Any plan for the summer? Let's take sustainable development approaches - by Clive Needle - EuroHealthNet's Policy and Advocacy Director

30 July 2014

It’s that time of year again.  Those of us fortunate to be able to take a break from work disperse to wherever we choose to rest and connect with family, friends or just ourselves for some pleasant times. High Summer is often marked by advice in various media on which literary masterpieces we should take while we have time to read more than emails, whether a trendy novel to sport or a heavyweight tome to pose with, even if little more than the preface actually is read before eyelids droop in the heat. Be honest, how many of you non economists have really read all 600 plus pages of Thomas Piketty’s worthy best-selling dissection of global inequalities Capital in the Twenty First Century ? Shame on you! Maybe cheat and try the summary…

Instead, if you want to take some of the spirit of EuroHealthNet with you, you could do worse than find a copy of What has Nature done for us?- How money really does go on trees by Tony Juniper (Profile Books). Tony is a well-known green campaigner and activist and the subject is not brand new, but his clear explanation has not lost its relevance and freshness of perspectives on aspects of green economics. No, don’t nod off yet: the accessible pages unfold in global stories which unravel sometimes complex scientific theories with moving human tales, natural examples and compelling facts, a rare case of an important and enjoyable read.

EuroHealthNet has long taken a keen role in sustainable development approaches, not least through an innovative collaboration of economic, environment, social and health experts called SPREAD which carried out a study of that title funded by the EU research programme. We frequently use and advocate for many of its ideas and evidence which you can find here.

Since then we have collaborated with several initiatives with WHO Europe to help develop its health and environment guidance, ranging from work on climate change and vulnerable populations; participation in events such as the Parma Conference or the annual events of the Transport, Health and Environment pan European Programme (THE PEP);  and participating in a developing environmental economics network, all of which can be accessed here

We are committed to seek to link the social, environmental and economic agendas at EU levels through tackling health inequities. Therefore I turned to Chapter 10 of Juniper’s book titled ‘’A Natural Health Service’’ with particular interest. Sure enough, up front are the hard economic benefits spelt out: 12 million dollars from ten per cent more cycling in Copenhagen, low costs of maintaining green spaces helping wellbeing in the UK compared to high human and economic costs of mental illnesses, citing evidence from the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research and others.  The book details many more examples about wellbeing, illnesses and their causes throughout. It shows why we believe there is so much to be gained from positive, linked approaches to environmental health improvements, beyond sometimes narrow definitions within public health traditions, and why we feel the EU has much to do to fully play its part.

This book is not alone in its approach. I and my student daughter were energised in 2012 by a publication and launch in London of Ecological Public Health – reshaping the conditions for good health by two more experts I much admire, Professors Geof Rayner and Tim Lang ( published by Earthscan from Routledge). Packed with wisdom, it again dispels criticisms that the evidence is insufficient or abstract, solutions too difficult, ideas lacking. I revisit its depths frequently and commend them. Do let us know of other initiatives, good reading or sources of knowledge on these subjects as we hope to undertake more work and studies in these crucial fields for health promotion.

Whatever you do this summer, whether you work, rest or play, experience our warming climates or polluted cities, or walk our wonderful landscapes as I plan to do, I hope you enjoy happiness and good health, and refresh your body, mind and soul for the challenges ahead.