Population health in the Anthropocene

HumanHealthMcMichael, AJ. 2014. Population health in the Anthropocene: Gains, losses and emerging trends. The Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, 1: pp. 44-56.

Last week we changed our regular lab meeting, when we all normally discuss a particular paper, to each presenting a general view on the articles published in the first issue of the new journal The Anthopocene Review (SAGE publication). In this lab meeting each member presented and lead discussion of issues within a different paper.

In my case, I had a very interesting paper by Anthony J McMichael about changes in life expectancy (Human population health) related to the human impact caused at global scale during the Anthropocene (defined in the paper as the last 200 yr). Here is a brief summary of the main topics discussed in the paper:

The paper deals with life expectancy trends during the human history on Earth, understood not as the individual health care but as a population or community collective (the “herd” effect), being this two independent topics.

The first section is a nice trip for human evolution and its relationship with the environment, distinguishing three different phases of environment-climate-human relationship:

  1. The Pleistocene (c. 2.6 million – 11,000 years ago): characterised by environment-driven changes;
  2. The Holocene (c. 11,000 – 200 years ago): with cultural-driven changes promoted by the potential of farming. Survival, although relying in culture changes, was still dependent on climatic stability (survival changes caused or amplified by adverse conditions); and
  3. The Anthropocene (last 200 year, as defined in this paper): when humans have become a dominant force on the world stage, being nowadays the major contributor to climatic change.

Then, in the second part of the paper, McMichael explains through several examples how the longer (time) and larger (spatial) consequences of current anthropogenic climatic change are crucial for human survival. The discussion is driven through a wide range of topics, such as the epidemiological transition (or), the environmentalist’s paradox (or), the distributive justice (or), urban sustainability and ecological footprint, or the coming famine.

Finally, the author shows several direct and indirect pathways by which changes in climatic conditions will affect the human health, encouraging the urgent need of an environmentally sustainable way of living.

If you are interested to find out what your ecological footprint might be try these online tests:

One Comment on “Population health in the Anthropocene

  1. Pingback: The Anthropocene Review – reviewed | Ecology of the past

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