Published byAnnette Gerritsen
Published on28 September 2017
This commentary has been written by George Lueddeke PhD, Chair of the One Health Education Task Force.
‘Resource shortages, demographic realities, and planetary boundaries’ (1) along with the threats of ideological extremism necessitate a redirection towards well-being and sustainability. While the survival of all species is wholly dependent on a healthy planet, urgent research and policy action at the highest levels to address large-scale problems are needed to counter the thinking that perpetuates the ‘folly of a limitless world’ and largely ignores the socioeconomic and geopolitical effects (or plight) of present-day scenarios on the daily lives of most people on the planet in particular the young, the poor and the marginalised (2). Severe socioeconomic impacts are likely to be felt most by those living in global coastal regions (three-quarters of the world’s mega-cities!) where ‘climate change will increasingly threaten infrastructure and food supplies especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South East Asia’ (3), and most recently in the Caribbean islands. Another major global threat to millions is posed by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to infections caused largely by crowded sub-standard living conditions (affecting more than half the world’s population of c.7.6 billion) and antibiotic overuse (4). Incorporating technology – artificial intelligence, big data, robotics – into our daily lives as a public good rather than as a threat, for example, replacing people with robots – presents a major challenge not only for developing and low middle income countries but also for those in higher income nations, some of which appear to be facing industrial decline in the next few years . The gap between individual aspirations and socioeconomic realities has already widened for many given the rise of youth unemployment (over 50%) in many regions across the world – Africa, Americas, Europe, Middle East, SE Asia (5).
Two independent global surveys have shown significant differences between skills in high demand over the next 5 years and current student career tracks (6,7). In a world steeped in digital technology and artificial intelligence, the findings are not surprising given the usual time lag between education and training responses to emerging societal trends. The main omission, however, is that the studies do not reflect what may be the most important factors influencing the successful application of these skills/programmes while also addressing perhaps the most important social issue of our time: to change the way we relate to the planet and to each other (8,9) – tackling, among many others, socioeconomic inequalities, conflicts, corruption, food security, urbanisation, and environmental degradation (2). It is for some of these reasons that more universities are beginning to offer hybrid programmes, including technology, the social sciences, management, and other disciplines. Given historical precedents, it must be said that technological progress (prowess?) alone does not by itself readily translate into social cohesion nor respect for all life forms that make living on this planet possible in the first place. The 193 Members of the UN General Assembly well recognised the importance of working toward meeting the needs of human beings and our ecosystems and committed to the UN-2030 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 (10). Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, posited that ‘pushing ourselves beyond the planet’s boundaries,’ the SDGs ‘are maybe the biggest decision in history…a much more complex agenda, which requires humans to reconnect with their planet (11).
In sharp contrast, the G20, the group of 19 major economies and the European Union, at their 2016 and 2017 summits in China and Germany, respectively, seem to have largely ignored key aspects of the 2030 Agenda – especially in areas related to ecology and human rights – and focused primarily on the economy, demonstrating a strong ‘bias toward business’(12). In a summary report, Jens Martens, executive director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF), noted that many of the plans for action developed in preparation for the July 2017 G20 Summit – by the Employment Working Group, the Framework for Growth Working Group, the Health Working Group and 9 others – ‘played hardly any role in the political talks at the Summit itself and in media reports.’ G20 main concerns were ‘ subordinated to the primacy of economic growth and the creation of investor-friendly framework conditions.’ The Executive Director’s observation that the assumption ‘what is good for the economy is good for society and the environment just won’t work’ is likely shared by many. As one example, some may recall a World Economic Forum study of 103 countries in 2016 which found that a majority ‘saw their inclusive development index scores decline over the past five years, ’ attesting to ‘the difficulty of translating economic growth into broad social progress (13). It may be telling that ‘Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10% increased by just $65, while the incomes of the richest 1% grew by $11,800 – 182 times as much (14).
Closely associated with these inequalities and inequities is the environment on which we depend for sustenance. The planet’s fragilities have increasingly and rightly been the subject of concern or pleas by global thought and spiritual leaders – Professor Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough, Pope Francis. Based on hard evidence, Marco Lambertini, director general of World Wildlife Fund International (WWF), concluded in the Living Planet 2015 (15) that the status quo is unsustainable- destroying ‘the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth.’ He challenged global leaders to address three fundamental questions: ‘What kind of future are we heading toward? What kind of future do we want? ‘ and ‘Can we justify eroding our natural capital and allocating nature’s resources so inequitably?’ In response the authors of the seminal paper on human well-being and social sustainability (1) would likely counter that these questions demand ‘a significant paradigm shift , away from conventional growth, competition and personal gain, and towards shared wealth, well-being and happiness’ to enable ‘the kinds of joint decision-making and collaboration needed to solve the world’s problems.’
Since economic markets and profits still seem to be the key measures of societal progress, evidenced most recently at the G20 Summit, perhaps – and at the very least – business leaders and governments might reflect on their own place in the general scheme of things. An important step might be to consider a possible alternative to traditional Western style capitalism – a concept known as conscious capitalism (CC) (16,2). CC recognises the importance of businesses to operate with a higher purpose beyond immediate profits – underpinned by a values-driven culture focusing on sustainability (17, 2). The shift from a reliance on short term GDP income/consumerism metrics to ones that espouse people and planet well-being and growing relationships is likely the most difficult but also the most critical to ensuring that human societies, the biosphere and ecosystems function in harmony.
How society moves forward toward this new paradigm or worldview necessitates a steep upward climb, but not doing so could have disastrous consequences. There is growing support for the UNESCO notion that the transformation to ‘bring shared values to life’ and ‘cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it’ (18) must begin in the early lives of children and be reinforced throughout their lives and learning experiences into adulthood for effective participation in civil society. Awareness of both the SDGs and the One Health approach are vital elements of such curriculum threads and have been explored extensively by the One Health Education Task Force (19) consisting of members from the One Health Commission (20) and the One Health Initiative (21) with a view to implementing pilot projects across developing and economically more advanced nations.
Complementing these developments is a proposed consortium project involving eleven global partners prompted by an InterAction Council (IAC) (22) Collaborative Framework for Action (23) and underpinned by a unique Dublin Charter for One Health (24), both of which grew out of an annual IAC conference in Dublin, Ireland. The main intent of the project, Civil Society Action on One Health and Well-Being for the Planet, is for partner organisation to work closely with community-based Civil Society Organisations in a number of sub-Saharan nations to help increase their direct involvement in intergovernmental policy and practice related to poverty reduction and social protection strategies with potential international scale-up in subsequent phases. Evolving policies and strategies informed by the SDGs and One Health through lifelong learning, the overarching aim of the project is to help support CSOs to build well-functioning and empowered societies that place collaboration over division, sustainability over short term gains and well-being, prosperity and peace over self-destruction.
- Rogers D.S. et al. A vision for human-well being: Transition to social sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4 (1). Available from: http://works.bepress.com/michail_fragkias/2/
- Lueddeke G Global population health and well-being in the 21st century: Toward new paradigms, policy and practice. New York: Springer Publications; 2016.Available from: http://www.springerpub.com/global-population-health-and-well-being-in-the-21st-century-toward-new-paradigms-policy-and-practice.html.)
- World Bank. What climate change means for Africa, Asia and the Coastal Poor. Available from: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/06/19/what-climate-change-means-africa-asiacoastal-poor.
- O’Neill J. Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: final report and recommendations : the review on antimicrobial resistance. Available from: https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/160518_Final%20paper_with%20cover.pdf
- Ridley M. We will all reap rewards of roboticised farms. The Times, p.25; 18 September, 2017.
- World Economic Forum (WEF). Annual Report 2015-2016. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/reports/annual-report-2015-2016
- IBM Institute for Business Value/Oxford Economics. Adopting cognitive computing to unlock value for marketing and sales intelligent insights. Available from: https://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/thoughtleadership/cognitivemarketingsales/
- Lueddeke G et al. (2016). Preparing society to create the world we need through ‘One Health’ education. South Eastern European Journal of Public Health VI. Available from: http://www.seejph.com/index.php/seejph/article/view/122
- Stroud C. One Health: a ray of hope ( making One Health the default approach in academia, research, policy and government). Pan European Networks. Available from: http://www.paneuropeannetworks.com/science-technology/one-health-a-ray-of-hope/
- United Nations. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
- IISD SDG Knowledge Hub. GEF Event Examines SDGs and Planetary Boundaries. Available from: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/gef-event-examines-sdgs-and-planetary-boundaries/
- Global Policy Watch. The G20 and the 2030 Agenda Contradictions and conflicts at the Hamburg Summit. Available at: https://www.globalpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/GPW17_2017_09_21.pdf
- World Economic Forum. The Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017. Available from: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Forum_IncGrwth_2017.pdf
- The Guardian. World’s eight richest people have same wealth as poorest 50%. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-people-have-same-wealth-as-poorest-50
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Living Planet Report 2014. Available from: https://www.wwf.or.jp/activities/lib/lpr/WWF_LPR_2014.pdf
- Mackey J, Sisodia R. Conscious capitalism: Liberating the heroic spirit of business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing;2013.
- Schwartz T. Companies that practice “conscious capitalism” perform 10x better. Available from: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/04/companies-that-practice-conscious-capitalism-perform/
- UNESCO. Educating for a sustainable future. Available from: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/rio-20/educating-for-a-sustainable-future/
- One Health Commission. One Health Education Task Force. Available from: https://www.onehealthcommission.org/en/one_health_resources/one_health_education_task_force/
- One Health Commission. Linking animal, human and environmental health. Available from: https://www.onehealthcommission.org/
- One Health Initiative. About the One Health Initiative. Available from: http://www.onehealthinitiative.com/about.php
- Interaction Council. ‘InterAction Council Plenary Meeting concludes with Dublin Charter for One Health.’ Available from: http://www.interactioncouncil.org/
- InterAction Council. Dublin Charter for One Health. Available from: http://www.interactioncouncil.org/34th-annual-plenary-meeting-concludes-dublin-charter-one-health