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Experts unite to safeguard future for humans and our planet

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Humanity's heavy ecological footprint has been punishing for the Earth and its natural environment. But world-leading scientists and pioneers in an emerging applied scientific discipline convened at Brunel University London on Tuesday 6 June for the 1st UK Symposium on Planetary Health – and let out a rallying cry for focused research into ensuring survival for humans and our planet. 

In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission published a report which recognised that the health of humanity depends on ensuring the health and resilience of our planet. The term planetary health was coined: a new discipline forged at the intersection of environmental and health concerns, and aimed at influencing both international and national approaches to health. The Foundation also invested dedicated funds to support this area of research, which includes organisations such as Harvard University and The Wellcome Trust. 

The inaugural symposium introduced the opportunities and challenges posed by this new discipline to an audience of staff, students and external visitors. Among the 180 attendees were Sir Andrew Haines, Chair of the Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission, and former Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Professor Howard Frumkin from the University of Washington School of Public Health; Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London; and Professor Susan Jobling, Director of the Institute of Environment, Health and Societies. 

Research into the complex, interdependent and powerful impact of natural systems change can include: 

  • harnessing data, analytics and predictive modelling to build the business case for different policy and for decisions about natural resource use

  • developing storytelling to inform and incite action 

  • harnessing the power of the planet's custodians – including young people and local communities – to lead behavioural change. 

Professor Frumkin highlighted that behaviour change is necessary in order to make humans more ecologically sensible. "There's a role for regulation, and for non-regulatory behaviour modifications called nudges," he said. "But there's yet another set of tactics to do with social marketing: making certain behaviours popular and just the easy thing to do. 

"There's a whole portfolio of how to bring about behaviour change and policy change. We just need to find out the right tactics to use in the right situation." 

Professor Juliette Legler, Brunel's Theme Leader for Environment and Health, presented an overview of the challenges of pollution in planetary health. Energised by the day's activities, she commented: "This symposium was an inspirational opportunity to learn about this transdisciplinary field, and to forge and grow new partnerships for action-based research and knowledge transfer. 

"Despite the significant environmental challenges facing us, the symposium left us with hope that together we can overcome them to benefit human health across the globe." 

Find out more about Brunel University London's Institute of Environment, Health and Societies – and its Environment and Health theme.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
joe.buchanunn@brunel.ac.uk