Never before has humanity’s footprint on Earth’s natural systems been so large. We are outstripping available resources from the only habitable planet we know. Since 1950, human population has increased by more than 280%; fossil fuel consumption by over 650%; marine fish capture by over 450%; and tropical forest loss by over 170%. We’ve placed dams on about 60% of the world’s rivers, we’ve cleared nearly half of temperate and tropical forests, we use nearly half of accessible freshwater every year, and we use about half of the planet’s liveable surface to feed ourselves.
Our environment is changing. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising at a record pace, with the current levels six times higher than in 1950. 2016 was Earth's warmest year on record, and 2017 was the warmest one for oceans, which have also experienced a 30% increase in pH since the Industrial Revolution. Pollinators, which are needed for plants and crops to grow, are disappearing worldwide. 150-200 species of plants and animals become extinct each day, which is 1000 times higher the “natural” or “background” rate.
And it's affecting our health. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and other factors affect where, when, and how intensely infectious diseases emerge. Increased drought, declining pollinators, and extreme storms make it harder to grow food, and some crops are also becoming less nutritious because of atmospheric changes, making people more susceptible to malnutrition and disease. Air pollution, whether from industrial emissions or smoke from fires clearing forests for agricultural use, leads to cardiorespiratory disease. Hurricanes and other major storms put people’s lives at risk. And witnessing the degradation of our world can have severe consequences for our mental health.
Everything is connected. What we do to the world comes back to affect us, and not always in ways that we would expect. Understanding and acting upon these challenges call for massive collaboration across disciplinary and national boundaries to safeguard our health.
The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of universities, NGOs and other partners with a shared mission—supporting the growth of a rigorous, policy-focused, transdisciplinary field of applied research aimed at understanding and addressing the human health implications of accelerating anthropogenic change in the structure and function of Earth’s natural systems.