NASA Apollo 17, Dec 7, 1972, Blue Marble Photo

Global-physical eco-healing is seen in our concern for the physical health of nature and our understanding of human dependence on nature. As the Earth’s health goes, so goes human health.

For example, top American medical groups have encouraged members to get involved with EPA standards to improve human health. A peer-reviewed EPA study in 2011 found that the economic benefits of the Clean Air Act exceed the costs by 30 to 1, based on the connection of air pollution to childhood respiratory illnesses, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and premature deaths (U.S. EPA, 2011).

Many organizations are dedicated to large scale, planetary approaches in addressing global challenges, such as climate change, decline of biodiversity, and degradation of the environment. From their perspective, animals (which include humans) and plants are all part of the web of life—a complex, interconnected ecosystem upon which our mutual lives depend. As environmentalist David Suzuki stated, “The ecosystem is the fundamental capital on which all life is dependent” (Suzuki, 1990).

Imagery is often key to a fundamental shift in perspective. The famous Blue Marble photo, NASA’s Apollo 17 Mission’s first full image of the Earth, was taken Dec 7, 1972 and rapidly became an iconic image of planetary identity.


Photo of a girl hold a "Save the Earth" sign

Earth Day

On September 20, 1969—two months after the July 21 televised landing of humans on the Moon—U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson attended a Seattle environmental conference, where he called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, on Wednesday, April 22, 1970. Devastated by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara and inspired by student anti-Vietnam war protests, Senator Nelson pressed on with the idea without a big budget, adequate staff, or the modern ease of Internet communication. He and his chief organizer, David Nelson, wanted to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment. Miraculously, 20 million people celebrated the first Earth Day, and the environmental movement was launched in the USA.

In 2012, the Earth Day Network partnered with 22,000 organizations around the globe. Earth Day is celebrated in 192 nations by over 1 billion people. Nelson explains its extraordinary success: “Earth Day worked because of spontaneous response at the grass roots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself” (

Photo of a family placing items in a recycling bin.

Review.  Review your relationship with nature throughout your life. How has nature touched you? Note that many leaders in global health and wellbeing had powerful personal experiences with nature or direct insight into the role that environmental degradation plays in human health. In what ways has your relationship with nature inspired you to act on its behalf?

5 Things. List five ways you participate in the global community by caring for the Earth.

Health Assessment. Spend one hour familiarizing yourself with some of the Earth health assessment methods used by, Worldwatch Institute, Earth Justice, or other organizations of your choice.

Global Identity. Stanford University researchers asked public high-school students to complete surveys about their global identity and their sustainability-related attitudes and actions. Results showed that having a global identity was related to valuing environmental sustainability (Cornelius & Robinson, 2011).

Sustainability. The 1972 Stockholm UN meeting on environmental degradation appointed Gro Brundtland (a physician and former Prime Minister of Norway and president of the World Health Organization) head of a UN team reporting on global sustainability and health. This UN team published the Brundtland Report (later to be called the Brundtland Commission), which established a definition of sustainability that is still used today: “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  It also recognized that sustainability is based on an interacting triangle of economic, sociopolitical, and environmental issues. In 2001, cultural diversity was added as a fourth point with the explanation that “cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature” (Brundtland Report, 2001).

Natural Step Program. Physician Karl-Henrik Robèrt, one of Sweden’s leading cancer researchers, was so convinced of the connection between environmental problems and human health that he convinced Swedish scientists to create a consensus report. In 1991, he persuaded the nation’s head of state to endorse sending an education packet about the report to every household and school in Sweden. The Natural Step Program for sustainability was then created and applied throughout Sweden. Its sustainability framework is being used in 18 countries (

Worldwatch Institute. How is the health of an entire planet researched and assessed? Lester Brown, a farm-raised expert on global food supplies, founded the Worldwatch Institute in 1974 with a $500,000 grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was the first research facility devoted to the analysis of global environmental issues. They began publishing the annual “The State of the World Report” in 2003 and the “Vital Signs Report” in 2011. Together these reports focus on environmental health and sustainability progress. Lester Brown, who has been called “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” was granted a $250,000 “genius award” by the McArthur Foundation and went on to found The Earth Policy Institute, an organization dedicated to solutions for the environmental challenges we are facing (

Brown, L. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Brown, L.  (2011). World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Brown, L. (2012). Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Cornelius, M., Robinson, T. N. (2011). Global Identity and Environmental Sustainability-Related Attitudes and Actions. Sanford University. Retrieved January 28, 2013 from: identity manuscript final.pdf.

Earth Day Network.

Gips, T. (2010). Sustainability. Webpage and online module in collaboration with the Whole Systems Healing collaboration, Center for Spirituality and Healing, University of Minnesota. Available at:

The Natural Step.

Reinberg, S. (2011). Medical groups warn of climate change’s potential impact on health. US News, Feb 24. Retrieved February 6, 2013 from:

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (The Brundtland Report). Retrieved February 7, 2013 from:

Suzuki, D. (1990). Inventing the Future. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

U.S. EPA. The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020: Final Report. (March 2011).  Office of Air and Radiation.

World Health Organization. (2009). Protecting health from climate change: global research priorities. Retrieved January 28, 2013 from:


Earth Justice
The Earth Policy Institute
The Natural Step
One Health, UC Davis coes/ one-health/ index.aspx
Rainforest Action Network
Worldwatch Institute