Howard Frumkin to discuss planetary health at GHI event – Feb. 15

What do you believe in? Leaving a livable world for our children and grandchildren? Not wasting what we’ve been given? Responsibility?

Likely, you believe in all three. For Howard Frumkin, professor and former dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health and former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding those shared beliefs is critical to moving beyond ideological divides to ensure planetary health for humans as well as the world we live in.

Frumkin will discuss “Planetary Health: Protecting Our World to Protect Ourselves,” at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the Great Hall at Memorial Union. A panel of University of Wisconsin-Madison science and humanities scholars—Lyric Bartholomay from Veterinary Medicine, Maureen Durkin from Population Health Sciences, Rick Keller from the International Division, Gregg Mitman from Medical History and the Nelson Institute, Jonathan Patz from the Global Health Institute (GHI) and Monica White from Environmental Sociology and the Nelson Institute—will respond to his remarks.

The free program will be followed by a paid reception. All are welcome. Registration is requested. The evening is hosted by the UW-Madison Global Health Institute and co-sponsored by the International Division, Office of Sustainability and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

“Dr. Frumkin is one of our nation’s most forward-thinking public health scientists,” GHI Director Jonathan Patz says. “While directing the National Center for Environmental Health, he compelled the CDC to broaden its scope to cover health impacts of urban design and global environmental degradation; these are now recognized as major health determinants at the population level, but it was Dr. Frumkin who first stirred our awareness of these threats.”

Frumkin’s message, like the concept of planetary health, is one of warning and of hope.

“We have been mortgaging the health of future generations to realize economic and development gains in the present,” says Frumkin, a physician, environmental and occupational medicine specialist, and epidemiologist. “Our activities—triggered especially by the huge amounts of energy we’ve been able to deploy to do the things we do—have substantially changed our world. That’s an amazing thing for a species to be able to do.”

Climate change is the best-known systems change, but there are others: the loss of biodiversity as well as changes in nitrogen-phosphorous cycles, land use and hydrologic cycles. “Even without climate change, we would need a field of planetary health,” Frumkin says.

The Lancet and the Rockefeller Foundation launched planetary health in 2015 with the report “Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch.” It showed that humans are healthier than ever, living longer lives, facing less poverty and seeing fewer children die before they turn 5. “But these gains in human health have come at a high price: the degradation of nature’s ecological systems on a scale never seen in human history,” the report concludes, noting a rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification, energy use, the loss of tropical forests and the use of water and fertilizer. “A growing body of evidence shows that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment, but by its actions, humanity now threatens to destabilize the Earth’s key life-support systems.”