of synthetic organic compounds – both purposely invented and waste products. These are responsible for a growing global burden of chronic diseases including cancer, neurologic, reproductive and developmental abnormalities. Of all the chronic diseases caused by synthetic toxins in the environment, cancer draws the public’s attention – fear, anger, compassion. As such, we think cancer is important as a sentinel illness, which can raise awareness of the real and direct threats to health of our carbon-based economy, and in turn catalyze investments in alternative technologies that benefit human and planetary health.
The great majority of the known carcinogens circulating in our economy are made from petrochemicals – from fossilized carbon. Society is recognizing that we need to move to carbon-free, renewable energy sources. However, the link between fossil fuels and the production of plastics and associated toxins has not been clearly articulated. We can prevent cancer by removing these carcinogens from plastics and other materials, products and foods, and the highly toxic chemical production cycles needed to produce them. We have already seen that alternative energy technologies represent enormous opportunities for new economic growth; and in the same way, the design and production of safer bio-based, carbon-neutral alternative materials and products will generate new industries and jobs. In summary, we believe that primary cancer prevention and climate change remediation require a common, fundamental strategy: reducing our dependence on carbon as fuel and chemical feedstock while ensuring that the benefits of the alternative materials and technologies are equitably shared throughout society. Linking these two realms, which currently run along separate tracks, can result in better technological, economic and political solutions.