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#Science

We are jeopardising Earth’s natural systems and health of future generations

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Health and well-being of our future generations are being jeopardised by our activities that are detrimental to Earth’s natural resources and ecological systems, a new report has warned.

The report, Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch, released by The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health is the first ever report based on comprehensive examination of evidence that shows how the current generation is making it difficult for future generations to survive on the planet.

The report was written by a Commission of 15 leading academics and policymakers from institutions in 8 countries, and was chaired by Professor Sir Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK. It demonstrates how human activity and development have pushed to near breaking point the boundaries of the natural systems that support and sustain human civilizations.

Through the report, the commission warns that a range of factors including rising population, unsustainable consumption and the over-use of natural resources will exacerbate public health challenges in the future and the world’s poorest communities will be at the farthest end of the receiving stick as they live in areas that are most strongly affected and have greater sensitivity to disease and poor health.

Haines said that we are on the verge of triggering irreversible, global effects, ranging from ocean acidification to biodiversity loss and these environmental changes threaten the gains in health that have been achieved over recent decades and increase the risks to health arising from major challenges as diverse as under-nutrition and food insecurity, freshwater shortages, emerging infectious diseases, and extreme weather events.

Citing problems highlighted by previous studies – human health implications of declines in animal pollinators (such as bees and other insects) and increased global health threat associated with anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – the report notes that there are solutions, but until we take a decisive, coordinated action to protect the environment and secure the health of future generations, consequences will be dire.

While the report highlights the problems arising out of human activities, it also outlines a range of beneficial policies and actions that can be taken by governments, international organisations, researchers, health professionals and citizens that are good for both health and the environment including reduced air pollution, healthy diets with more fruit and vegetables, active transport (walking and cycling), reduced urban heat stress from green spaces, and increased resilience to coastal flooding from intact wetlands and mangroves.

Recommendations

The report recommends need for:

  • Integrated social, economic and environmental policies
  • Better governance
  • Improved health systems
  • A reorganisation and expansion of our knowledge on Planetary Health