There is no doubt that our global environment is changing – from the hottest years on record, to the worldwide disappearance of pollinators, to the global collapse of fisheries, and to our use of about half of the planet's livable surface to feed ourselves.
We are now in a new geological era, the Anthropocene, characterized by humanity’s dramatic impact on Earth’s biophysical conditions. And though the average global citizen’s health has improved over the past century, the stability of our planet’s life support systems has sharply declined—putting recent public health and development gains at risk.
It is not just climate change; it is everything change! We face not only a disrupted climate system, but the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth; global scale pollution of air, water, and soil; shortages of arable land and freshwater; pervasive changes in land use and cover; and degradation of marine systems.
These anthropogenic environmental changes affect the quality of the air we breathe and of the water we drink, the quality and quantity of food we produce, our exposure to infectious diseases, and even the habitability of the places where we live. Changes to natural life support systems are already impacting our health and are projected to drive the majority of the global burden of disease over the coming century, hitting today’s most vulnerable people and future generations the hardest.
Everything is connected — changing our planet’s natural systems comes back to affect us, and not always in ways that we would expect. Understanding and acting upon these challenges calls for massive collaboration across disciplinary and national boundaries to safeguard our health.