The One Health Approach is Key to Climate Justice

When I was in 6th grade, I suddenly became quite ill. Every movement was painful as I became too fatigued to take part in my typical schedule. It would take over a month before I got the diagnosis that I was positive for Lyme disease. By this point, the bacterium had already taken a destructive course in my body. I would find myself at the beginning of a journey of chronic health issues that continue to this day, eleven years later.

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can cause fever, fatigue, joint pain, and skin rash, as well as more serious joint and nervous system complications. It is transmitted through the bite of certain species of infected ticks which live on host animals like deer, rodents, and birds.

Lyme disease is just one of multiple diseases that is becoming more prevalent due to climate change. According to the EPA, the incidence of Lyme disease in the United States has nearly doubled since 1991. Ticks thrive in warm and humid climates. As regions become hotter and winters become shorter, ticks are becoming more active. The regions in which they frequent are expanding, with ticks being seen in regions they never have been before. Habitat and biodiversity loss have also increased the incidence of Lyme disease.

Because of drought, these agrochemicals accumulated on the soil posing serious health risk for surrounding communities and farm workers.

As animals lose their habitats, their interactions with humans increase, along with the transmission of disease. In rural Maryland where I am from, the history of predator extermination from early European settlers has led to deer overpopulation. Habitat loss in my own community is increasing every year, and the already overpopulated deer population have come into more and more contact with people, putting both deer and people at risk, especially for Lyme disease.

That is my relationship to One Health, a systemic approach to preventing diseases that move between people and animals. It is based on the idea that people, animals, and ecosystems are interdependent on one another; to enhance the health of one, the health of all must be balanced and improved. For example, the application of pesticides can harm the indigenous microorganisms of soil and affect the soil ecosystem, thus entering the food chain and affecting human health. Among other effects it impacts hormonal production, reduces immunity, reproduction, and potentially causes cancer. The One Health approach recognizes that the soil, animals, and humans in this example are all connected. Any effect on one has downstream effects on the others. Therefore, a sustainable solution means one that preserves the long-term well-being of all communities and the environment.

The relationship between people and the environment is becoming increasingly strained as climate change and other environmental disasters harm and destroy communities. Reflecting this strain, currently, the climate justice movement is people-centered as climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities around the world. However, to find sustainable solutions, the One Health framework should be used. Solutions cannot just be environmental conservation programming that excludes communities or community development programming that does not recognize how the environment affects people. Everything is interdependent on one another. Therefore, the climate justice movement must also reflect these relationships. Change will only be seen when we understand and address how the environment affects our communities, and how our communities affect the environment.

The One Health framework could help lead to a more sustainable and just future.

Suzanna Schofield – RCC National Environment Leadership Fellow – Wellesley College

RCC Fellow Suzanna Schofield is a senior at Wellesley College, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Peace and Justice Studies with concentrations in water conservation, sustainable community development, and public health. In addition to the RCC, her efforts include involvement and leadership in EnAct, the environmental student organization at Wellesley, Wellesley Climate Coalition, the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs, World H2O Hub, Inland Ocean Coalition and Amboseli Wildlife and Communities.