Are we moving towards One Health?
By Dr Glenn Baker, Private Client, Charity and Corporate Financial Planning and Investment Management, Charles Stanley Wealth Managers
Why should we consider the ethics that sit behind any sustained attempt at achieving net-zero carbon emissions? Because the more we delve, the more we will see and hopefully understand the interconnectedness of our world, as well as more fully understand the potential behavioural change that might be needed now that we are facing the highest levels of planet-warming carbon dioxide in human history.
The ethics appear relatively straightforward on first blush, at least in theory: ‘living well’ involves living as an equal with all of the elements of our environment. Not only the health of humans in consideration of, and in balance with, the environment, but also to triangulate and include those with whom we share our world, such as animals and oceanic life, for instance.
And yet the healthcare of humans, when seen in isolation, has long been part of the problem: healthcare is one of the most carbon-intensive industries, still responsible for 4.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide.
Identifying a route to net-zero emissions for a complex health system as large as, say, the NHS in England, is particularly challenging, especially when the NHS’s ambitious aim is to be the world’s first net-zero-carbon national health service by 2040. The problem is of course global: after major promises and fine intentions at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow 2021, the world has discovered that it is still very dependent on fossil fuels.
Obscuring the truth
Not only this, but we live in a world in which there is a rise of information warfare, disinformation, attention hacking and fake news, which leaves in its wake layerings of misinformation around the sustainable methods needed to approach net zero.
For example, it is misleading to suggest that tree plantations capture more carbon than leaving old forests undisturbed. Old forests can contain centuries worth of carbon, captured in trees and soils, and can continue to capture carbon for hundreds of years. Is it not better to cut fewer trees so that the carbon already stored is not released, especially when the carbon released by felled trees can take a hundred years or more to be recaptured by new trees? Do we really have the luxury of such an amount of time and of carbon? Carbon dioxide levels are now at about the same as 4.1 to 4.5 million years ago when temperatures were 3.9 degrees Celsius hotter and sea levels were 5 to 25 meters higher than now. This was when the Earth was a hothouse, although crucially its natural increase in carbon dioxide levels was markedly more gradual than now.
One building block upon which net zero ethics is based, which also engenders an emotional intelligence that can modify human behaviours, is an understanding that each living thing is dependent on the existence of other creatures in the complex web of interrelations, which form the natural world. Thinking that through might lead us to wonder about the extent to which the prevailing utilitarian pragmatism of western governments and businesses advocate a true understanding of nature – one which would give rise to a point of view that appreciates the value of biological diversity.
The philosopher and political activist Felix Guattari holds that traditional environmental perspectives obscure the complexity of the relationship between humans and their natural environment through their maintenance of the dualistic separation of human (cultural) and nonhuman (natural) systems.
Guattari proposes a field of practice named ecosophy, which sees complex phenomena such as human subjectivity, the environment and social relations as intimately interconnected, with heterogeneity, difference and multiplicities central to our world. Because we live in an age of increased specialisation, where scientists and psychologists, for instance, are understood as ‘belonging’ to discrete disciplines, it can be hard for us to see how ecosophy could really offer a view and frame of reference that cuts horizontally through our lives and interactions, without referring us in either one direction or the other.
Nevertheless, the ethics of this is carried forward through various initiatives, one of which is the One Health initiative, which is formally explored in forums such as the World One Health Congress, the seventh meeting of which is set for November 2022 in Shanghai.
Perhaps this is the moment when the need for One Health as a system of collaboration and sustainable development for the well-being of our planet – as well as that of animals and humans – should now be given greater focus.
One Health is an approach that calls for the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and internationally, to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment. The approach has developed in response to evidence of the spreading of zoonotic diseases between species and the increasing awareness of the interdependence of human and animal health, in tandem with ecological change.
In this, public health is no longer seen in purely human terms. For example, more than 75% of all new human infectious diseases emerge from animals (in particular from the mistreatment of animals), with more than one billion cases recorded every year – the health and economic consequences of which can be potentially catastrophic, as clearly in the case of Covid-19.
The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and while the belief in technological salvation has generally increased as the pathway forward, working through the ethics of arriving at net zero has far-reaching implications. These include many moving parts and inter-dependables that require breaking down in order to understand them, from environmental ecology to social ecology, to mental ecology. Simply stated, the pursuit of healthy ecosystems cannot be separated from the management of human health as well as animal health.
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