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It’s Time for a New Revolution: We Need an Ecological View of Health

by Marsha Rakestraw

January 31, 2023

More than 60 years ago, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, using the impacts of DDT to awaken the world to the fact that the lives of people, animals, and the planet are interdependent.

Her challenge of the assumption that humans and the natural world are separate inspired an environmental revolution.

In “‘Silent Spring’ Still Holds Lessons for Keeping the Planet, and Ourselves, Healthy,” published in Harvard Public Health Magazine, PZI’s president, Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, uses the example of how Carson inspired a revolution around ecological health to highlight the need for a new revolution focused on centering prevention, justice, and the connections between humans, other animals, and our shared environment.


A Triple Planetary Crisis

According to the UN, we’re in the midst of a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution–all of which impact individuals and communities of every species.

For example,

  • animal trafficking, intensive animal farming, and habitat destruction all increase the risk of disease outbreaks for both people and animals;
  • these same (and other) drivers accelerate the climate emergency, which further harms people, animals, and the planet;
  • public health threats facing humans–such as conflict, forced migration, food insecurity, and housing instability–also affect nonhuman animals and the environment on which we all depend.

An Ecological View of Health

As the article notes, while One Health is becoming a more integrated part of policy decisions for public health experts, scientists, and policy makers, it doesn’t go far enough. One Health largely focuses on risk assessment and mitigation within the bounds of a system that exploits humans, other animals, and the natural world.

To truly make a difference, local and global policy must center an ecological view of health that advances rights, health, and wellbeing for people, animals, and the planet.

A Just One Health approach aims to optimize the health and wellbeing of everyone by recognizing that humans and other animals have a right

  • to be free from abuse and exploitation;
  • to meet their self-determined physiological, physical, and mental needs; and
  • to thrive as individuals, families, and communities in natural, safe, and healthy environments.

This approach recognizes that justice is a key prerequisite for health and enables a more effective and impactful realization of One Health’s potential by bridging the work of a diverse constellation of public health, environmental, and social justice initiatives.

a young cow in a field of flowers--we need an ecological view of health

Meaningful Solutions

A fitting agenda for action would include expanding guiding principles of public health—social responsibility, public engagement, and equity—to include other-than-human entities: nonhuman animals, plants, and ecosystems. ~ Dr. Hope Ferdowsian

If local and global businesses and governments, and all of our systems–healthcare, economic policies, food systems, and more–operated within a Just One Health framework, it would address our global challenges in a meaningful way.

Centering an ecological view of health could mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis, prevent future pandemics, and center the needs of the most vulnerable.

As the article suggests, an action plan toward meaningful solutions could include

  • Expanding the principles of public health to include both people and animals
  • Incorporating ecological determinants of health into public health frameworks
  • Engaging in comprehensive impact assessments that address the social, ecological, and health impacts of public and private policies and projects
  • Funding ecologically driven public health research
  • Incentivizing academic and government institutions to lead the way via their own institutional policies, projects, and investments.

Phoenix Zones Initiative’s areas of focus are grounded in a Just One Health framework because it has the capacity to transform exploitative systems into systems that enable everyone to rise and thrive.

Read the article.

Find out more about PZI’s work to center a Just One Health approach.

Marsha Rakestraw is a senior education, outreach, and communication specialist with Phoenix Zones Initiative.

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