Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Planetary Health

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Factory in China
By High Contrast (Own work)
[CC BY 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/de/deed.en)],
via Wikimedia Commons

"Far-reaching changes to the structure and function of the Earth’s natural systems represent a growing threat to human health. And yet, global health has mainly improved as these changes have gathered pace. What is the explanation?"

So begins "Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch: Report of the Rockefeller Foundation--Lancet Commission on Planetary Health" that examines this paradox. These are the key messages from this report:

Key Messages
1. The concept of planetary health is based on the understanding that human health and human civilisation depend on flourishing natural systems and the wise stewardship of those natural systems. However, natural systems are being degraded to an extent unprecedented in human history.

2. Environmental threats to human health and human civilisation will be characterised by surprise and uncertainty. Our societies face clear and potent dangers that require urgent and transformative actions to protect present and future generations.

3. The present systems of governance and organisation of human knowledge are inadequate to address the threats to planetary health. We call for improved governance to aid the integration of social, economic, and environmental policies and for the creation, synthesis, and application of interdisciplinary knowledge to strengthen planetary health.

4. Solutions lie within reach and should be based on the redefinition of prosperity to focus on the enhancement of quality of life and delivery of improved health for all, together with respect for the integrity of natural systems. This endeavour will necessitate that societies address the drivers of environmental change by promoting sustainable and equitable patterns of consumption, reducing population growth, and harnessing the power of technology for change.

A sample of its 56-pages includes an executive summary, a glossary, short case studies (e.g., Ebola, ecosystem restoration and relieving poverty, hurricane Katrina), the concept of planetary health, how the Earth's global ecosystems are changing, non-linear changes and interactions, and population growth, consumption, and technology as causes of environmental change, conflict and displacement, extreme events (floods, storms, cyclones, wild fires, landslides, droughts and heat waves), decision making under conditions of uncertainty) solutions for the drivers of global environmental change charting a course for the future and policy.

3 Policy Propositions
The report concludes with three policy propositions to advance planetary health. Each of these are detailed in compact bullet-points.

1. Advancing imagination challenges (conceptual and empathy).

2. Advancing research and information challenges.

3. Advancing governance challenges (delay in recognizing and responding to threats).

I urge you to read Tony Dokoupil's piece on MSNBC (to whom I owe the discovery of this report and a h/t).  It is jarring. He captures our current management of the planet in a sentence that sticks in my head. "You get the sense of an insurance man reviewing the damage to a hotel room." This report is filled with doable ideas on how to repair that damage, i.e., it ends on a hopeful note. However, the question whether we can/will change or whether it will take much grimmer circumstances to force us to change lingers.

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