Toward TomorrowToward Tomorrow

lessons from yesterday, visions f0r t0morrow

Richard Jackson Chapter Excerpt

In California Richard Jackson's work led to the establishment of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program and state and national laws that helped reduce risk from dangerous pesticides, especially for farm workers and children. He served in the highest California Public Health position where he advanced the states disease preparedness efforts and public health effort to reverse the obesity epidemic.


..."Listening to Jackson give a speech today, at age 62, wearing a business suit and standing at a podium in a huge Washington D.C. auditorium, he looks far from the picture of a rebel. But throughout his career, says Jackson, I've always been very restless about the status quo. How we break into the next level of awareness and change has always intrigued me,' he explains. In many important ways Jackson’s work has pushed the boundaries of the field of public health while also bringing it back to its roots at the intersection of health, environment, and public policy…"

…"Jackson’s big ideas are conceptually simple but powerful in their potential to improve health of the public. One such idea was the California Birth Defects Registry Jackson helped establish while working on pesticide issues at the California Department of Health Services in the 1980s. Keeping a geographically, chronologically correlated record of birth defects may sound simple, but this program significantly broadened our understanding of how pesticides affect children’s health…"

…'It’s nonsense to think it’s okay for children to be eating nerve toxins and carcinogens – or for any of us to be for that matter,' says Jackson. 'Maybe that’s the larger theme from all of this that we see over and over again in public health, that we need to push for a long term assessment of the impacts of what we’re doing rather than stop with a short term cost-benefit analysis. We knew full well what we were doing. The pesticide use reporting and benchmarking safety levels to children also reduced farm worker exposure significantly,' explains Jackson."

"...This interdisciplinary approach to children’s health also showed how important it is to focus on vulnerable populations when designing and implementing programs to protect communities from adverse environmental impacts. 'But,' says Jackson, 'in order to makes things happen, you need leadership. Leaders are really important, and it worries me deeply when our kids are being brought up to be cynical about leadership,' says Jackson. 'Clearly it’s easy to be cynical, but we need to be creating a new vision for leadership – one that captures a positive vision of the health of our planet, of the health of our children and a positive vision of well-being.' And, he continues, 'I’ve been accused of being utopian more than a few times in my life, but it is better to have a positive vision than it is to be cynical and say, 'You can’t really make much of a difference.'"