There is growing scientific and public recognition that human actions, directly and indirectly, have profoundly changed the Earth system, in a still accelerating process, increasingly called the “Anthropocene”. Planetary transformation, including of the atmosphere, climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, has enormous implications for human health, many of which are deeply disturbing, especially in low-income settings. A few health consequences of the Anthropocene have been partially recognized, including within environmental epidemiology, but their long-term consequences remain poorly understood and greatly under-rated. For example Syria could be a “sentinel” population, giving a glimpse to a much wider dystopian future. Health-Earth is a research network, co-founded in 2014, which seeks, with other groups, to catalyse a powerful curative response by the wider health community. This paper builds on a symposium presented by Health-Earth members at the 2015 conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. It reviews and synthesizes parts of the large literature relevant to the interaction between the changing Earth system and human health. It concludes that this topic should be prominent within future environmental epidemiology and public health. Created by our species, these challenges may be soluble, but solutions require far more understanding and resources than are currently being made available.
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