Could the concept of a healthy human on a destroyed planet have any merit? Is there any precedence in history for Doctors taking to arms to defend their field of health and wellness on a grand scale?

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine by James Dunk and colleagues addresses these questions including many insightful references to medicine’s political past. Historical Percpectives on our Future should be read by any doctor trying to find their place in the current climate emergency.  

The article covers strategies from 

“preventive medicine for the planet and its peoples,” in which the health professions “use standard tools of health communication to explain the risks of climate change and the benefits of mitigation and adaptation.”


changes in how “we train, reward, promote, and fund the generation of health scientists who will be tasked with breaking out of their disciplinary silos to address this urgent constellation of health threats.”

As the article points out, medicine’s ancient roots are in environmental advocacy. They give examples of doctors advocating at large scale to great success, such as for urban sanitation, against cigarettes, and around HIV/AIDS and TB.

They also explore the history of ‘environmental thinking on a global scale’ starting with early pioneers such as Stephen Boyden in 1972:

“trends in the relationship between human society and the total environment constitute a serious threat to the survival of civilization and mankind.”

As to the future, they say the following:

“How should we proceed? We live in an age that extols scientific and medical research even as policy debates seem ever less rational. And yet we have grappled with that problem for centuries. Here, too, history is useful. In the 1890s, physicians and health officials in the United States debated the merits — and ethics — of compulsory measures against tuberculosis. They understood that meticulous harvesting of evidence and careful scientific research were necessary. They also knew that success would require them to engage, on behalf of public health, with the ugly realities of ward politics, to take off their white coats and wade into the fray in which actions are taken and decisions made.”

“We believe that the current imperative for climate action requires physicians to mobilize politically as they have before, again becoming fierce advocates for major social and economic change. A truly ethical relationship with the planet that we inhabit so precariously, and with the generations who will follow, demands nothing less.”

It would be hard to express the role of doctors in the current climate emergency better than this.

To swap your ‘white coat’ for a short time and deliver some hands-on help to conservation, while getting really in-touch with our earth, get in touch with us.