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University leaders call for ‘Great Transition’ of society for ‘planetary health’

Medical journal releases declaration calling for restructuring of the economy to save the planet

University leaders and advocacy organizations signed onto a document that calls for a “Great Transition” of society that will “support a more equitable and resilient post-pandemic world.”

The Lancet published the “São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health” on October 6. The project is organized out of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Achieving the Great Transition will require rapid and deep structural changes across most dimensions of human activity,” the declaration said. It covers sectors of society including health, secondary and higher education, business, agriculture and government.

Out of the three hundred signers, ninety were higher education organizations, according to Harvard’s Jeremy Pivor of the Chan School. He is one of the three listed authors on the Lancet article.

“Planetary health,” Pivor told The College Fix via email, “is a solutions-oriented, transdisciplinary field and social movement focused on analyzing and addressing the impacts of human disruptions to Earth’s natural systems on human health and all life on Earth.”

The Ivy League university is planning to host further discussions on the topic and plans to work with the signers to create “bottom up” plans for the Great Transition.

“Our plan is to build partnerships within these networks of organizations to implement the actions outlined in the Declaration,” Pivor said. “We want the solutions to come from the bottom-up since those working directly on-the-ground are the ones who know best what is needed for planetary health education based on age, geography, culture, and other local contexts.”

He also directed The College Fix to the Planetary Health Alliance’s website where there is further information on the efforts of the group.

Nursing school will help its students participate in the Great Transition

The University of Minnesota’s nursing school has pledged to train its students on how they can participate in protecting planetary health.

The declaration encourages health practitioners to “[a]dvocate for patient- centered policies that advance planetary health, including public access to health services as a human right, and incorporate solutions and community services beyond the clinic.”

Medical professionals should “incorporate planetary health concepts and and values into the main curricula and professional codes of conduct for all future health practitioners.”

The Fix asked the Big Ten nursing school how it would incorporate the declaration’s goals into its program.

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“All nursing schools across the nation will soon start to redesign their curriculum based on the new AACN Essentials,” Teddie Potter, a Clinical Professor and Director of Planetary Health, told The College Fix. “Addressing social determinants of health is one of the requirements and this will move us closer to the Great Transition for health care, a transition that moves toward prevention of suffering before it starts.”

Potter cited the secretion of hormones into the water supply as one example.

She said:

The Earth has natural boundaries that must not be exceeded if we are to have a livable planet for future generations. Health care is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of life but some of our current behaviors are contributing to disruption of the Earth’s natural systems. For example we prescribe medications which when excreted enter our water and can disrupt hormones and contribute to multidrug resistant organisms. In the US, the health care sector contributes to over 8% of our greenhouse gas emissions and we know that greenhouse gasses are a contributing factor to a warming planet leading to many disasters such as wildfires and droughts.

Nurses can also encourage patients to combine healthy lifestyles with environmentally friendly actions.

“Nurses are teaching patients and community members to increase walking, biking, and use of mass transit and to eat plant-based diets,” Potter said. “These actions improve human health while at the same time improving planetary health.”

University president commits the whole school to the pledge

Most of the academic signers represent specific departments, but George Mason University is fully on board with the Great Transition.

Unlike other higher ed organizations whose medical or planetary branch signed the Declaration, George Mason University signed the Sao Paulo Declaration.  Professor Alonso Aguirre of the environmental science department represents the university on the Alliance and has done so since 2017, university spokesperson Melanie Balog told The Fix.

The College Fix asked the public Virginia university who had been consulted at the school about signing onto the declaration.

“Sustainability,” explains Balog, “is central to Mason’s mission.” This is true for the university’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth.

Through the ISE, George Mason University hopes to put into effect the Great Transition. Other opportunities the University offers include, a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, Balog said.“[This] degree program includes a concentration in Conservation Medicine and Planetary Health.”

University leadership, according to Balog, wants to ensure a “health plan” through “ a multifaceted approach that crosses disciplines and traditional ways of thinking.”

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About the Author
Gigi De La Torre -- Franciscan University of Steubenville