Published: 11/27/2022

By Jamie Hansen, Global Health Communications Manager

How can Stanford harness the strength and ingenuity of great thinkers across disciplines to protect health on a rapidly changing planet? This is the question that nearly 70 participants came together to discuss in the first of a series of workshops dedicated to furthering human and planetary health at Stanford.

“I see the remarkable turnout as a clear statement on the broad support of Stanford community (researchers, students and staff) to human and planetary health,” said Giulio De Leo, professor of biology and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. De Leo helped organize the effort, which is part of a seed grant from Stanford’s Sustainability Initiative.

“I see the remarkable turnout as a clear statement on the broad support of Stanford community (researchers, students and staff) to human and planetary health.”

Giulio De Leo, professor of biology/Senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

Numerous recent reports from the World Health Organization, The Lancet Countdown, and others, have shown how the health of humans is inextricably tied to the health of the planet. To name just a few examples: 

  • Wildfires cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses, increase emergency room visits, and raise the risk of pre-term birth.
  • Increasing crop failures bring food shortages, nutritional deficiency, and economic loss.
  • Warming temperatures cause a host of mental health concerns and increase incidents of suicide. 

Workers pick lavender
Photo Courtesy of Arka Roy, Unsplash.com

The Human and Planetary Health initiative at Stanford, led by a collaboration between the Woods Institute for the Environment, Center for Innovation in Global Health, and the Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment, aims to create new knowledge and build evidence-based solutions that promote human health, environmental stewardship, and social impact.  

Specifically, the initiative seeks to: 

  • Advance solutions-oriented research by funding new projects and fostering interdisciplinary collaborations
  • Train future leaders through teaching and scholarship at all levels with new cross-cutting courses, fellowships, experiential learning opportunities, and career development
  • Accelerate action through supporting evidence-based policy, strategic communications, private sector partnerships, and community-engaged solutions. 

The first workshop on Oct. 29, “Big Ideas for Human and Planetary Health,” drew physicians, artists, earth scientists, economists, and others who wished to help develop a vision for this important field at Stanford.  They came together to brainstorm and come up with concrete and actionable big ideas around a few key themes: Climate and health, pollution, ecology and disease, and food, health, and the environment.

Participants share ideas at the Oct. 29 Big Ideas workshop

They developed ideas for what could be achieved in the next five and ten years. Common themes included:

  • Using Stanford’s technological expertise and innovation to understand the health impacts of global environmental change – and develop solutions
  • Creating a focus on human and planetary health in the new school, increasing collaboration across schools and disciplines and with outside partners
  • Listening to and partnering with marginalized communities, which could build on the work of an equity seed grant from the Sustainability Initiative to foster environmental justice
  • Strong communication initiatives to support these initiatives and a broader understanding of the health impacts of climate change and environmental degradation
  • Demonstrating leadership at Stanford through divestment from fossil fuels, utilization of solar, revamping food services, and more

Training workers to install solar panels at health clinics in Rwanda provides clean energy, creates jobs, and improves health service delivery.
Training workers to install solar panels at health clinics in Rwanda provides clean energy, creates jobs, and improves health service delivery.

Credit: Walt Ratterman, Sunepi

Future events this fall and winter will address building a collaborative framework for this vision and bring together faculty, staff, and student leaders to envision educational offerings.

Anyone with questions, comments, or interest in getting involved can  contact: Erika Veidis, eveidis@stanford.edu.