Restoring healthy relationships between humankind and the earth
What if the earth could speak? What would it say? Through the seasons, the earth communicates with us. We often take our relationship with the earth for granted, until natural disasters strike, then we are forced to listen. When plants droop, we know to give it water. When the sea tides are high, we know to retreat further ashore. When species need help, we know what to do to ensure its survival – sometimes we listen too late and cannot offer much help.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) which believes in a unified approach called ‘One Health’ to balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and the environment. The timing could not be soon enough, for the awareness of environmental health to take centre stage across the world. Environmental health refers to health issues outside the human body and the environmental factors that can pose a threat to human health in form of disease and sickness. For example, clean air, stable climate, adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, protection from radiation, healthy and safe workplaces, sound agricultural practices, health-supportive cities, and a preserved nature are all prerequisites for good health.
On the 26 September 2022, we celebrate World Environmental Health Day and this year the theme is “Strengthening Environmental Health Systems for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals” as per International Federation of Environmental Health (https://www.ifeh.org/wehd/).
Much of the environmental decay have been at the hand of the human species. The essentials needed for our own survival, such as air, water, and food are being compromised by our choices and lifestyles. Children are often most vulnerable to environmental public health systems. For their size, they breathe more air and eat more food than adults, making them particularly vulnerable to environmental public health hazards. Communities face large challenges of health inequities- many due to historical and current policies and practices. As humankind, we are on the brink of being a toxic partner in our relationship with the environment – preventing us from securing an equitable and healthy future for generations coming. We are being called into an era of the symbioscene, meaning, a time when there is a sustainable relationship between humans and nature. The time is now, for us to restore healthy relationships between humankind and the earth.
The United Nations (UN) 17 set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ‘achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world’. The UN recognizes that action in one SDG will affect outcomes in others, and that development work must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability. These UN SDGs seems huge for one individual but together we can all do our part to make global change. Our goals, actions, and involvement – whether large or small- in issues like climate change, clean oceans, preserving our forests, recycling, renewable energy, sustainable living, and the like, will contribute to and strengthen environmental health systems.
On this Environmental Health Day 2022, I challenge all researchers and health professionals to harness the power of the environment to heal; and treat people as active partners in relationship to their environments – not in cause or effect but as intra-active. Is it essential that the environmental factors become core components both in theory and practice. I also challenge policy and decision makers to think of the sensitivity of the environmental health system and how our actions can have long term effects on the natural environment and on our own existence as humankind.
Here are some actions you can take on World Environmental Health Day 2022 to do your part:
- Sensitize yourself, family and friends by spending time reading or watching documentaries to learn more about the environment; ecological systems, challenges, and current issues we are facing.
- Become more conscious about your lifestyle through diet, use of plastics and single use storage containers, and using low consumption appliances.
- Get thrifty, and look to buying and selling second hand clothing, household items, or other appliances.
- Go outdoors, walk more, and drive less when it is possible and safe to do so.
- Join an organisation or follow an online discussion on environmental issues.
- If in doubt, plant more trees.
Follow and/or join PsySSAs’ special interest group ‘Climate, Environment and Sustainable Psychology’ for more information about how we can live, work, and support one another and the environment.
Together, we can work towards a healthy future.
*Lynn Hendricks is an executive member of PsySSA; and is a recipient of the VLIR-UOS Global Minds PhD Scholarship (KU Leuven and Stellenbosch University) as a contribution to the SDGs.