Planetary health in the Anthropocene

Featured Journal Content

The Lancet
Jun 08, 2019 Volume 393Number 10188p2275-2358
Planetary health in the Anthropocene
The Lancet
In May, 29 of 34 members of the Anthropocene Working Group voted to recognise the Anthropocene as the geological epoch entered in the 20th century, characterised by human activity rapidly shaping our planet. Human impact extends beyond geological labelling, affecting all forms of life. Human progress includes multiple successes but has also led to immense pressure on the planetary systems on which we depend, affecting human health through an unfolding climate emergency, human-made air pollution, and broken unsustainable food systems.

Our 2015 Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health recommended an urgent expansion of the interdisciplinary scope of research and capacity. Departments of planetary health and academic initiatives and alliances are now taking shape in universities around the world, notably in Sydney and other Australian universities, Oxford and Edinburgh, the UK, the USA, China, and Hong Kong.

Last week, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine joined this list, celebrating the launch of a new Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, directed by Professor Alan Dangour. Alongside their academic output, the School has a practical plan to lead by example, with a working group to develop recommendations for the School to achieve carbon neutrality, a reduction in air travel, and a reduction of waste, while increasing student voices and influence—actions that could be adopted by academic institutions and businesses alike.

We applaud the convergence of disciplines and global academic leadership that is bringing this new community to life, but there is more to do. There remain gaps in securing political will to address the multiple human-caused challenges that threaten all life on Earth. This is visible in relation to global progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); such as SDG 2—zero hunger, and SDG 3—good health and wellbeing. That we still read news headlines of 60 million children suffering hunger in Africa illustrates such disconnect. Governments now need to be held to account to take political action that supports the evidence emerging around planetary health. The new wave of academia could set its next sights on that goal.