Planetary Health

“Planetary health is the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends” – Report of The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health

Our Growing Global Footprint

It’s become undeniable that human activity is rapidly transforming Earth’s natural systems. The global health impacts of accelerating climatic disruption, land degradation, growing water scarcity, fisheries degradation, biodiversity loss, and pollution threaten the global health gains of the last several decades and are likely to represent the dominant global health threats of the next century. By altering the composition of the atmosphere, degrading arable lands faster than they can be replenished, overfishing, polluting, changing the chemistry and temperature of our oceans, withdrawing ground water faster than it can be recharged, and dramatically reducing the number and population sizes of species who co-inhabit the planet with us, we are putting the poor and future generations in harm’s way.

Current environmental trends indeed raise the grave prospect that many of the health gains we have recently experienced have been fueled by a pattern of resource use that is fundamentally unsustainable. It thus appears that these gains are built on shaky foundations, and that an urgent course correction is required, one that recognizes that the health of the environment and the health of humanity are inextricably linked. Our Planetary Health initiative emphasizes that degradation of ecosystems often leads to negative public health impacts. Unless, however, these impacts are proven and quantified in actionable ways, they remain vague externalities that are not factored into public health or natural resource management policy decisions. The emergent field of Planetary Health must be more than academic in nature, and if proactively conceived in the context of recognized policy gaps and needs, it is poised to deliver powerful new and convincing arguments that draw on the growing understanding of the range of critical relationships between the state of the natural world and our health.

While much has been written about the social and economic determinants of health, all too often the need to address these determinants within finite environmental limits has been overlooked. Now is the time to transform the discipline of public health into one that integrates knowledge of the earth’s underpinning systems with understanding of the determinants of health and develops evidence-based, integrated policy solutions that address environmental sustainability together with human health and development goals. The recently launched Planetary Health Alliance offers a timely and promising way forward, as does the CVM-led new Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

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Interested in learning more about Planetary Health at Cornell?

Blog: Explaining Planetary Health

Podcast: What makes us Human? Planetary Health Episode