Planetary health

Planetary health, pandemics and positive action

“Our mission? To build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet.” So says the website of Earth Day, which took place on Wednesday. And as the COVID-19 pandemic brings planetary health to the fore, never has that mission been so vital.

The link between human and planetary health

A month ago, this article on the correlation between our destruction of the planet and the increased risk of global pandemics shook me to my core. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. That was the first time I’d heard of planetary health – the impact that our erosion of earth’s ecosystems has on human health.

Forests have been written about the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic; but this piece lays bare how the two are inextricably interlinked. Our destruction of natural habitats, and the resulting impact on wildlife, are increasing our exposure to dangerous pathogens. In turn, this increases the likelihood of their transmission from animals to humans. 

The future of humanity depends on the natural world. We are destroying our own life-support system – along with our food security, economies, health and quality of life. In the short term, the development of tools such as vaccines, tests, treatments and tracking apps are all vital in the fight against COVID-19. But we cannot simply hope to return to ‘normal life’ once we start winning. As Prof. Tim Benton, an expert in population ecology, puts it: “Societies and governments tend to treat each new infectious disease as an independent crisis, rather than recognising they are a symptom of how the world is changing.”

Taking positive action

Those symptoms of our planetary health need to be treated with a holistic approach. We have to zoom out, think long term, and make serious changes to the way that humans live on earth. This pandemic certainly won’t be the last, and the time for change is now. From investments in global healthcare systems to rethinking urban planning, never has there been a more urgent need for action at a global level.

Behaviour change helped to slow the spread of COVID-19. But we’re going to need much more serious and longer-term behaviour change in order to ensure the future of the human race. Taking positive action is the only way that something good can come out of all this. This is a very real fight for our lives. And if we want to save ourselves, we have to save the planet at the same time.

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