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Public Health in a Time of Resource Depletion and Ecological Disintegrity

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Earlier chapters in this book have described the importance of ecological integrity to living systems and how disordered ecological integrity threatens Earth's life support systems. Disordered ecological integrity also threatens human health. In this chapter I explore how the environment plays a key role as part of the infrastructure of a public health service, and how ecological disintegrity threatens the ability of public health services to meet their obligations. I define Public Health and briefly outline its core roles. I argue that the successful implementation of these roles depends on a complex social, cultural, physical, and environmental infrastructure, all based on a series of assumptions. However, because of ecological disintegrity, the depletion of fossil fuels and Earth's resources, and the social, economic, and physical consequences that arise as a result, the infrastructure upon which we build and run our societies may well fail, and many assumptions we use to plan and live our personal and professional lives are false. To minimize the effects of the inevitable change that will arise from these problems, public health must make immediate plans for a transition to a simpler, more local, independent existence.

Many people think of the environment in terms of mountains, seashores, rivers, or lakes; as sources of rest and recreation. The environment as a determining force in their lives may become apparent after events like the 2010 heat wave in Russia that killed thousands of people, or a human induced disaster that seriously harms the natural world, such as the Macondo oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Only rarely do we consider the environment as the primary provider for all life of shelter, clean air, clean water, fertile soils and other essentials. Instead of thinking of the natural world as the maintainer of all life on Earth, we mine its “endless” resources and exhaust its services. But nothing is truly endless, and now those services and resources nature provides are beginning to fail; and our survival as an advanced human society is thus threatened.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Globalisation and Ecological Integrity in Science and International Law
    This volume returns to one of the major themes of the Global Ecological Integrity Group: the interface between integrity as a scientific concept and a number of important issues in ethics, international law and public health. The main scholars who have worked on these topics over the years return to re-examine these dimensions from the viewpoint of global governance.
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