In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation and the renowned scientific journal The Lancet sponsored the writing and publication of the report entitled “Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch: Report of The Rockefeller Foundation – Lancet Commission on Planetary Health” (Whitmee et al. 2015). In the same year, in an unprecedented joint effort, the World Health Organization and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity published, with more than a hundred contributors, “Connecting Global Priorities: Biodiversity and Human Health: A State of Knowledge Review”. The texts address comprehensively, clearly and directly the unprecedented impact of humans on ecosystems and the risks that this entails for the survival of human civilization itself. This period in which humanity became the main agent of change on the planet has been called the Anthropocene.
These studies contributed to the structuring of an emerging field of research: planetary health. Stimulated by the systemic view of these seminal reports, this new field addresses a very concrete and urgent contemporary problem: understanding, quantifying, and acting to reverse the effects of human population growth and the acceleration of socio-economic activities on the environment that, by generating disruptions to the natural ecosystems of the world. Earth, in turn, retroactively impacts human health and well-being.
Anthropogenic disturbances in natural ecosystems are characterized by changes in climate, land use, changes in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycle, chemical pollution of soil, water and air, reduced availability of drinking water, loss of biodiversity, destruction of the ozone, ocean acidification, among others. The reports also address the consequences of these ecosystem disturbances in reverse, on the health and well-being of mankind, with the emergence of new diseases, worsening infectious diseases and increased chronic noncommunicable diseases related to the deterioration of the current food system, hyper- urbanization, microbial resistance, climate migrations and conflicts over natural resources, among others.
Planetary Health is, therefore, a new effort to address the issue of sustainability and human life on the planet from an increasingly integrative, transdisciplinary and global perspective as the problems of this planetary crisis cross geopolitical boundaries, academic boundaries and affect humanity, as a whole.