Conservation News is highlighting how nature nurtures us — and why we must protect it — as world leaders step up efforts to conserve critical habitats. Here are a few examples of how nature supports human health.
Nature satisfies our most basic needs.
Nature provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
According to a recent study shared by OnzineArticles, more than two-thirds of the tropics’ population — approximately 2.7 billion people — rely directly on nature for at least one of their most basic needs.
The maps in the study show where people rely the most on natural resources, emphasizing the dangers that climate change and environmental destruction pose to human life.
Nature can aid in the prevention of future pandemics.
Disease outbreaks are fueled by environmental degradation, deforestation, and wildlife trafficking: 70% of newly emerging viral diseases have spread from animals to humans.
Humans are becoming more exposed to wild animals — and the diseases they may carry, such as Ebola and COVID-19 — as they encroach deeper into tropical forests.
A recent study co-authored by Conservation International experts outlined a game-changing plan to reduce the risk of future pandemics by 27% or more — with a 10-year investment that is 50 times less than the cost of coronavirus response efforts to date. How? By safeguarding the environment.
Nature is the “medicine cabinet” of the world.
Nature conservation can aid in the prevention of infectious disease outbreaks. But did you know that nature can also be used to treat illnesses? Many modern medications, such as aspirin, penicillin, morphine, and several chemotherapeutics, are derived from plants and fungi.
“When we protect tropical forests, we also protect ‘nature’s medicine cabinet,’ or the wildlife and plants that may hold the key to curing diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis,” said Dr. Neil Vora.
Marine life has inspired the design of medical technology in some cases, such as artificial shark skin that prevents bacterial growth when applied to hospital surfaces.
However, widespread biodiversity loss and deforestation may endanger wild medicine reserves, including remedies that have yet to be discovered.
Nature is beneficial to both mental and physical health.
Nature has mood-boosting properties, according to a growing body of research. Spending at least two hours per week in nature can help with depression, anxiety, and serotonin levels.
Immersion in nature is even considered a form of therapy in some cultures. For example, “forest bathing,” also known as “shinrin-yoku” in Japan, encourages people to immerse themselves in nature, allowing its sights, sounds and smells to wash over them.
Climate change can be mitigated by nature.
Climate change’s effects could render some places uninhabitable, displacing hundreds of millions of people worldwide by 2070, from severe heat waves to rising sea levels to extended droughts.
And, as the world’s leading medical journals recently warned, global warming is already considered “the greatest threat to global public health,” causing a variety of ailments ranging from cardiovascular and pulmonary illness to dermatological disease.
Fortunately, ecosystems like forests, peatlands, and oceans are constantly sucking climate-warming carbon from the atmosphere, absorbing and storing roughly half of our annual global emissions.