An Introduction to Planetary Health
Over the past half century, the collective impact of humanity on the structure and function of Earth’s natural systems has increased exponentially changing the biophysical conditions that support human life. As a result, we have entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene. Very rapid human population growth combined with even more rapid growth in per capita consumption are driving an extraordinary transformation of most of Earth’s climate system, its oceans, land cover, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, and coastal and fresh water systems. These are the biophysical systems that underpin global food production, our exposure to infectious disease and natural hazards, and the habitability of the places where we live. There is growing concern that global environmental change is likely to be a major driver of the burden of disease over the coming century. As the pace and scale of human impacts on Earth’s natural systems continues to grow, there is increasing interest in understanding and quantifying the implications of these accelerating changes for human health. Recently this field has been termed “planetary health.” This course is geared toward graduate students from all schools, but open to passionate undergraduates interested in exploring the implications of global environmental change on nutrition, infectious disease, mental health, and other domains of wellbeing. Throughout the course of the semester, students will engage in diverse materials from many types of examples of planetary health research, from nutrition and mental health, to infectious and non-communicable diseases. We will tease out common themes around how changes in the structure and function of natural systems lead to impacts on different dimensions of human health. As we approach these case studies, students will be engaged in active processing of the material and in-class discussions to understand parallel themes from each successive week. Course Requirements: In order to be considered for enrollment in the class, students must fill out the student interest form: https://harvard.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9BImNDJsLzgRVQ2 and also request instructor permission to enroll in this course.