Human health depends on the health of the planet and the health of the planet depends on education. When health is absent, knowledge cannot be revealed, art is not manifested, strength fights for nothing, wellness has no use and intelligence has no application.
—Herophilus of Cos (382-322 BC)
Science tells us that the first signs of our bipedal ancestors started showing up about 6 million years ago and the genus Homo (ours) came on the scene about 4 million years after that. Cut to almost a quarter of a million years before today, and you’ll find the first of our species, sapiens.
Yes, I’m telling you that from the time the first creature walked upright—the first tangible link to the legs you see when you look down—until the last time you checked your iPhone for your sweetheart’s latest message has been roughly 6 million years of evolution in the making.
And actually, that’s just the latest adaptation—that’s mind blowing in and of itself, right? That one branch of evolution took 250,000 years to create?—in reality, human beings form part of a 4.5 billion-year-old evolution process. The truth is, our story starts way before that brilliant primate realized that her hands could hold her food and taught her babies the new fad way to eat a banana.
We are intimately connected to nature, evolving with it, from it, apart of it, and in recent years, apart from it.
Human Health and the Health of the Planet
Goethe declared: “It is not just nature’s degradation, it is the degradation of our consciousness of nature. Nature must be healed; its illness is directly proportional to the degree that our consciousness of nature is infirm.”
And we happen to agree with him.
We were born of this planet, we evolved with this planet and now our thinking, feeling human selves are destroying our ability to thrive on this planet. Somehow in the evolution of humankind, we have learned to see the earth as merely material to exploit, not as a living organism—whether that’s because we’re increasing the global climate with a rapid escalation in air pollution and greenhouse gases or destroying habitats vital to the health of the ecosystem to plant food that we douse with chemicals that kill off the pollinators we need to help grow the flowers we cut for our kitchen tables, we’re only causing our own slow demise.
Ever more isolated from its habitat, humankind seeks to subdue nature, using technology which places not only its own health, but that of the entire biosphere, in jeopardy. Ultimately, diversity loss and toxic-substance buildup create a decrease in ecosystem health, with profound repercussions for human physiology.
More than ever we are seeing an increase in unnatural diseases—cancer, heart disease, mental illness etc—and what can we equate that to? It’s certainly not part of any evolutionary plan. The more we separate ourselves from our roots, our ancestral drive to swing through the trees, touch the earth, and eat mineral-rich plants growing wild in forest fields, the more illness and disease we see amongst our species (is anyone else reminded of the Wall-E movie? Bless that cute little robot with the appreciation for boot plants and a hope for humanity.)
What We Can Do
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you’re looking at it) we are the most curious creatures of evolution, which makes us inherently dependent on inertia. The path we’re on is destructive, and our inertia propels us forward at rapid speed down this path. But because of that same innate curiosity, we’re also capable of forging a new path.
Do you know that we’re one of the only species on our planet that actively teaches other members of our tribe? And certainly the only species that spends our lives discovering new ways of thriving and telling each other about it.
We know that the health of our planet is in jeopardy, that biodiversity is at an all-time low (and decreasing as we speak). We also know that unplugging from our devices and physically connecting with the earth increases our sense of wellbeing (it’s called Earthing, check it out).
We know that our bodies feel better when we eat food that comes from natural, mineral-rich soils without chemical input, and we know that medicine made from plants in the traditional way serves our bodies better over time.
So what can we do? We can teach it to our tribe.
We can seek out ways to promote the health of ourselves and of our planet—to rebuild what has been destroyed, using integrated educational systems that offer a science that cooperates with nature instead of confronting it. A science that offers enduring fertility to the earth, where human beings can develop harmoniously, healthily.
A science whose central endeavor is improving, not exploiting, the earth. A science, in short, that conforms to the salutogenic model.
The Salutogenic Model
We’ll start by explaining this theory.
What is the Salutogenic Model?
The salutogenic model of health is focused on health promotion. Differentiate this from the two pervasive theories of health: the curative medicine model, which treats disease after it’s found and the preventive model which see the potential for disease and takes action to stop it from happening.
The salutogenic model focuses on health. It sees the human body as part of a continuum of wellness, a fully integrated system that enables and allows people to have control over and improve their health. It doesn’t discount disease or see disease as a separate part of that continuum (viruses and bacterium are all a part of the living ecosystem too, after all) but it shifts the focus from “let’s fix what’s wrong” to “let’s make this better.”
Because of the difficulty to quantify, this model is not well known in today’s modern health climate.
How We Use this Health Model
I want you to think for a moment about all the places you were this week. Every interaction you had, every dog you petted on the sidewalk—did you see your favorite barista and ask him about his latest poetry slam? What about your work, are you feeling constrained there? Enlightened? Are you able to freely ask questions and make suggestions?
A main focus of this way of thinking is in coherence, how integrated we feel as part of the whole ecostructure we’re existing in. You had an effect on everything you interacted with this week and those things had an effect on you.
Further, this model focuses on health-giving actions. It doesn’t differentiate between somatic and psychosomatic structure because both are relevant for the health continuum we all live on. So that barista you remembered to ask about his poetry, it felt good when he smiled and told you that he got into a competition. That slice of happiness was health-promoting.
To use this model, we use those same ideals and scale up. We want to feel that we live in a coherent environment on a larger scale so we focus on educating our communities about health promotion, viewing the health of the Earth’s ecosystem as part of our own health—because it is.
We look at our little patch of green Earth as something that feeds our own rhythms and we see how we can fit our own selves into harmony with our environment. We remember that we evolved and continue to evolve with our planet and that we are all connected in a singular coherent timeline. We don’t fight with the nature around us, we add it to our list of friends to check in with and we remember that the health of our planet is the health of our selves.
We want to bring this way of thinking to our entire species, and we know it’s possible, but we need help. This is a community effort, are you with us?
How have your interactions with our planet made it a better, more sustainable place to thrive? Tell us in the comments.
ANTONOVSKY, A. The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion. HEALTH PROMOTION INTERNATIONAL, Volume 11 No. 1. Oxford Press 1996.