Our national bathroom debate rages on, as fear of others’ genitalia sparks hatred and bigotry. Stranger yet, we’ve made it a religious issue, as if bathrooms have been around since biblical times (back then it was communal holes in the ground). To quote a recent Facebook post, “Modern toilets didn’t become common until the 19th century. Your religion has nothing to say about shitting…”

Meanwhile, hidden beneath this distracting (and what should be) non-issue, are critical concerns that affect all of us and require immediate attention. Here’s a list of 10 pressing issues that are being drowned out by toilet talk.

 

1: Nearly half of American children live at or below the poverty line.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, of Columbia University, 44% of American Children live in low income families, and 21% of all American Children live in poverty—that is, their families can’t afford to meet their most basic needs. You can find details in the NCCP annual profile of child poverty in America, including how they define low-income and poverty. There are numerous articles on this issue at phys.org.

 

2. The United States imprisons more people than any other country.

America locks up more of its citizens than any other country—twice as much as China (whose population is 4 times greater than ours). We also imprison a higher percentage of our population than everyone else—beating out Iraq, Russia, Egypt, Serbia, Rwanda, and Kazakhstan.

Just as disturbing is the fact that so many of our inmates are low-risk, non-violent offenders. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of March, 2016, 85,419 Americans are serving federal time for drug offenses. That’s 46.4% of the entire U.S. prison population. For some perspective, the second and third runners up are weapons and arson crimes at 16.9%, and immigration at 9.2%.

The costs of over-incarceration in terms of money and lives destroyed is overwhelming. For further reading on this subject, check the National Review and the New York Times.

 

3. Over 600,000 Americans are homeless—many of them children, veterans, and the mentally ill.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently published the following statistics on homelessness in America (based on a single night in January, 2013):

  • 610,042 people were homeless.
  • 138,149 homeless people were children—46,924 of them were unaccompanied.
  • 57,849 homeless people were veterans.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization for the treatment of severe mental illness, approximately one-third of the homeless population suffers from severe, untreated mental illness. Of course, there’s no easy answer or one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness, but making it a higher priority is necessary. As a society, we must recognize these people as fellow human beings whose lives and mental health matter.

 

4. Americans work too much, enjoy life too little.

As the “leader of the free world” and a nation that prides itself on values like freedom and the pursuit of happiness, it must seem odd to outsiders that Americans work more hours, celebrate fewer holidays, and enjoy far less vacation time than all other developed nations.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States is the only economically developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide paid holidays or vacation time. What’s more, a growing number of Americans don’t even use what little vacation time they get (see this article in the Boston Globe). Eventually, we have to ask ourselves, what is this freedom when we don’t even have the time or energy to enjoy it?

 

5. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for Americans.

What’s going on in America when suicide is the 4th leading cause of death, taking more lives than diabetes, stroke, HIV, and homicide (2007 statistics). In fact, suicide rates have jumped 24% in the last 15 years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicide is obviously a result of mental illness, which has reached epidemic proportions in America. The following statistics come from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • 18.1% of U.S. adults (43.6 million) experience some form of mental illness.
  • 4.2% of U.S. adults (9.8 million) have a serious mental illness.
  • 4.3% of U.S. adults (10.2 million) experience severe, debilitating depression.
  • 1% of U.S. adults (2.5 million) have made plans to commit suicide, and 0.5% (1.2 million) have attempted it (2007 statistics).

 

6. Our democracy is becoming an oligarchy.

ol·i·gar·chy
ˈäləˌɡärkē/
noun
noun: oligarchy; plural noun: oligarchies
  1. a small group of people or organizations having control of a country or government.
    “the ruling oligarchy of special interest groups represented in congress by lobbyists”
    • a country governed by an oligarchy.
      “the American corporate oligarchy of the 21st century”
    • government by oligarchy.

Between the 2.6 billion dollars spent on corporate lobbyists, and the untold sums dumped into super pacs, the concerns of everyday people mean less and less to politicians. This is compounded by a voting system that most Americans agree is flawed. In fact, more than two thirds of us want to see it changed (that’s people on both sides). If our votes count for anything, let’s not waste them on candidates that favor big business over We the People.

 

7: New York’s ground water is contaminated with radioactive waste.

In January, 2016, the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, owned by the Entergy Corporation, and located 25 miles north of New York City, began leaking the radioactive isotope, Tritium into the facility’s groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency found the groundwater Tritium levels to be 405 times greater than federally allowed drinking water levels, and 65,000% higher than levels normally found there—an area where 317,000 people live within 10 miles. You can find recent articles at the Huffington PostCNN, and New York Daily News.

 

8. Fracking creates a toxic, barren wasteland for our grandchildren.

Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is the method of injecting water and chemicals deep into the earth to extract gas and oil from shale rock, which fractures (hence the name) in the process. In fact, nearly half of the U.S. gas and oil production comes from fracking, according the Wall Street Journal.

This process contaminates huge amounts of water and renders land uninhabitable. A study by Duke University found that energy companies used about 250 billion gallons of water to extract gas and oil from shale rock in 2014, and that toxic waste-water spills are widespread, as in the Bakken fields of North Dakota. There, researchers found large amounts of ammonium, selenium, lead, and other toxic and radioactive pollutants in waste-water. Here’s a quote from Sciencedaily.com:

One of the state’s largest spills to date occurred in 2014, when an underground pipeline leak caused approximately 1 million gallons of brine to flow down a ravine and into Bear Den Bay, about a quarter mile upstream from a drinking water intake on Lake Sakakawea.”

 

9. Chemical fertilizers harm people and pollute the environment.

The largest industry in global agribusiness is chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers use ingredients like anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, which are extremely dangerous and cause widespread pollution and disease. And, as a University of Illinois study concluded nearly a decade ago, nitrogen based fertilizers deplete the soil of organic carbon. This requires the use of more and more fertilizers, so it’s not surprising companies like Monsanto are such big supporters, regardless of the health and environmental costs. If that weren’t enough, this industry directly benefits from fracking (#8 on this list), because of the cheap and abundant natural gas required for production.

 

10. Climate change IS happening, and—like it or not—we must adapt.

Regardless of whose fault it is, and whether or not we can do anything about it, climate change is a real phenomenon, and will undoubtedly change the way we live our lives. Need evidence? Read what NASA has to say about it, or even the White House.

The problem for us is staggeringly huge. Almost every aspect of our way of life needs to be examined, and if necessary, adjusted. Here’s just one small (but easily achievable) example: Drastically reducing our sun exposure. The ozone depletion of the 20th century allows more and more of the sun’s ultra-violet rays to enter the atmosphere. This directly correlates to a rise in skin cancer rates world-wide. This is not about preventing sunburns (though that’s a good idea), and ultimately it’s not about slathering on more and more sunscreen. It’s about covering the skin with clothing and hats, and flat-out staying out of the sun more than we’re used to. Inconvenient? Not fun? So is skin cancer.

The good news: The Antarctic ozone hole has begun to stabilize due to a 1987 United Nations treaty to reduce ozone depletion, known as the Montreal Protocol. However, we shouldn’t let our guard down. This from the American Chemical Society:

While nations agreed to stop depleting ozone, nature will need time to catch up. CFCs are stable and long-lived compounds, and it will take a significant amount of time—estimated at 50–100 years—for the chemicals released decades ago to break down in the atmosphere. In fact, the worst global ozone losses and largest ozone holes occurred more than 15 years after the Montreal Protocol was signed.”

 

There we have it. Some real problems to tackle once we can accept the fact that some guys used to sit down to pee.