The Planetary Health Alliance
The inaugural Planetary Health/GeoHealth Annual Meeting attracted over 370 participants from 28 countries and almost 30 US states, including over 130 students. 100 additional people from 19 countries tuned in via live stream. In this first convening of the planetary health community, speakers highlighted the latest planetary health research, institutional and educational developments, and translations of science to policy and action.
We kicked off the weekend with an evening at the New England Aquarium, enjoying (unexpectedly) warm weather, engaging remarks from University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute’s Director Jonathan Patz, and soft harbor sunsets. As convivial chatter and laughter wound its way through spectacular wildlife displays, it became clear that this planetary health congregation was truly becoming a community.
Early Saturday morning, attendees gathered at the Harvard Medical School. In the ensuing day’s commotion, punctuated with chimes herding participants to and from plenary sessions, we heard planetary health leaders define the field and its importance, updates about institutions around the world pursuing educational initiatives and multi-lateral policy, the latest research (ranging from Southeast Asian haze to schistosomiasis to food production and nutrition), and how journals are supporting the field’s establishment.
At the end of the day, participants dispersed to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks while perusing almost 60 posters, which were selected from a competitive pool of applicants, representing the various thematic areas of planetary health. A number of poster and presentation abstracts were also selected to publish abstracts in The Lancet, available here.
Excited conversation abounded as participants connected with one another, crossing disciplinary boundaries and sectors, and finally slowly trickled out into the night to rest before what would turn out to be an even more impassioned day.
Sunday’s sessions focused on translating planetary health science to action, building on the foundation of robust research established the day before. In the first session of the day, speakers spoke about mitigating Lyme disease through land use policy, protecting Indonesian peatlands, establishing food security, building resilience in coastal communities affected by climate change, and crafting watershed policy to support childhood health.
And then, following the riveting Film4Climate 1st place video “Three Seconds,” we realized that a planetary health movement was underway. Speakers provided both scholarly discussions of the science of movement-building and stunning case examples, where harnessing the power of the masses yielded impressive victories. We heard about mothers around the country battling climate change, doctors mobilizing for environmental causes, and small indigenous communities bravely facing the largest industrial powers in the world. Participants sat entranced and applauded emphatically, signaling the resolve of the community to come together and shape the future.
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy delivered closing remarks, heralding the field of planetary health and inspiring both rightful indignation and optimism. She stressed to the audience that making a change in the face of daunting environmental and health setbacks, while difficult, is possible if we seize the power of our community.
Thanks to funding from The Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust, we were thrilled to welcome 14 scholars from the UK, USA, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Kenya, Suriname, Canada, Guyana, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Mexico to the Annual Meeting in our Travel Scholarship program.
The weekend also saw a mentorship lunch connecting early career investigators with leaders in the field, a lunch connecting PHA members, an education working session with Planetary Health Education Fellow Sara Stone, and a Wellcome Trust “Our Planet Our Health” grantees meeting.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the inaugural Planetary Health/GeoHealth Annual Meeting such a success. Thank you to our co-organizers — the American Geophysical Union, the Ecological Society of America, the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and The Lancet — and to our funders, The Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust. We are deeply grateful to our dedicated speakers and moderators, to our poster presenters, to the staff at the New England Aquarium and the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, to our generous volunteers, to our photographer Nils Veidis, and to our passionate international audience.
Next year’s meeting will be held Spring 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland! We hope to see you there.
In the media:
Comments from attendees:
“I really appreciated the communal feel of being all together throughout the conference.”
“The content throughout the conference was very high quality and pretty well balanced between science and policy/advocacy.”
“[This meeting highlighted] the urgency for action to prevent environmental degradation, and inspiration to take responsibility for the actions.”
“The ‘Making Change’ panel was one of the best panels I’ve ever seen at a conference.”
“[The meeting allowed for] building relationships with those of similar vision.”
“[The annual meeting displayed] the effort to demonstrate the urgency and global importance of the relationships among the health of environmental systems… and human health.”
“Great content, strong networking and social movement focus.”
“I was very inspired by the Planetary Health Alliance meeting. After entering my taxi to the airport and answering positively to the driver’s question about how my day had thus far been, I mentioned that I had been at a conference about planetary health. I then extended the question “what does the term planetary health mean to you?” He considered and answered tentatively…, “eating plants from nature that are good for you?” I answered yes, that was part of it, and continued with an abbreviated version of what we mean by the term including the well-being of humans – as the role of humans as both a contributor to and beneficiary of planetary health was not at all clear to him. This brought home the point made by a number of participants, that it will take carefully-crafted communications to convey our message, not fully obvious in the label “ planetary health.” The topic got him started down a road familiar to many … “the planet is doomed, there is no way people are going to work together to change the current course, even if things improve, it won’t happen within my life time.” I paid attention to a key conference message – “make it relevant” and suggested that if everyone consciously did just one thing within their power every day, took the bus, modified their diet, joined in a march pertinent to their lives, they would be contributing to planetary health. Upon leaving the taxi he smiled and thanked me for the conversation and giving him hope. This reinforced the importance of spreading the conference messages at all levels, and the opportunities presented and our responsibility in this dissemination process.”
-Lynne Gaffikin, MPH, DrPH, Stanford University
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