Opening up the conversation
By: Perri Sheinbaum
I just don’t really care about environmental issues.
Over the years, I’ve heard many variations on this sentiment from friends, classmates and family members. Each time, my mind would race, trying and failing to curate the perfect response to such a perplexing statement.
How was it that ‘environmental issues,’ this wide-ranging and complex category of challenges, could be so sweepingly brushed off by others? What did I have to do or say to convey the universal urgency of these problems? As others claimed to only care about isolated fields such as medicine, education or business, I fumbled to find the correct words and phrases in my reply, to help the individual rethink what he or she just said.
But it wasn’t until I discovered planetary health that I realized this framework provided a tool that I had been looking for to teach others about how human influence on the environment will affect them, their interests, their career paths, and the ones they love.
Disruption of our natural systems won’t just affect certain people, careers or sectors. Doctors will need to adapt their practices and diagnostics to reflect the changing environment, as they will see an increasing number of individuals with respiratory and cardiac issues, nutritional deficiencies, and infectious diseases, as climate change intensifies, food systems are threatened, and air pollution worsens. Teachers will need to modify their classrooms to prepare students for a radically different world, introducing new concepts and career paths, as well as teach in all weather conditions, as they cannot simply cancel classes with more frequent tsunamis or hurricanes. Businesses will be required to confront issues of consumption, waste, and resource scarcity on a global scale, while working to implement innovative, market-based solutions.
I often think back to my conversations in middle and high school, when I continually felt like a deer in headlights, dumbfounded that an individual could be so nonchalant about an issue I held so close to my heart. I wish I had the proper resources and skill set to educate myself and my peers — a website like the Planetary Health Alliance Education Platform, a convening like the 2018 Planetary Health Annual Meeting, a network of impassioned students working to further develop the field, or a platform like Hylo to connect with like-minded individuals. It is my hope that the Education page and the “Build Your Course” option will enable educators to design and develop more planetary health courses for classrooms around the world. So educate your colleagues, classmates, teachers, family and friends about how their own interests are intertwined with humanity’s need for a healthy environment. Attend the 2018 Planetary Health Annual Meeting to listen to individuals from all backgrounds and disciplines. Artists, faith-leaders, educators, and researchers are just a few of the fields represented. Use the resources available from the Planetary Health Alliance. Over the next few months, the PHA will continue to build out the research pages, providing key facts for each thematic area designed to help you engage others in the conversation. The concept of planetary health isn’t novel, but it brings together new communities with a renewed sense of urgency. To quote Audre Lorde, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.