Human health and wellbeing in an uncertain environment

Yesterday I attended at UFZ Leipzig a lectured led by Professor Michael Depledge DSc, FRSB, FRSA, FRCP from European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School entitled “Human health and wellbeing in an uncertain environment”. See bellow the abstract:

Throughout human evolutionary history we have lived in intimate contact with our local ecosystems. This has involved surviving threats from diverse natural hazards and learning to thrive by manipulating the natural world to acquire resources. Over the last two centuries, however, new ways of thinking have given rise to a vast range of novel technologies that have transformed the ways in which most of us live. A progressive migration away from natural settings now means that ca. 60% of the global population reside in urban, built environments, supported through the exploitation of natural resources. This proportion continues to rise rapidly with important implications for energy use, food and water security and especially waste handling and disposal.

In this lecture some of the interconnections between human activities and global environmental change will be explored and their consequences examined. Particular attention will be paid to the threats posed by climate change, weather, demographic change and emerging chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and nanomaterials. Chemical production worldwide has increased by over 2500 fold over the last 75 years and continues to escalate. Pharmaceutical use is also increasing rapidly. As these chemicals are released into the environment, intentionally or unintentionally, humans and wildlife may be exposed. The accumulation of increasing body burdens of contaminants poses potential threats to health, biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability.

Paradoxically, there are also many benefits to health and wellbeing that can be derived from natural environments. For example, there is growing evidence that time spent in natural settings can be used to promote physical activity and foster better mental health. These may be important factors in addressing the global epidemics of obesity and psychiatric disorders.

Public health programmes such as the Green Gym and the Blue Gym provide examples of the ways in which health benefits can be delivered. Such work raises questions regarding where exactly are the healthiest places to live? In the UK, for example, self-reported health is consistently better in coastal dwellers. Furthermore, there is a global trend towards moving to live in coastal areas. Indeed, more than 30% of the global population now live within 100 kilometers of the sea.

Interestingly, as climate change progresses and sea level rises, it is coastal areas that are most likely to experience more frequent flooding and severe storms, putting the human population at increased risk. The lecture will conclude with a discussion of the difficulties of minimising environmental threats and maximising opportunities through policy development.

The lecture and subsequent discussion raised interesting questions:

  • Living in coastal areas significantly affects wellbeing, research say. It is important to bring up a previous post where a research says that “individual’s level of personal well-being is strongly related to the level of wealth of the household in which they live”. In this sense, and according to the lecturer research even controlling the wealth of the household, the variable proximity to water is determinant.
  • Empirical evidence are rarely definitive. i.e. there is always a unobserved reality that does allow for consistent conclusions. This brings up the Popperian concept of falsability, that is, no number of confirming observations can verify a universal generalization, such as All swans are white, yet it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single black swan. In other words, theories may be accepted provisionally, but never verified. In this context, the discussion raised the question “how (scientist) to communicate uncertainty” and, in turn, be credible.
  • Moreover, the lecturer starte talking about the risks the climate change infringe to our lifes. Some of them are the cost of having benefits on other hand and he raised the question: “what is an acceptable risk?”
  • Finally, the concept of “environmental empathy”. Do people living in urban areas has more or less environmental empathy? Is the fact of being in touch with nature a determinant variable of environmental empathy? It is logical to think that a person that benefit from his/her contact with nature will tend to have more environmental empathy. However, what is the concept of nature? For some people nature may mean “dangerouos snakes” or threatening wild pigs.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s