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VU Amsterdam puts Planetary Health on the agenda

6 October 2022
VU Amsterdam microbiologist Remco Kort organised a meeting at ARTIS Zoo last week to discuss Planetary Health, a social movement which analyses and addresses the effects of human actions on nature and human health. He and a number of VU Amsterdam colleagues are establishing a new, multidisciplinary honours programme to pass on the relevant knowledge to the next generation.

Kort organised the meeting on behalf of Planetary Health Hub Europe, a new network involving more than 72 organisations from 12 countries, including representatives of universities and the business community. The starting point of Planetary Health is that human well-being depends on the well-being of the earth. For example, climate change and environmental pollution contribute to the increase in diseases.

Connection between humans and nature
According to Kort, microorganisms play an indispensable role in our understanding of the core theme of Planetary Health: the connection between humans and nature. Understanding the presence and activity of bacteria in particular is becoming increasingly important in times of overpopulation and scarcity, as they play a crucial role in all nutrient cycles on Earth, whether it concerns nitrogen, carbon or phosphorus compounds.

“This is important not only for the ecosystems on our planet, but also for those in our bodies. Optimal bacterial metabolism in our gut is vital for good health. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that the decline in bacterial diversity in our natural environment, associated with our modern lifestyle in urban areas, is contributing to the current epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases,” Kort explains.

Multidisciplinary honours programme
Kort emphasises that a transdisciplinary approach is essential to make a difference: Planetary Health needs to be approached in collaboration with various disciplines. He has therefore joined forces with VU Amsterdam colleagues to establish a new honours programme, the ambition being to have all VU Amsterdam faculties represented in it. The honours programme will be launched in time for the next academic year.

Kort will work on this programme with Petra Verdonk (Amsterdam UMC, VUmc location), Hans Ossebaard (Faculty of Science) and Julia Schaumburg (School of Business and Economics). “To demonstrate how the health of human civilisation depends on the health of Earth's natural systems, it is important to connect elements of Planetary Health from different disciplines: from microbial ecology, ethics, climate psychology and food systems to human health, policy, communication and social justice,” says Kort.

Planetary Health Hub Europe
The hub, co-founded by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) and the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils Network (EEAC), was established to facilitate policy-making, funding opportunities and collaboration to achieve the Green Transition in Europe. More information can be found on the website of the Planetary Health Alliance.