Humans activities are disrupting the planet—and threatening our health

Human activities—the burning of fossil fuels, extensive land and water use, overfishing, deforestation—have been increasingly disruptive to Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land surface over the past 50 years, and these disruptions pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing, according to Samuel Myers, principal research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance.

On November 13, 2017, Myers delivered a lecture to the Academy of Medical Sciences in London about the scale of human impacts on natural systems and the associated health effects across nearly every dimension of human health—and he called for increased funding and scientific collaboration to combat the problem.

Human impacts on the planet have accelerated steeply since the 1950s and 1960s, Myers said. As nature’s life support systems degrade in the future, there could be more frequent and dramatic extreme weather events, lower quantities of key nutrients in staple food crops, and a decline in insect pollinators. Such changes could impact multiple aspects of human health and wellbeing—nutrition, infectious disease, noncommunicable disease, displacement and conflict, and mental health. Myers said the poorest people of the world will likely be most affected.

“We need to expand the realm of public health to include how we manage our planet’s natural systems: the types of cities we construct, how we produce energy, how we feed ourselves, and how well we protect our marine and terrestrial biodiversity,” Myers said. “In short, we need a new paradigm.”

Read Samuel Myers’ lecture: Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet