Planetary health encourages us to find deeper meaning in our relationship with the earth.
How we can learn to measure the planet’s health
As climate change accelerates, so does our understanding of how to take care of the planet. Although concepts like recycling and renewable energy remain ever-important, planetary health encourages us to find deeper meaning in our relationship with the earth. After all, a healthy planet is necessary for sustaining human life, from the food we eat to our mental and social well-being.
It’s become more apparent that planetary health is a critical component of living cohesively with the natural world. “Planetary health” is a term that measures human well-being against the earth’s well-being. While we’ve made great strides to increase life expectancy, reduce poverty and build a robust health care system, much of this success has simultaneously exploited essential resources.
These issues can be seen with regard to climate change — human behaviors have exacerbated global warming, bringing extreme weather events and rising sea levels. Humans become more susceptible to diseases when flooding occurs. Food production also falters amid prolonged droughts and heat waves. These climate challenges have affected many people living in vulnerable parts of the world.
Industrialization and urbanization have certainly improved our quality of life; however, the reliance on fossil fuels has simultaneously increased air pollution. In 2019, air pollution was responsible for 6.7 million deaths globally. Cost constraints have slowed the transition to widespread renewable energy implementation. One solution could be to issue a wealth tax on high earners to raise money for renewables, making it more equitable for everyone.
The same can be said for the natural resources we overconsume for our goods and services. For every resource we extract by polluting the earth — for example, mining — restoring land to its former state will ensure sustainable, clean water resources for future generations.
Turning the other cheek at the planet is no longer an option. That means analyzing, setting policies and encouraging behaviors that minimize over-burdening natural resources. Planetary health aims to promote reflection on what it means to live beyond our means and shift the focus toward living within the balance of the natural world.
Addressing human impacts on the planet
Measuring the planet’s health enables us to address our environmental impacts more easily and adopt new norms. Planetary health addresses ways to collectively improve the economy, education system, health services and food security within ecological limits.
One of the first components of a healthy environment seeks to understand consumerism and the adoption of eco-friendly purchasing habits. When considering planetary health, economists look at behavioral economics to understand why humans behave a certain way and how learning by doing can alter those behaviors.
Humans tend to follow social norms. That’s why it’s best to give people a choice to adopt sustainable buying practices on their terms. Doing so allows them to act on individual interests. However, policies derived from planetary health metrics can encourage a more eco-conscious economy.
Environmental education is similarly important as it is another way we’re learning to measure the planet’s health. Although many schools offer environmental science curriculums, a standard planetary health education is a crucial first step to transforming and promoting eco-consciousness in today’s youth.
Planetary health education should comprise cultural ideologies regarding our relationship with the earth. Students will learn to better meet future environmental and restoration challenges by delving into indigenous wisdom and diverse sustainability practices.
The planet health is our health too
Planetary health is intricately tied to human health. Increasing global populations have imposed more significant challenges to sanitation and hygiene. Currently, water scarcity affects nearly 1.6 billion people as cities struggle to provide enough water to meet demand.
Water scarcity and poor sanitation drive disease, putting increasing pressure on limited health care systems. The study of planetary health should ultimately focus on redefining health care amid socio-environmental barriers and inequalities, such as political interventions, wealth and accessibility.
A sustainable future is possible with a more environmentally aware public health system. Reducing air pollution, transitioning toward sustainable farming and preventing water contamination are necessary measures for decreasing epidemiological risks.
The field of planetary health is also crucial for addressing our food system. The agricultural sector is known for producing high global emissions. Livestock production accounts for 57% of agricultural greenhouse gases, including toxic methane.
Promoting a planetary health diet would require cutting global meat and sugar consumption in half and eating more fresh produce, legumes and nuts. Studies suggest that plant-based eating could prevent around 11 million early deaths annually — up to a 23.6% reduction from today’s numbers.
Everyone bears personal responsibility for maintaining a healthy planet. If we utilize our environmental resources, we need to do so sustainably. Rather than see ourselves as separate from the natural world, we should remember that we are part of it.