Planetary Health: On the Tipping Point

Blog Lifestyle Planetary Health: On the Tipping Point

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10.31.2023 0 comments

Our health is deeply connected to the health of our environment and our planet. What happens to our Earth is reflected in our wellbeing, both for the better or worse.

You might have heard the term planetary health, which is “the health of human civilization and the natural systems on which it depends” [1]. Essentially, when the planet suffers, the humans and species that inhabit it are more likely to suffer, too.

In order to have a more global health mindset, we believe it’s important to cover topics related to planetary health on this blog. Specifically in this post, we want to take a closer look at the latest scientific data on Earth’s health and see how our world is faring—because it’s going to tell us what we can expect for our overall health moving forward.

Keep reading for a better understanding of how the world is being impacted by recent developments, and what you can do, actions you can take, that will help heal our planet and protect our planetary health.

The Latest Developments in Planetary Health

A paper published by Oregon State University stated [2], “the Earth's vital signs have worsened beyond anything humans have yet seen, to the point that life on the planet is imperiled.” Of the 35 planetary vital signs used by the researchers to monitor the planet’s health and climate change, 20 of those signs were “at record extremes”, including:

  • Wildfires in Canada in 2023 alone have sent more than a gigaton of carbon dioxide up into our Earth’s atmosphere. That’s nearly 50% more than the greenhouse gases emissions in the entire country two years earlier.

  • 38 days in 2023 have recorded global average temperatures at least 1.5 degrees (Celsius) above averages recorded in pre-industrial eras.

  • July 2023 saw the highest average surface temperature ever recorded, and possibly the highest temperature in more than 100,000 years.

Major news outlet reported on accelerated melting of ice shelves in Western Antarctica [3], which could have “potentially devastating implications for sea level rise around the world”.

The research, published in the Nature journal [4], cited evidence of increasing—and irreversible—ice loss in Antarctica that can lead to sea level rises as high as 17 feet. Among the ice at risk is the “Doomsday glacier”, given its name because its collapse could raise sea levels significantly and endanger low-lying island nations and coastal communities around the world.

Beer production is threatened by rising temperatures, particularly in European countries like Slovenia, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Due to the rise in global temperatures, hops grow ripe earlier and have a lower yield, a problem that has continued to increase for more than two decades [5]. The alpha acids that are so critical to the production of beer are projected to decrease up to 31%, which could have a serious impact on the production of beer, particularly IPAs.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal warned that certain parts of the Midwestern United States and China may become uninhabitable [6]. Temperature and humidity data were analyzed and it was discovered that an increase of more than 2 degrees (Celsius) in global temperature could lead to “potentially lethal heat” and humidity that could cause “moist heat stress”. Moist heat stress can elevate levels of heart attacks and strokes caused by heat exhaustion, particularly among the young, the old, and anyone with pre-existing heart conditions.

Rising temperatures elevate the risk of toxins being produced by the increasing formation and expansion of algal blooms, according to a new study [7]. As rising global temperatures raise water temperatures in lakes in particular, algae living in lakes will flourish and potentially even outcompete other species in the water. This could lead to a build-up of toxins in lakes that are the source of 87% of the Earth’s freshwater. Worse, it could also do irrevocable damage to many ecosystems.

A study from Rowan University found that climate change may be the reason behind the increase in Atlantic hurricane activity over the last fifty years [8]. Greenhouse gas emissions cause the oceans to warm, which in turn increases the intensity of hurricanes. Hurricane intensification rates (the rate at which hurricanes turn from, say a Category 1 to Category 3 or stronger) had increased by a staggering 28.7% from rates in the late 1900s.

And these are just a few of the most recent studies. There are countless more to prove that the planet is in danger, and with it, our health.

How You Can Help to Improve Planetary Health

Let’s be clear: in order to see real improvement, it’s going to take global commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, switching away from fossil fuels, combatting temperature increases, and preventing environmental damage. Governments and corporations around the planet are going to have to get serious about taking action to curb the damage we’ve already caused, not to mention prevent further damage.

There are a few things that each one of us – 8 billion people on earth – can do to help reduce our combined carbon footprint and contribute to better planetary health.

Go electric. Electric vehicles have no carbon emissions, and have an overall smaller carbon footprint than gas-powered vehicles. According to the EPA [9], though carbon pollution is emitted by the local power-generating methods (including coal and natural gas), EVs “are responsible for lower levels of greenhouse gases” than even brand new gas-powered vehicles. Manufacturing of EV components (mainly the battery) may create more carbon pollution than manufacturing the components for a gas car, but over their lifetime, the overall carbon footprint is smaller.

Bike more. Cycle to work, the gym, running errands, or around town whenever possible. You can always buy an electric bike, which has around 10% of the carbon footprint a typical gas-powered vehicle does [10].

Walk more. Walking not only helps to reduce your carbon footprint, but also is great exercise. Anywhere you can walk instead of driving, do it.

Cut out plastics. Avoid plastic containers, packaging, water bottles, and plastic products in your home whenever possible. Switch to glass containers, reusable water bottles, and natural packaging. Buy products in bulk or any that aren’t wrapped or packaged in plastic whenever possible.

Turn off your lights and unplug your appliances. Your home will use less electricity, which in turn will require less electricity to be generated through potentially carbon-emitting methods (like natural gas or fossil fuels).

Consider installing solar or wind power systems. Use less power from your municipal system and generate your own whenever possible. Solar power is great for the environment and ultimately will cost you far less than paying for your electricity.

Eat local. Locally grown produce may cost you more at the grocery store than imported produce, but far less carbon emissions are created transporting goods around your city than from overseas or outside your country.

Reduce waste. Compost organic waste, sell off old clothing, donate old electronics to charity, or give away anything you’re not using. Reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill, and recycle or repurpose old items whenever possible.

These actions are just the beginning, a good place to start. But it’s important that you do start!

The more we all do individually, the greater a chance we will have of cumulatively improving planetary health and keeping our precious Earth from being destroyed.













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