Oh The Wonders of Planetary Health

A op-ed by guest, Krista Mawusi Montgomery

"In nature's economy, the currency is not money, it is life." – Vandana Shiva

Environmental justice requires an understanding of how different variables impact communities and the ecosystem. Climate change, air quality, and food access are just a few variables that affect health. Ecosystems play a critical role in human health.

When I was first introduced to the discipline, I was fascinated because it created a practical way to address human health and environmental issues. The difference between planetary health and other public health ideologies is that planetary health emphasizes working with the laws of nature. Planetary health evaluates how human behavior impacts the planet. Another aspect of the discipline is how improving environmental conditions can drastically benefit all species within that environment. Anthropocentrism is deeply rooted in many modern cultures worldwide, and planetary health principles dismantle those ideas.

One of the foundations of planetary health is intersectionality. Ecocentrism is centered on the environment and understanding what role each species plays in that system. For example, although a farmer might work the land and cultivate the seeds, hundreds of organisms play a role in the development of crops. Soil contains millions of microorganisms that play a role in making sure seedlings are fertilized. Bees and birds play a role in pollination. Prey and predator relationships keep an ecological balance to prevent invasive species. Planetary health emphasizes these relationships and how improving one system in nature can significantly improve other elements in the ecosystem.

As citizens of the earth, what we do to the world comes back to affect us. When we behave responsibly and respect our environment, we benefit, but when we pollute our environment and use all of the earth's resources, we put ourselves in danger. Tackling environmental challenges requires collaboration across disciplines globally. All professions and disciplines can align their practices with planetary health principles. Physicians can learn more about holistic and wellness practices to help treat their patients. Companies can invest in communities and improve their sustainability practices. Education systems can create comprehensive environmental education programs. Overall planetary health challenges us to change how and what we think about health and wellness to include intersectionality and consider environmental factors that impact health.

Planetary health seeks further solutions to global human and environmental sustainability through economics, energy, agriculture, water, and health research. Biodiversity loss, exposure to pollutants, climate change, and fuel consumption are all issues that threaten humans. There is space in the field for advocates, researchers, and learners. The work is about changing our society to think more holistically. Working with nature benefits our species' wellbeing and the planet's health.