Green Health: “As the health of the planet deteriorates so human health deteriorates”

No 6 Kildare Street facade

“If you screw up the environment it’s bound to have a negative consequence for our health. As the health of the planet deteriorates so human health deteriorates because we are intimately connected to the environment… and yes, I think it’s urgent,” says Prof Michael Depledge, the Co-founder and Chair of the Advisory Board of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

Prof Depledge will give the keynote address at the Green Health Symposium at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on November 6 an event which hopes to nudge healthcare professionals to take a leading role in addressing health issues impacted by climate change. Prof Depledge and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health have long been at the forefront of research into how the two areas interact. They have studied everything from microbial resistance to access to green space and the bottom line from each piece of research, says Prof Depledge, is that we cannot delay taking action.  

“It has been clear for a very long time, actually since the 50s for example, that greenhouse gas emissions were causing the warming of the planet and that would have significant consequences. Quite frankly, people couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. And now we’re in a crisis and we need to act,” he says. 

“This is a call to arms for healthcare professionals in Ireland to come together and be involved in a robust debate on how we can take steps to address these issues.”

RCPI President, Prof Mary Horgan

It’s not just greenhouse gases that have an impact on our health and that of the planet. Prof Depledge outlines that there are a number of different factors that have brought us to our current situation, all driven by a rapid increase in global population. 

“Over the past 200 years we’ve gone from one billion to eight billion people, that’s an eight fold increase,” says Prof Depledge, “this has meant that the amount of energy that we use, waste we produce and the amount of damage to the environment through habitat loss has all rapidly risen over a very short period of time.”

The big question

While Prof Depledge says that it may be tempting to look at how to tackle each issue in isolation, this is not the way he thinks we should progress: “The solution is not to deal with them one at a time, it is to ask ourselves, ‘How do we live differently? How do we interact with the planet differently, talking carefully so that we find a new balance for living with all the organisms on Earth?’” 

It’s a big question and one that the healthcare sphere will look at in detail during RCPI’s Green Health Symposium, delivered in partnership with APC Microbiome Ireland the Irish Heart Foundation. This one-day event will focus on a range of topics from ideas that assist adaptation to climate change in the health sector to the mitigation of its impacts on health. Taking a similarly 360-degree approach it will cover a diverse range of topics including air pollution, phage therapy, tackling single use plastics in hospitals, infectious diseases and climate change as well as fermented foods and more.

Join the debate

RCPI President Prof Mary Horgan says, “This is a call to arms for healthcare professionals in Ireland to come together and be involved in a robust debate on how we can take steps to address these issues.”

Prior to the event RCPI conducted a survey of its 11,000 Trainees, Members and Fellows and their attitudes to health and the environment, which showed encouraging responses.  

Over 95 per cent of respondents worried about climate change and the effect of pollution on human health, with climate change and medical waste the two largest areas of concern. And over 95 per cent thought doctors should take a leadership role in this area.

When it comes to the responsibilities of those in the healthcare sector Prof Depledge says that he welcomes initiatives to open dialogue and the interest from doctors in the environment saying, “healthcare profession could have an enormous impact” and that, “they could be great advocates for trying to address these problems.”

The Green Health Symposium takes place on 6 November at 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2 and is open to all. To book visit www.rcpi.ie/greenhealth