Since the Greek physician Hippocrates observed that diseases arise from nature—and not the wrath of gods—people have understood that human health and the environment are linked. Pollution, radiation and heavy metals are well-known hazards.
But until recently, science has paid little attention to how broad changes in Earth’s natural systems—like oceans, climate and land cover—also contribute to both human health and disease.
Now, Taylor Ricketts, director of UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, is co-author of a new paper that works to quantify some of these effects—and point out gaps in our knowledge. “Human Health Impacts of Ecosystem Alteration” was published Nov. 11 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Human activity is affecting nearly all of Earth’s natural systems—altering the planet’s land cover, rivers and oceans, climate, and the full range of complex ecological relationships and biogeochemical cycles that have long sustained life on Earth,” said Samuel Myers of the Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.
“Defining a new epoch, the Anthropocene, these changes and their effects put in question the ability of the planet to provide for a human population now exceeding 7 billion,” Myers said, “with an exponentially growing demand for goods and services.”
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