"Deep Ecology" and Population Health

In reaction to the hierarchical models of health that see man as a rational being who dominates nature, Deep Ecology views us as part of the earth, rather than apart and separate from it.  Systems Theory has emphasized the theme of emergence (the whole cannot be adequately explained by analyzing its parts), and has pointed out that each unit we may analyze (for example, each "population") is itself part of a larger system.  This arose partly in reaction to the dominance of a mechanistic view of the world that is seen in population health models that show boxes with arrows between them that imply separate components that influence one another.  In methodological terms, the shift away from this view is seen in the growing use of multilevel analyses. 

The Gaia Hypothesis extends the systems idea and applies it to the whole planet.  In the context of population health, we can distinguish the theme of the health of a population, beyond merely health in a population.  All of life on earth can be seen as whole that is more than the sum of its parts, this whole forms a huge super-life form called 'Gaia' (after the name for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth). 

Living systems have a tendency to keep themselves in balance and to adapt and evolve over time.  Scientists have found that the earth also has these tendencies, with feedback mechanisms to 'keep in balance' the temperature and oxygen levels of the atmosphere, just as our bodies maintain the temperature and oxygen levels in our arteries.  The Gaia hypothesis is stating that the earth is alive and that we are part of it -- something that many cultures have accepted for centuries, but which was rejected by the Cartesian approach.

"Deep Ecology is a holistic approach to facing world problems that brings together thinking, feeling, spirituality and action. It involves moving beyond the individualism of Western culture towards also seeing ourselves as part of the earth. This leads to a deeper connection with life, where ecology is not just seen as something 'out there', but something we are part of and have a role to play in."  (Chris Johnstone; see web link below)

Links

the UK Institute for Deep Ecology.   This page provides a clear introduction.  Other links to deep ecology; Deep Ecology home page.    Link to the Canadian International Development Research Centre's page on ecosystem approaches to human health

Session in the Web course on Epidemiology by John Last entitled "Fouling and Cleansing our Nest; Human-induced Ecological Determinants of Disease."  This provides an historical overview of the evolving relationship between environments and human health; it is quick, informative and entertaining.  Go Click on it!