Advancing Health / Planetary Health

The environmental damage our factories, cars, farms and lifestyles create is well known. But what happens when the environmental damage takes on a planetary scale, threatening human health and civilization?

To better understand the implications of such shifts the Stockholm Resilience Centre in 2009 studied the dynamics and boundaries of the planet’s air, ground and oceans.   It concluded that to survive and thrive we need a safe operating space. The nine ‘Planetary Boundaries’ they identified – areas most threatened by human activity range from our atmosphere (ozone and climate change), to water (chemicals in our lakes and rivers) to the acidification of our oceans to the phosphorous and nitrogen from fertilizers that seep into our soil.  

Scientists are now examining the links between the breach of these natural boundaries and new patterns in human health.   

The results are startling and beg for action.  Consider an increase in prevalence of malaria as temperatures and rainfall rise.  Or famines sparked by sudden changes in rainfall patterns.  Or the collapse of fisheries – a key global food source – after acidification destroys coral reefs.

To help address the problem and avoid civilization-threatening consequences, big changes are required. In the way we move, work and live.   

But tackling the threats to planetary boundaries, human health and civilization is a complex business. To explore ways to create a healthier future for the planet and its inhabitants, leaders from science, industry, universities and governments will meet from July 7-11 in Bellagio.

This event is funded and hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, and is organized with the participation of the Economist Intelligence Unit