Exploring Social, Economic and Environmental Determinants of Health
BREAK THE CYCLE OF
Humans have unique abilities among all other living creatures.
They have the ability to move about in many different ways and in many different terrains.
They have the power of making choices.
They have the ability to think ahead and plan ahead.
They have the ability to make use of objects in their environment to assist them in their quests.
Collectively they have the ability and power to dominate and modify their environment and other living creatures in the environment in order to advance their causes.
They have the ability and power to harness natural resources and energy and interact collectively to change the world they live in.
They are able to see and assess the consequences of their actions and take action to make necessary changes on what they have found or have done.
This collection of characteristics makes them powerful, formidable and dangerous. In the context of this exploration, we will marvel at their achievements, celebrate their undeniably exceptional advances, and examine the destructive environmental consequences of their actions, some unanticipated and some ignored. In this commentary, we will look at a local microcosm that illustrates the consequences of environmental neglect and abuse and its inevitable impact on human health, and the subsequent realization and revitalization by collective community action.
Diagram depicting the process of environmental degradation followed by regeneration through environmental stewardship at many levels.
Personal efforts to break the cycle can and do occur at many different levels including starting with a personal commitment to reduce waste by not using single use plastics, by driving cars that do not use fossil fuels, by recycling, and many other changes to personal behavior that are sensitive to the environment, and by extending the commitment to local community action, and advocating national and international governing bodies to likewise take up the charge and develop strategies to make positive changes and laws to assure maintenance and compliance with the standards expected for a healthy environment.
Each organization and agency, government or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), or international body, can play a significant role in the process. The greater the number of entities involved, and the greater the interaction and coordination among them, and the greater the resolve, the greater will be the impact on improving the health and well-being for all living beings and for the ecological balance of our planet. In this context, three examples of bodies whose missions and visions to make a difference are worthy of our support are offered for consideration.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment. EPA's Strategic Plan identifies the measurable environmental and human health outcomes the public can expect from EPA and describes how the EPA intends to achieve those results.
United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO)
Both the UN and the WHO are intimately involved in improving the environment towards improving the health of all people in the world. https://www.who.int/westernpacific/about/how-we-work/programmes/health-and-the-environment
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Rising global temperatures and consequent ecological changes are scientifically irrefutable. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty adopted in 1992 and signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. https://unfccc.int/
The continued threat of environmental degradation to our health and, arguably, to human existence and the deepening disruption of the ecology of our planet, compel further and sustained action.
Historically, we have been more reactive than strategic in our approach, responding to environmental disasters and the loss of life. While these responses have been, in many instances, demonstrably effective, they fall short of a broader approach to environmental degradation with a longer view. Our objective must be to avoid the disaster and our public policy and practice must be informed by science and dedicated to environmental recovery.
Collective Impact of
Breaking the Cycle of Environmental Degradation:
In order for humans to continue to flourish on Earth, we must acknowledge the link between the environment and health, human health and the health of all other living species, and on the ecological health of our planet.
We must continue to reverse the trends of environmental degradation and the local, regional, national and international realities that accompany it.
As shown in in the cycle diagram, actions can be taken by individuals, groups of individuals or by larger organizations and agencies to break the cycle of environmental degradation and improve the quality of our environment to assure the health and viability for all species in our current ecological system.
We must build on successes of and lessons learned by previous generations, dedicate ourselves to the depth of contributions we will make, and leave a legacy and a positive direction for the generations who will follow us.
It is not incumbent upon on any one of us to finish the task, but neither are any of us free to absolve ourselves from it (Ethics of the Fathers).