The claim that there are more Homo sapiens alive right now than have lived in the entire history of our species until now is hotly contested, and might well be apocryphal. It doesn’t matter. Either way, there are a lot of us. We are a global horde. In my darker moments, I might be tempted to say a global infestation.
Inevitably, in our multitudes, we are having a massive impact on the planet. This audience- clued in, concerned- is well aware of that. Be the matter climate change, the dessication of ancient aquifers, or the replacement of pristine rain forest with pastures for cattle, or palm oil plantations- the evidence of the anthropocene era abounds.
For us- the emissaries of lifestyle medicine- this is not the memo that belongs preferentially to us. That memo follows, however: lifestyle practices matter enormously to the planet.
While the lifestyles of the rich and famous may make for diverting entertainment, it is the lifestyles of the populace and prolific that will divert the fate of our planet, for good or for ill. And so it is that while we all signed up for a mission devoted to human health, we find ourselves on the front lines of homeland security, too- with the added stipulation that the “home” in question is not constrained by some geopolitical, imaginary line. It is our one and only, true home. It is our planet.
Fortuitously for us- for it need not have been so- the very lifestyle practices most central to our preaching and practices in the service of human health are the very ones that favor the health of the planet as well. More use of muscles and less of motors for locomotion is good for people and planet alike. A diet of wholesome food, mostly plants, in some sensible combination has stunning potential to advance the human condition- and counts among the most promising, immediately actionable opportunities to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and water utilization.
Drinking water in favor of sugar-sweetened beverages is of obvious importance to the health of our human charges. It, too, favors the planet. Reviewing Marion Nestle’s latest book, Soda Politics, for Nature, I learned that some 320 to 600 liters of water are consumed in the production of one liter of Coca Cola in its bottle. I was quite convinced about reasons to avoid such a dubious concoction already, but for those who were not: consider the image of dumping out 500 bottles of water as prerequisite to downing one of Coke or Pepsi.
Such an image is the crux of the matter. I can’t help but imagine the possibility of reaching young people, agnostic on the topic of lifestyle medicine because of the illusory invulnerabilities of youth, with that image. Surely those unconcerned about sugar or calories are still obligated to care whether or not there is water in California, or India, or the Middle East. I think they do.
What that suggests is that overlap of human and planetary health concerns provides us new ways to win over hearts and minds; it provides us new ends to justify the very means we ply, and for which we had ample justification already. It raises the height of our pulpit, allowing us to project to a larger audience.
And it does the same in the other direction. Our counterparts and colleagues toiling not to reverse diabetes but to preserve some vestige of rain forest are enhanced in their capacity to make the case when that case leads not just to more pristine acreage, but to more years in life and more life in years for the human stewards of that landscape as well.
There is no human health without a healthy planet. There is little chance of humans effectively addressing the health of the planet without tending to their own. Lifestyle prevails in the area of overlap.
For just such reasons, then, I am delighted that “Healthy People, Healthy Planet” was chosen as our 2016 annual conference theme. I am further delighted to announce that invitations for 5 keynote addresses went out to a who’s who in this space- and every one of them said a quick a hearty: yes! Our conference stage will be graced by the likes of Danielle Nierenberg, founder of Food Tank; Samuel Myers, a climate change expert at Harvard; and Derek Yach, director of the Vitality Institute, coming to us all the way from South Africa. For the rest of the great roster, visit http://lifestylemedicine2016.org/.
This is exciting, not just because these are much sought-after, acclaimed experts who will inform and enlighten us. It’s exciting because they represent portals to whole new audiences for the lifestyle medicine message. It’s exciting because we represent the opportunity for them to make their case in whole new ways. It’s exciting because we have been doing good, hard, and separate work and are now finding reasons to come together. In that unity, there is the promise of new strength, and greater impact- in the service of human and planetary health alike.
Accordingly- colleagues, and fellow earthlings- I very much hope to see you in Naples.