Why Planetary Health?

The Garrison Institute’s mission is to apply contemplative wisdom to today’s most pressing challenges, with the vision of building a more compassionate, resilient future. We have done this for nearly two decades through programs that teach mindfulness, develop intention, and compel action. We continue this legacy with our Pathways to Planetary Health initiative

Pathways to Planetary Health applies our focus with an eye towards the environment. And what challenge is more pressing than maintaining the habitability and hospitability of our planet for generations to come? Recognizing the complexity of our environmental challenges, we use the framing of planetary health to pursue meaningful action. Why do we choose this framing, and what is planetary health?

The Planetary Health Alliance defines planetary health as follows:

Planetary health is a solutions-oriented, transdisciplinary field and social movement focused on analyzing and addressing the impacts of human disruptions to Earth’s natural systems on human health and all life on Earth.

Let’s break down this definition to see how it’s different from other framings on the environment. 

Planetary Health is solutions-oriented. The field is focused on identifying and pursuing solutions; it is not theoretical and it is not content to simply write about environmental threats. 

Planetary Health is transdisciplinary and a social movement. It recognizes that no one field of study, culture, or industry has the answer; working together on a shared vision is more powerful. It also acknowledges the local context and shared understanding necessary for change; communities must organize around planetary health for it to be achieved. 

Planetary Health analyzes and addresses the impacts of human disruptions to Earth’s natural systems. It accepts that humans affect the natural world, and that our impacts can disrupt the way the natural world functions. And it applies academic rigor to measure and understand these effects.

Finally, Planetary Health is focused on human health and all life on Earth. As a framework, its objective is to pursue solutions that benefit all life, human and otherwise.

At the Garrison Institute, the framing of Planetary Health resonates because it accepts the complexity of the environmental challenges we face, it embraces wisdom from across cultures, it acknowledges the value of biodiversity, and it pursues actionable solutions. Indeed, the mass-scale change needed to achieve planetary health is called the Great Transition. This evokes Joanna Macy’s Great Turning towards a life-sustaining civilization. 

The four pathways to planetary health that we have identified – Half-Earth, Ecological Civilization, Regenerative Economics, and the Common Good – provide a roadmap to achieve the Great Transition. They demonstrate the necessary qualities we must work towards, and rightfully place contemplative wisdom as the underlying philosophy to get us there. 

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