Change characterizes so much of our lives, from birth to old age, from advancing science and technology, from changing social and political dynamics, and now from even changing climate and environment. This creates a big challenge for everyone, especially in how to deal with the negative aspects of all this change. It can be a challenge to take into consideration how our everyday actions, both positive and negative, are changing our global and local physical and social environments.
In 2012, I started publishing a newsletter called Global Health Weekly out of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. I continued this throughout my years in Edmonton and, in early 2015, during my transition to Ryerson it became clear to me that what has been and is happening to our physical environments all over the world, either due to climate change, deforestation, pollution or any of various other planetary harms, is all intimately linked to health, both of we humans and all other forms of life on earth. Changes to the landscape cannot be separated from global health, where we pay special attention to inequalities, inequities, denial of human rights and to poor and marginalized populations. With this in mind, I set about widening the scope of “global health” to include the actual health of the planet itself. I called it ecological wellness, a term I learned from Ryerson colleagues.
When I moved to Ryerson in the latter half of January 2015, I hadn’t yet committed to reviving the Global Health Weekly in this new community. I had been chewing on the term “planetary health,” a term I learned from an earlier editorial in The Lancet, and was reflecting on the success of the Global Health Weekly at the U of A. My mind was aware of the connection between the Global Health Weekly and this new “planetary health” term, and I realized that Global Health Weekly had evolved. On March 12 of this year 2015, I then published the first issue of the Planetary Health Weekly. Together with Research Assistant Anna Oda, and now Abinethaa Paramasivam and Angeline Sahayanathan (all students at Ryerson) we have been putting this newsletter out every Thursday ever since.
Planetary Health Weekly grew from my love of reading news and the desire to be connected to a diverse, ever-growing set of digital and print media. Every week, I collect a set of diverse stories that describe the strengths and weaknesses of people and organizations around the world, the impacts of their contributions to human development both good and bad and we put them together in an easily readable form to inform our growing list of subscribers, now well over 900; and after being inspired by the authors of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report (dealing with First Nations/Aboriginal issues and positing the analysis of cultural genocide) we now include, each week, information about the health of Aboriginal Peoples.
We are now not only continuing to evolve the Weekly into a more branded and useful tool of knowledge dissemination, but also now a student organization and movement has sprung from it. Using the Weekly as a base and inspiration and together with a small group of Ryerson students and staff, we launched the Ryerson Planetary Health Commission in August, 2015. This is a student-led, student-operated organization, whereby we (with me as a Faculty Advisor) engage and provide opportunities to Ryerson students, faculty and friends to gain knowledge and get further engaged in these urgent issues of global health and ecological wellness.
Continually being motivated by the lack of knowledge and concern for these global issues among students and others I encounter, I motor forward with my new colleagues and pass onto them this inspiration to communicate information and inspire action by example and advising them on challenges involved in running a student-based organization. We engage students and others, and create “commissioners” who get engaged in leadership related to local and global actions to affect themselves and others in the quest of working towards a healthier world, for all life on it and in it.
Please join with us, in whatever capacity you can. We welcome you. Read and get involved to make a difference now and help create a sustainable world that will nurture life, not degrade it or take it away.
David Zakus, BSc, MES, MSc, PhD