Human health depends on the health of the planet. Earth’s natural systems—the air, the water, the biodiversity, the climate—are our life support systems. Yet climate change, biodiversity loss, scarcity of land and freshwater, pollution and other threats are degrading these systems. The emerging field of planetary health aims to understand how these changes threaten our health and how to protect ourselves and the rest of the biosphere.
This timely essay raises the importance of shifting individual and societal attention to preventive and precautionary measures to maintain human and ecological health. These measures require strategic rather than reactive approaches to human health and ecological crises. This essay points to the growing body of research that nature (wilderness to green and blue space) is necessary for people’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Such evidence should persuade the public and policymakers to proactively conserve ecosystems, reducing the need to rescue depleted species or repair and restore their degraded habitats. It concludes with a plea for focused attention on reciprocal healing of both nature and humans, which can occur only if our interaction with nature–be it wilderness, an urban park, a garden–is frequent and respectful. The author suggests that the nature-and-health paradigm may be the game-changing strategy needed to sustain grassroots awareness for halting, and hopefully, reversing the trajectory of decline in planetary health. Our very survival depends on redefining our relationship with nature with deep reverence and empathy. In summary, purposeful attention and respect for nature across all parts of society can reinvigorate planetary health.