“The beneficial effects of a good quality environment on human health and well-being are very considerable,” according to author Tony Juniper. “Exposure to green space and the natural environment has been shown to improve our well-being, and that is very valuable to society, including in an economic sense,” the internationally-acclaimed environmentalist told some 300 delegates this morning at the ENVIRON2013 conference at the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway.
Juniper is visiting Ireland to deliver the conference’s keynote lecture on ‘Nature for Health - Opportunities for People and the Environment’. Protecting our environment from pollution, abuse and mismanagement, and providing a good quality natural environment can do more to benefit our health and well-being than many other measures, he told the audience.
In his new book released earlier this month, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us – How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, he highlights the potential economic benefits of working with nature instead of simply seeing it as a supplier of resources and a place to dump waste. According to Tony Juniper, nature provides the world economy with more than €100 trillion worth of goods and “natural services” every year. He explained how the loss of these “natural services” can trigger huge economic costs.
Tony Juniper is a campaigner, writer, sustainability adviser and one of the world’s most influential environmentalists. From 2003 to 2008 he was the Director in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of Friends of the Earth and from 2001 to 2008 he was the Vice Chair of the 70-strong network of national organisations that comprise Friends of the Earth International. For more than 25 years he has worked for change toward a more sustainable society at local, national and international levels. Juniper presently works as a Special Adviser to the Prince of Wales Charities’ International Sustainability Unit, having previously worked (2008-2010) as a Special Advisor with the Prince’s Rainforests Project. He is a Senior Associate with the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership working as a member of the teaching faculty.
During his visit to NUI Galway he also launched the Centre for Health from Environment at the Ryan Institute, which was established to encourage research and teaching on the ways in which the environment benefits human health and well-being. The Centre brings together interdisciplinary researchers from areas of medicine, science, engineering, political science, geography, and other disciplines who are all working together to place sustaining health through environmental stewardship at the centre of public policy.
The Centre’s on-going and planned research intersects four thematic areas: Air Quality, Water Quality, Public Policy, and Food and Soil. “We benefit much more from clean air, pure water, good food and exercise and strong communities than we do from hospitals, medicines and clinics,” said Professor Martin Cormican, Director of the Centre for Health from Environment at the launch of the centre this morning. He stated that “In recent decades we have seen major improvements in outdoor air quality through control of emissions from coal and motor vehicles, improvements in indoor air quality through changes in cigarette smoking, improvements in water quality through control of discharges into rivers and lakes and we’ve witnessed important social changes that promote acceptance of diversity in communities. The Centre seeks to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the principle that if we take good care of the environment, than it takes good care of us.”
Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute added: “The launch of the new Centre for Health from Environment is timely. Nature and biodiversity have often been considered only relevant to biologists or ecologists, but a growing body of research makes clear that it is equally relevant to health-related disciplines.”
The ENVIRON 2013 conference continues until tomorrow, with a Career Expo as one of the highlights this afternoon. The ‘ENVIRON Career Expo and CV advice shop’ is open to all members of the public, and will feature representatives from NGOs, environmental consultancies, research institutes, and semi-state bodies who are all actively recruiting. The Career Expo takes place in the foyer of the Bailey Allen Hall on Thursday, 31 January, from 1-5pm.