New Delhi: This year April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which was established in 1970 by American politician and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson to highlight the importance of protecting the environment.
Due to the massive impact of human activities on the planet, a new geologic epoch has been created – the age of the Anthropocene.
The severe impact of human activities is backed up with clear scientific evidence. The latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other reputable bodies is unequivocal: To avoid catastrophic events caused by climate change, the world must slash emissions caused by mankind by 2030 and keep global warming to 1.5°C or less.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the climate crisis is fast becoming one of the greatest threats to public health. Rising temperatures and increasingly frequent extreme weather events are putting millions of people in a very vulnerable situation. Storms and floods damage buildings and infrastructure and contaminate freshwater supplies. Droughts also threaten food security in the region.
The term planetary health has been widely discussed especially in recent times, as it highlights the fine balance between human health and ecological disruptions that our societal structures engender. Conceptually, it portrays to us that any disruptions in the human-ecology balance will have implications on our health as well.
While Covid-19 has been manifested as a health emergency, it really should have been framed as a “planetary health emergency”.
This is because the exponential growth in human population, industrialisation and urbanisation has consistently disturbed the planet’s natural ecosystems, and our continued erosion of the environment has brought humans uncomfortably closer to animals.
According to scientific reports, 71% of all emerging infectious diseases have originated from wild animals, and the rest are from livestock and domestic animals.
As these animals move along the supply chain (from source to
market), the prevalence and diversity of pathogens affecting them multiply, further increasing the risk of transmission to humans.
The destruction of ecosystems on a global scale, which further threatens the survival of thousands of species, have been shown to increase the number of infectious diseases.
Zoonoses (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) that have emerged in the past two decades include Zika, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and H1N1 influenza. The Covid-19 pandemic is simply a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature.
Many are wondering when life will get back to normal after this pandemic, but what we really should be asking is: “Can we use this opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build something better?”
A stronger focus on nature would improve our understanding of how pandemics originate and how the socioeconomic fallout can be mitigated. May this present health crisis serve as a timely reminder to us that we can’t afford to go back to our “normal” ways of doing things. We need to begin incorporating systemic changes in the way we do things and consider how our activities affect the health of our planet.
(The article was first published on The Star)