”We want to see a change in action, not only on paper”

Photo: Ben White/Unsplash


News spreads quickly in our fast-paced global community. As students, we aim to raise awareness about a topic affecting us all and bring back hope. In a society aiming to achieve sustainable development and better health for all, students and youth increasingly are recognized as vital stakeholders and agents of change. Interest and engagement in global health are continuously increasing among students. In this event, we call for action to achieve a liveable future despite climate change. We need action at a policy level in all areas of society. Now.

Following the recent COP26, we need to keep up the momentum. By organizing a Global Health Night GHN, we start doing our part by raising awareness. We want to see a change in action and not only on paper. GHN provides a platform for students and experts across disciplines to discuss the intersectionalities of health. The theme for the latest edition, #GHN21 was “Technology: a force for good in planetary health?”. Experts were invited to introduce planetary health and the human – tech relationship followed by a panel discussion which focused on whether technology could be a force for good in improving planetary health.

What is planetary health?

Planetary health emphasizes the interaction between the health of humans, animals, and the environment. In research, it facilitates education and interdisciplinary collaborations while integrating indigenous knowledge with the hope of strengthening public policy. However, the field needs more worldwide presentation and engagement with original research, as the term is used mainly in commentaries. Addressing such challenges is a way to achieve “bridging the gap between academia and change-makers”. As it addresses multidimensional challenges, multisectoral leadership is needed as well as the inclusion of societal values into the framework. Planetary health is complex but necessary and urgent to achieve.

Technology plays a central role in modern life and the human – tech relationships have sparked changes in the environment. We can innovate and use technology better to make our footprint smaller. However, is trending to think of humans, technology and environment as separate entities when, in reality, are all part of a system. And this is the paradigm shift that must take place, system thinking must be adopted in order to holistically approach the mission of reducing carbon emissions. KTH Elina proposes being pactive, an approach in which humans are not separate from nature but part of a whole. Additionally, she says that the new paradigm might not be in place, but what is for sure is that it must include interconnectedness among species and the environment, integration of different knowledges which are equally important and relations between things rather than the things themselves.

Is technology a force for good in planetary health?

After each member of the diverse panel comprised of students and experts introduced themselves, the dynamic debate started by questioning whether we have enough technology or need more technology. As the discussion developed there was no clear consensus if there is enough technology or if we need more. A portion of the panelists argued that is not about the amount of technology itself but the lack of knowledge implementation, others were inclined towards the thought that the investments are not done in the right technologies and another group argued that the current socioeconomical systems do not allow sustainable technologies to grasp into the markets. Three domains of technology emerged from the debate: technological development, individual behavior, and policies.

Technological development must be done according to human and planetary needs based on the resources available. Environmentally friendly technologies can provide energy efficiency measures to halt the climate crisis, but these technologies alone will not save the world from the climate crisis. Over-dependence on new technologies may result in delaying the reduction of emissions, creating false tech promises, and re-examining climate change targets. Perhaps is not about creating new technologies but about implementing what we already know, and this has a lot to do with our behaviors rather than technologies. Food, for instance, how we produce and consume food is accountable for 1/3 of carbon negative impact. To shape these trends in industry, it needs to be costly to do the wrong thing, so emitting carbon dioxide needs to be very expensive because then it becomes an easier choice for the individual. Then for the companies it’ll become more expensive to invest in old technologies rather than shifting to the new way of producing goods. However, support systems must be in place to facilitate companies to blaze the trail assuming the largest initial risks and investments to democratize such progresses, like SSAB who produces green steel.

The individual values guide our actions, we need to steer them towards planetary needs. Individuals’ behavior creates trends in the markets generating demand that directly influences supply. Nevertheless, is not about putting all the responsibility on people but enabling and empowering them to make the right choices. Is about providing the knowledge, the resources, and nurturing those good values in society. And yes, this work can be done through policies to enable create conditions to make this happen. And that also means, that when you try to implement change there are some people that have more power, but most importantly, we don’t live in a world of automatize individuals but in a world full of large organizations and networks. In the end, consumer behavior is emergent from us as individuals making up a community. It starts from the individual, yes, but we should also stop segmenting how we come across as humans and start acting as a whole race.

A major issue in policymaking is the uneven representation where very powerful people control who is allowed to speak and is their perception of diversity taken into account. Achievement of Planetary Health Standards requires transdisciplinary approaches to bring societies, governments, and policies together with science and technology, capable of fostering transmission of innovative solutions in the form of protocols or technologies between and among public, policy makers and other affected interests. Innovative state policies may be more efficient when they unite balanced public support for research and development with policy mixes that provide incentives for the equal distribution and access to technology and digital services. It is pivotal to acknowledge that we are facing uneven access to technologies globally with vivid disparities between geography and societies. One of the best examples can be ongoing Covid-19 vaccine inequity. From manufacturing, supply, and distribution, to roll-out and monitoring, technologies have been crucial to the covid-19 vaccination drive. With pandemic escalating in LMICs, broad IP waiver, which extends to sharing all kinds of covid-19 technologies could address global vaccine apartheid and accelerate the end of the pandemic. In order to break the cycle, we need to be more integrative when it comes to representation and moving towards diversity as a platform to enable change and the outcomes can actually tackle the different domains of technology.

In conclusion, technology can be a force for good in planetary health if individual decisions are guided by planetary values, technological development is driven by human and environmental needs based on current resources and if planetary health related policies are created by representative groups. For decades we have had the knowledge, science, or technology to catalyze economic growth. However, the individualistic approach which measures this growth has led us to surpass the planet’s bio-productive capacity. In 1972, the first UN Conference on the Environment was held in Stockholm. Since then, we have seen little change in the discussion around the climate crisis, provision of technical solutions or the approach for necessary change. This reflects that it is not a lack of knowledge, science, or technology but the failure to communicate and act upon evidence to govern technology and economic growth with policies that value nature as an integral part of our community. We now need more than knowledge – we need cultural and social change driving implementation.

Next generation of decision-makers demand to achieve a healthy planet

How does one create and govern technology in moral accordance with the goals of planetary health? The answer to this question is complex and ever-evolving. However, the Global Health night speaker panel concluded on some essential steps to take for decision-makers to achieve planetary health for all:

  1. Diversity when decisions regarding the production and use of technology are made. Active effort must be made to incorporate marginalized voices and ideas in the technosphere. After all, diversity is only an asset, especially to innovation.
  2. Respecting Sovereignty: No technology should be produced or implemented at the expense of peoples’ physical and mental safety and wellbeing.
  3. Equality of Ownership & Access: Technology, particularly when life-saving, should be accessible to all who require it, regardless of their socio-economic status or geographical location.
  4. Robust mechanisms of accountability: Those with authority should be held accountable for their actions and decisions. Policymakers and legislators should introduce laws aligned with net-zero agreements that are addressable, effective, explicit, and open for scrutiny.

All of this is, of course, easier said than done. However, for good planetary health and a sustainable future for all, not the least the younger generation, we need to take on the challenge. We must raise our voice to speak for technology to be used, not as an instrument of inequality but as a tool for justice for the planet and all the beings that call it home.

Did you join Global Health Night 2021? Let us know in the comments below what inputs you took home with you from attending.

Author: SIGHT Student Organisations Network 

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