Orly Strobel, 2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador
By Orly Strobel, 2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador
Until the end of my first year at Brandeis University, I had never heard of the label “planetary health.” And even then, I was quite fuzzy on what the term meant. Did planetary health refer to the health of the land itself, to the health of earth’s inhabitants, or did the term speak to a connection between the well-being of this planet and the life it holds?
Many of the people I surround myself with at Brandeis hold similar academic interests to my own, specifically interests in the climate crisis, global health, and human development. However, I also find myself in groups of peers studying studio art, anthropology, and history, among other subjects. Within the latter group, I have come to realize that many of these individuals are just as interested in combating the climate crisis as my friends who spend each day immersing themselves in the health sciences. What’s more, is that there are courses within almost all of their disciplines which speak to planetary health in relation to whatever their given area of study might be.
Somewhere within the web of discussions I found myself a part of pertaining to the climate crisis, it occurred to me that the broad nature of the label “planetary health” exemplifies that anyone can find personal meaning in this term. This is where the Planetary Health Alliance comes in.
With guidance from my mentors, fellow ambassadors, and the PHA team, Brandeis held its first faculty panel on planetary health in March of 2019 called “The Environment and You: Looking at Sustainability Through the Lens of Art and Humanities.” This panel consisted of professors from the German studies department, the anthropology department, the art department, and the theater department. Neuroscience and biology students attended, anthropology and environmental studies students attended, and we even had several attendees from the Brandeis social policy graduate program.
We hoped that the event would spark a connection to students in academic fields across the board that one does not need to be studying the health sciences to make a positive impact against the climate crisis and all that it entails. I believe that our event successfully brought together people from a wide variety of backgrounds and provided relevant information on topics of planetary health; however, it was not without missteps along the way.
Throughout the planning process, I, along with fellow undergraduate students who built the event, found it extremely challenging to find professors from fields outside of environmental studies who felt comfortable speaking on planetary health. My peers and I explained that we specifically wanted to find panelists who would not consider environmental studies to be their area of expertise because we wanted to showcase that planetary health is relevant in every discipline. Yet, understandably, it is daunting to voluntarily speak on a panel about a topic that does not directly pertain to one’s academic work.
In the future, I would begin our search for panelists far earlier in the process, perhaps two or three months in advance. I believe it would be helpful to meet with professors in person and to hear the challenges they anticipate will come from speaking on a topic they are less comfortable with.
That said, I strongly urge future PHA ambassadors to hold programs that will engage people who may not be naturally attracted to planetary health events. This past year has confirmed my belief that there is little use in preaching the choir. Moreover, just because somebody does not study planetary health does not mean that they are uninformed on the matter or that their perspective is invalid. In fact, someone who does not spend all day researching planetary destruction might have a very refreshing outlook which we in the health sciences would never think to consider.
Throughout my time as a PHA ambassador, I presented on our PHA panel at several events catered towards people who are interested in following a career in climate activism and research. I was saddened by how many of my peers appeared disinterested in including people from varying backgrounds in the climate discussion. These experiences only reinforced my perspective that it is not only deserved, but necessary for everyone to learn and contribute to the betterment of planetary health. Ultimately, planetary health is an umbrella term which includes the health of the land, the health of the living, and the inseparable connection between the two.
2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador