Convening the Planetary Health Community

By: Erika Veidis and Perri Sheinbaum

Planetary health can feel as overwhelming as it is inspiring. How can we mobilize an international, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary audience to address a concept as big as “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends” and not let it paralyze us?

While planetary health is a rigorous scientific field, it has inspired also a movement, as highlighted by Howie Frumkin at the inaugural Planetary Health Annual Meeting. The field proposes a new way of integrating human health and environmental change, fueled in part by its orientation around three core characteristics: a focus on the human health impacts of environmental change, an emphasis on the scale of humanity’s ecological footprint, and a sense of urgency to create a new trajectory for human stewardship.

Planetary health emphasizes community and interdisciplinarity in a strategic way, as have similar associated movements. It carves pathways between science and policy to implement research-based action and promotes discussion amongst subdivisions within these sectors, working to create sustainable solutions that consider multiple angles and potentially unanticipated environmental and health impacts.It necessitates collective action in order to succeed. And while it’s one thing to understand this conceptually, it’s quite another to move beyond sectoral and departmental divisions to design and implement concrete solutions.

We are already excitedly preparing for the next Planetary Health Annual Meeting, and we encourage you to host events at your home institutions to bring together actors across the spectrum, but we also need a way to continue this momentum in the space between these physical convenings. Feeling impassioned and motivated in the midst of pounding applause in a dimmed auditorium — such was the moment when Eriel Deranger proclaims, “We are all of this land!” — is different from going home and transcribing this effervescence to a “to do” list. Crafting and implementing effective strategies cannot happen in isolation.

We’ve asked many of you how we can best foster this sort of discussion and collaboration. What do we need? “High-tech and high-touch,” PHA member University of Toronto’s Blake Poland suggests. Virtual discussion and focus groups, propose others. Ways to communicate planetary health to build bridges at home institutions. Opportunities to see what others in the field are doing. Consensus has been clear: opportunities to connect.

Enter: the Planetary Health Online Community. This new platform, powered by Hylo, allows individuals to discuss challenges with one another, to keep informed of relevant updates, and to find and connect to others tackling planetary health around the world. We hope that this virtual space makes bridging disciplinary, generational, and geographic divides a little less daunting and leads to real, fruitful collaboration. The burden falls on all of us to bring planetary health to the forefront of conversations, building bridges across, between, and within institutions.

“Change is slow unless it’s fast,” Harvard Kennedy School professor and social movement theorist Marshall Ganz posited at this past April’s inaugural Planetary Health/GeoHealth Annual Meeting. “We are at a fast moment right now.”

Let’s make the most of it.

Join the Planetary Health Online Community, and learn more about getting involved. Reach out to us at pha@harvard.edu — we are eager to hear your thoughts and ideas.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.