The slopes of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, and the top of Pulama pali (cliffs) are on fire! With current breakout lava flows, the Big Island is being reminded of nature’s power and unpredictability. Despite the dangers, this is not entirely bad.
Such event brought me memories from times in Hawaii, when I attended the 2016 World Conservation Congress, organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Honolulu. With almost 10,000 environmental leaders reunited to deliberate on the most pressing issues relating to nature conservation, I left the most remote island on Earth energized! It was particularly satisfying to witness the debates on the connection between global health and environmental sustainability. Health is everyone's business, so is nature protection.
Living in the anthropocene: the human age
The 20th Century holds records of public health successes that enhanced the health of our global population, mainly through the eradication of several infectious diseases, the use of vaccines, and insecticides. While typhus, yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever and others have in fact disappeared in several countries, we are now starting to acknowledge that we are far from free from the threats of new emerging infectious diseases, especially in less developed countries.
The dramatic changes in the environment, fast urbanization rates, deforestation, water and air pollution, intensive agriculture production, climate and biodiversity loss, as well as exponential population growth, are powerfully allowing the re-emergence of epidemic infectious diseases that we once thought were gone or under control. Dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile virus, yellow fever, measles, plague, cholera, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, and malaria are reappearing in epidemic and endemic forms.
Even worse, numerous newly recognized diseases have begun to cause epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS, the hemorrhagic fevers, hantavirus, arenavirus, avian influenza, Hendra and Nipah encephalitis, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Lyme disease, Chikungunya, ehrlichiosis, and others. Research has been suggesting that the use of chemicals and antibiotics have also been provoking, together with environmental degradation, changes in patterns of transmission as well as genetic changes in vectors that have been raising red flags for global public health.
While more comprehensive studies are still needed in terms of the precise impacts that environmental degradation can cause to human health, it is clear that only a combined set of disciplines can give us a chance against rising public health challenges. Citizens must be aware of the dangers that deforestation, decline in biodiversity and climate change could have in their lives to pressure authorities to ensure that we are taking care of our nature not only because we are ethical beings (are we?) but also because we are intrinsically connected to our natural ecosystems.
After my experience in Hawaii, I became even more convinced of my responsibility to reduce the gap between the scientific and policy world, which must, more than ever, speak the same language. We need the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academia, doctors, political scientists, biologists, media, and governments all working towards one goal, which is to shift our medical tradition from excessive focus on diseases to move towards prevention and health development.
Global goals, local problems
The recent agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), together with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, give us a framework to improve our development roadmaps. But real development happens locally and that’s why “nature and health literacy” are so fundamental.
Resilient Nomads’ mission is to contribute to this endeavor not only in academic terms but also ludically. In the end, it’s all about our ability to make peace with our own natural world and to recognize the intrinsic values of nature for our wellbeing, which includes our physical and mental health. There is growing evidence showing that spending time in nature is necessary early in life to insure a balanced immune system as well as to reduce anxiety and heal mental diseases. Reconnecting to nature makes more than economic sense. It is common sense!