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What is planetary health?

You might have heard of the ‘Planetary health diet’ included in the landmark study from the EAT-Lancet Commission and it was this work that launched the concept of planetary health. 

What is planetary health?

The term refers to “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. Since then, planetary health has evolved into a “solutions-oriented, transdisciplinary field and social movement based on analysing and addressing the impacts of human disruptions on earth’s natural systems on human health and all life on earth”. There is now a website devoted to it called Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) and a scientific journal called Lancet Planet health.

There is some overlap between other fields such as public health, environmental health and global health but perhaps a difference in the emphasis of the approaches taken and working together is essential. The PHA considers planetary health to comprise of five foundational domains:

  1. Interconnection with nature
  2. The Anthropocene and health
  3. Equity and social justice
  4. Movement building and systems change
  5. Systems thinking and complexity

The Planetary Health Alliance (PHA)

Founded in 2016, the PHA is composed of over 300 universities, non-government organisations, research institutes and government entities from over 60 countries committed to addressing global environment change and its health impacts. It curates and disseminates planetary health research and knowledge and resources and supports a global planetary health community. It provides information and solutions to the public, private sector and policy makers.

The Planetary Health annual meeting takes place Oct 31-Nov 2 and you can attend virtually for free or with a donation.

Why do we need ‘planetary health’?

Another new term was used by the EAT-Lancet Commission: the anthropocene - the name of the new era in which we exist (anthro- meaning human). The current era is characterised by the dramatic impact of humans on Earth’s physical and biological systems. These anthropogenic changes have resulted in a reduced stability of life support systems.

How does human health fit in?

Everything is connected. We rely on natural systems for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and a safe and habitable place to live. Our vulnerability to infectious disease also relies on the normal functioning of natural systems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a symptom of poor ecosystem health, and there are more pandemics predicted. For humanity to thrive, the natural systems on which we depend must be healthy and they are not. Like the burden of chronic human diseases we face, our planet faces chronic and degenerative environmental illness including mass extinction, pollution of air, soil and water, land and freshwater shortages and degradation of marine systems.

What is The Great Transition?

Also known as the Great Turning or Great Reset, it is a fundamental shift in the way we think and the way we live, toward having greater respect and care for nature and for each other. This includes the way we produce and consume food, and within a new set of values that incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion. Indigenous perspectives and knowledges are part of this and have special relevance in Australia and New Zealand.

All people can play a part in creating the transition needed for planetary health and healthy and sustainable food systems. Health professionals have the skills and education to take a leadership role in the communities they serve. Start with learning more about it. 

Further reading:

Planetary Health Alliance

Planetary health- protecting nature to protect ourselves by Samuel Myers and Howard Frumkin (Island Press)

Climate and Health Alliance (Australia’s peak body on health and climate change)

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