Chapter 1: Exposition
Human disconnection from nature is a result of patriarchal “power over” structures of control and subordination which have caused parallel degradations of the natural environment and human health. Pollution of the human body through non-nutritious, processed foods, chemicals in the diet and the environment, and non-natural medicines has caused a degradation in human health (Redford et al., 2014). This unnatural state of humans in modern life, where there has been a move away from nature and natural ways of nourishing and healing is reflected by the pollution and degradation of the natural environment, similarly affected by chemicals, pharmaceuticals (Cabello, 2006), and lack of connection to what is real or natural. Human connection to nature is human connection to the real, interconnected self, to interfere with this connection is to undermine humanity at its most basic, but also most powerful level (“Branches of the Deep Ecology Tree: Ecofeminism: Reuniting the masculine and nature,” n.d.). Degradation of the environment equates to degradation of human health in a cyclical and cumulative sense, when we understand the essential interconnectedness of all life.
An interconnected sense of self is needed for connected empathy and mutual understanding between humans and nature, but the model of patriarchal domination removes this interconnected sense of self (“Ecofeminism,” n.d.) and therefore reduces the capacity for an aware, connected, responsible, and empathetic society. Numerous studies have found that men more commonly situate their sense of self externally and are concerned with moral rights and the rights of the individual, while women are more likely to have an interconnected sense of self concerned with moral responsibilities and relationships (Gaard, 1993). In a shift from a rights (personal) based model to responsibility (holistic) based model, the focus must move from the “I need, I want, I am” to a model where recognition that it is not individual human action degrading the environment, but the influence of policy prioritising corporate power. The impact of decisions at corporate level has far more impact on environmental degradation than the individual actions of humans ever could. This neo-liberal individualisation of responsibility (Laverack, 2012) has created a human hatred of self, through the internalisation of responsibility for things outside personal control.
Disconnection from nature is a disconnection from the natural, interconnected self, showing that it is in fact a move away from nature which causes issues of “violence, abuse and destruction” (“Ecofeminism,” n.d.), of all life, and all aspects of existence within that life. Remedying these issues by a move back towards nature could lead to the emancipation of all, including nature itself, by embracing an understanding of the fundamental interconnectedness of all life. This understanding is vital in supporting a paradigm shift to a new, equal, and healthy society embracing the awareness that, as integral and interconnected parts of nature, there comes responsibility to the health and wellbeing of the whole, which necessarily includes the interconnected self.
Measures of progress are mainly discussed in terms of economic abstractions which express little about the lived quality of human life within societies. Measures of happiness, health, wellbeing, trust, and social stability do not factor into this method of measuring “progress”. Social and environmental degradation, the cycle of consumption, excess waste, pollution, and the pursuit of economic growth above all create a climate of “ecocidal insanity” (“(6) GDP Measures Industrial Inefficiency and Social Degradation – YouTube,” n.d.). This “ecocidal” system is damaging to all life caught up in its pursuit of higher and higher GDP, and in the assumption that higher GDP equals something of real value. The real value, however, is to be found in the improvements to quality of life and wellbeing for all life on earth. This must necessarily start with humans, as it is human actions (albeit much of those actions through corporations and governments) that have caused so much damage (Haenn et al., 2016). GDP, as a measure of annual economic output is a the generally accepted measure for human standard of living. It measures the total value of new goods and services produced within a country. This measure is associated with a better quality of life on the assumption that more money, more material things, and more profit for the country equates to a higher standard of living. (Oulton, 2012), however, argues that “GDP retains its usefulness as a measure of output and as a welfare indicator.” This argument assumes that people place value on higher levels of consumption in an absolute sense, not merely a relative one, and that choices made between leisure and labour are evidence of this assignment of value. A rise in GDP per capita therefore, argues Oulton, would be in line with the desires and preferences of those making the choices; the population, whose preferences, he argues, should be respected.
Globalised capitalism has resulted in the corporate sector gaining unexpected influence over socioeconomic gradients, and subsequently population health (Danis and Sepinwall, 2002). When corporate power transcends the influence of single nations, it becomes evident that ethical consideration of obligations to health and wellbeing are necessary. Determinants of health have consistently been shown to be biosocial, with socioeconomics, education, housing, employment and lived environment (which are all moulded by social and structural factors) determining 90% of health outcomes while just 10% are determined by biomedical healthcare (“The Necessity of Social Medicine in Medical Education,” n.d.). Biomedical education strongly favours pedagogy which focuses on just the biomedical model despite overwhelming evidence of the import of biosocial factors. In countries where universal healthcare is available, socioeconomic factors remain “powerful determinants of health” (“The Necessity of Social Medicine in Medical Education,” n.d.). This finding presents concerning implications for the future of a healthcare model being considered as a means of maintaining health, and indicates that the current model of state-promoted largely biomedical healthcare does not equate to better health for populations. The economic sector now has previously unexpected impact in assuring human health, the power of multinationals in national economies prevent national governments from fully dictating the impact of socioeconomic factors on population health. Therefore, moral grounds for expecting (and indeed requiring) multinationals to attend to this responsibility become clear. The assumed necessity of economic growth at the sacrifice of all else has degraded human health (and the environment) by making consumers, animals, humans and the environment/nature a means to an end goal of profit; there is no morality in the race for money and power (Danis and Sepinwall, 2002). Unless capitalist growth is responsibly regulated, economic concerns will be prioritised over all others (Danis and Sepinwall, 2002) as the market has no conscience.
A case study from the Murrumbidgee River basin in Australia also demonstrates these patterns, where a focus on the socio-economic advantages of water extraction for food production and agricultural development initially was gradually followed by a realisation of the negative environmental impact of these priorities. Subsequent attempts at reducing the environmental impact through remedial measures eventually became externally applied solutions which attempted to reinstate healthy ecosystems and environmental health (Kandasamy et al., 2014). This market-driven, capitalism-centred, anthropocentric focus demonstrates that had a deeper original connection to the natural environment centred on intrinsic respect, then this balance would have been sought from the outset and remedial measures may not have been necessary. The structures which support the drive for economic prowess above respect for the environment are at fault and must be challenged to create ethically responsible practices.
Looking at data from The World Bank (“DataBank | The World Bank,” n.d.): In 2014, U.S Expenditure on healthcare was $2985748000000, ($9402 per capita) an astounding figure, but particularly so when considering that 10.8% of the U.S. population has diabetes, a condition associated with being overweight (type II diabetes) (Kopelman, 2007)). 72.8% of the male population, and 62.9% of the female population in the U.S are overweight. Over-weight is associated with poor health (Kopelman, 2007), indicating that in this case, huge spending on healthcare does not equate to healthy people, and human health has become a victim of capitalist growth. If the focus of spending was shifted to remedy lifestyle related health problems, by looking to create holistic, natural health and immunity from the inside out, there could be vast savings for healthcare. This ties with excess consumption; the expectation that unhealthy, polluted, and overweight bodies can be made well by the application of outside-in biomedical approaches is an assumption based in pure fallacy; the sick body has over-consumed, and must now consume some more to be well again, thus feeding the growth of capitalism at the expense of true, natural health and wellbeing. Investment in infrastructure to provide healthy, organic foods, a reduction in consumption, less chemical additives and processed products, clean water, and general wellbeing, would provide a solid foundation of health in sync with nature, and would reduce the impact on the human body and the environment at large.
Correlating the degradation of human health with environmental degradation, the data shows that the U.S. produced 6,488 million tonnes of C02 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 (“Statistics / OECD Environment Statistics,” n.d.), which equates to almost half the greenhouse gas emissions for the OECD in the same period. Figure 1 shows per capita greenhouse gas emissions for the US is amongst the highest of the OECD countries, correlating this measure of environmental degradation (CO2 emissions are considered a “key indicator” by the OECD) (“Environment at a Glance, Statistics / Environment at a Glance / 2015,” n.d.) with an unhealthy population measured by prevalence of overweight: “Overweight and obesity cause or exacerbate a large number of health problems, both independently and in association with other diseases, and are among the most significant contributors to ill health” (Kopelman, 2007). There are clear links here between the treatment of the environment and the health of the population.
In Australia, where healthcare spending has grown faster than population growth and the broader economy (“DataBank | The World Bank,” n.d.), the total of healthcare spending for 2014 was $17935785371 ($6031 per capita). 69.9% of men and 57.6% of women are overweight, demonstrating similar correlations between population health and environmental degradation on these measures. Data for Japan shows an average life expectancy of 83.5 years (compared to US life expectancy of 78.7 years), and considerably lower rates of excess weight in the population when compared to Australia and the U.S. 28.8% of men are considered overweight, and 18.8% of women; some of the lowest rates worldwide. Interestingly, per capita healthcare spending in Japan is $3702 (less than half US spending), and greenhouse gas emissions per capita are also at around half of US levels, as can be seen in figure 1. This demonstrates an opposing correlation; Japan spends a lot less on healthcare, yet the prevalence of overweight within the population is drastically lower than in the U.S and Australia. The greenhouse gas emissions are also much lower, so on these measures, Japan appears to have a healthier environment and a healthier population. Considering the huge health implications of an overweight population, and the spending involved, it becomes a cumulative issue; when the population is not healthy, health spending increases in the pursuit of health, but from an outside-in perspective. Directing this spending towards the 90% of non-biomedical factors which impact health outcomes (“The Necessity of Social Medicine in Medical Education,” n.d.) from the inside-out would shift the focus to areas where real changes could be made which could affect the quality of lived human experience.
The ways humans treat the environment reflect the ways in which humans treat each other, and by extension the ways humans view themselves. Although capitalism and patriarchy are disembodied systems, the inequalities and oppressions they create are endorsed, acted upon, and perpetuated by humans. The impact of these inequalities is felt by other humans in their lived experience, which is degraded by the continuance of these systemic oppressions which take us all further from nature, self-awareness, and peace. This turning inward of hatred is exemplified in organisations like ‘The Church of Euthanasia’, a radical religious organisation which claims to be “a non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth”, using slogans like “Save the Planet Kill Yourself”. This is a radical expression of human self-hatred; a religion based on being anti-humanity. Classing itself as environmentalist, yet supporting voluntary population reduction and a raising of “species-consciousness” (“Church of Euthanasia,” n.d.). While this organisation is clearly radical, there is an undercurrent of self-hatred in all assumptions of dualism and division, with this level of disconnection from the awareness of humanity’s holistic place in the planetary ecosystem being indicative of a sadly degraded society.
Individuals have the least impact but are being burdened with the most responsibility in modern patriarchal society (Laverack, 2012), which is a direct contradiction to the reality of the balance of power within these systems. This hyper-individualisation removes all sense of community and responsibility for other life, because the rights of the individual are key, and competition and conflict are necessary, indeed justified, in the pursuit of a “good life”. The assimilation of this worldview causes a turning inward of hatred, manifesting through a lack of understanding of the interconnected self and the place of that self within the complex organism of life and existence. In such worldviews, humans become convinced to view themselves as the problem rather than the patriarchal systems which endorse the disconnected self. There is a lack of empathy within the individualised neo-liberal model; capitalism has no empathy for nature in the pursuit of progress, capitalist biomedicine has no empathy for human suffering in the pursuit of profit, humans have no empathy for themselves or for nature in the pursuit of happiness through consumption. This is a disconnection of humans from their true, interconnected and responsible humanity
Claims that human health is better than ever before, based on life expectancy and death rate data (“Explaining Planetary Health | One Health @ Cornell,” n.d.) do not take into consideration the the quality of those lives, or the impact of health and wellbeing on lived experience. These views are short-sighted, they do not address the concept that life is not merely the absence of death, in the same way that the biomedical model does not address the concept that health is not merely the absence of disease. Planetary health has been explored in research (Redford et al., 2014), and while it does address the reliance of human civilisation on natural resources, these arguments do not take into consideration the interconnectedness of all life, and are therefore lacking in an expanded awareness of the many factors involved in life-quality, which would be a more appropriate, and holistic, measure. There is a sense here that it could not have been otherwise; that achieving this rise in human health was necessary, even if that required the sacrifice of the ecosystem. The term ‘planetary health’ then becomes a misnomer, if humans and the environment cannot mutually exist and thrive without the sacrifice of one for the other, then ‘planetary’ health is not the goal.