Our Point of View

Caring for Mother Earth: The link between planetary health and population health

Gabriela Seplovich | Jun 5, 2016
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World Environment Day is an opportunity to reflect on the mounting evidence on the reciprocal relationship between the health of our global agricultural system and population health, which makes it clear that we cannot continue to neglect global planetary health. A long-term vision of healthy and productive populations requires re-envisioning how we sustainably grow, deliver, and cook our food. A recent report released by President Obama’s Climate Action Plan titled The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, provides a more direct link between planetary health and population health, echoing the global work of the Rockefeller-Lancet Commission.

The report, produced and delivered by leading climate scientists and public health departments, confirms that the current trajectory of climate patterns will have many deleterious health effects, including an increase in air pollution and allergens that will worsen the already pervasive rates of asthma and allergy conditions. This alone is thought to lead to thousands of additional premature deaths in the near future. Extreme temperatures – including more frequent, intense, and extreme events – will cause more natural disasters, increase the number and timing of vector-borne diseases, increase water-related illnesses, and increase threats to food safety by creating abnormal imbalances in our delicate ecosystems that sustain life. The report even outlines adverse impacts on mental health due to increased exposure to natural disasters, chronic and acute health conditions, and forced migration.

As with many pending health issues, the greatest burden will be borne by those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, including minority groups, indigenous peoples, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. This only confirms what many climate activists have argued for decades: Protecting our environment is not a partisan issue that should be subject to political debate. Rather, it is a scientific phenomenon that can be avoided with major systemic shifts that will require individual cooperation from all peoples.

In honor of World Environment Day on June 5, Vitality urges individuals, companies, and governments to shift the trajectory of population health through developing and maintaining sustainable environmental practices. For more on how to engage with your environment in eco-conscious ways, see our blog on 5 Actions for Planetary Health.

Photo Credit: Freestock

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