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Planetary Health is a Movement now: Reflections from the 2021 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

Planetary Health is a Movement now: Reflections from the 2021 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

By Charles Ssemugabo
on April 29, 2021

Today, April 30, 2021, the University of São Paulo – the (virtual) host of the 4th Planetary Health Annual Meeting (PHAM), and the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) will launch the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health. The first of its kind, the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health outlines actions necessary to achieve the Great Transition, a comprehensive shift in how human beings interact with each other and Nature. The declaration follows a week-long virtual Planetary Health Week that ran from April 26-30, 2021. The virtual event saw an increase in participation compared to previous years, with over 5,000 participants from 120 countries this year. While this was likely due to the virtual nature of the event, the growth in planetary health research and education no doubt also played a role. Several training institutions across the world are currently offering planetary health courses and the Planetary Health Alliance has published the Planetary Health Education Framework with over 10 case studies that are freely available online for educational purposes. It seems the Planetary Health movement is indeed taking shape and taking off.

During the planetary health week, I reflected on the perspective changes that will be necessary, if we are to achieve the Great Transition. These are shared below:

  • Human exceptionalism is responsible for the current destruction of the earth. In order to achieve the Great Transition in time, we need to envisage ourselves as part of the earth’s pyramid, not as its master.
  • This means that we must: treat all other species on earth with mutual respect; humble ourselves and learn from our ancient teachers, the plants. Plants teach us about responding to climate change. When there is excess carbon dioxide, plants grow fast. Plants build the soil and purify water.
  • We need to respect the earth and work towards its sustainable restoration. When we disrespect the earth, water becomes scarce, corn yield is lower, and the land becomes infertile.
  • Land must be seen as a natural resource and source to the ecosystem, and not as “capital” or property. Indeed, land is more than “property”, it is a healer, source of identity, connection with our ancestors, residence of non-human relatives and source of knowledge. In essence, what is good for the land, is good for the people.
  • Happiness and wellbeing on the planet are very important, yet in almost all countries, advancements in human development have been reduced to Gross Domestic product (GDP). Additionally, in many cases, the things that must be done to achieve (high) GDP also compromise planetary wellbeing, and thus individual wellbeing. It is clear that commodifying the world is unsustainable and detrimental, we must thus decolonise our minds and thinking, and abandon GDP as a measure of human development .

In a nutshell, to restore the earth, we need to change ourselves. We need to imagine a new earth and work towards it. We need to take a new green path, a path of sustainability, a path of care and compassion that will restore the earth. We need to integrate all the things that are disintegrating (on) our planet, starting with our families and children. The change we make must be based on shared values and a shared cause. Planetary health could be that cause, therefore, we should embrace the planetary health movement.

A young girl draws water from a flooded river in western Uganda; photo credit: Morgan Mbabazi

About Charles Ssemugabo

Charles Ssemugabo is a Research Associate in the Department of Disease Control and Environmental Health, Makerere University School of Public Health; EV 2016; Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) fellow; and a UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellow.
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