Fire / Feu



des systèmes
la vie et le
rôle de la

Les humains
dépendent de la
simultanée des
locaux et de
mondiale pour le
maintien de leur

plusieurs des
actuelles de
l’activité humaine,
telles la
la croissance de
la population et
le mauvais usage
de la technologie,
sont insoutenables
et elles ont des
effets prononcés
sur la santé

L’auteur décrit
également un
document de
travail (à l’intention
de l’Organisation
mondiale pour la
santé) auquel il a
collaboré et qui
examine les
"implications de
la dégradation
des systèmes
entretenant la vie
associée au
mondial sur les
humains et les
autres formes de
vie sur la terre."

Collapsing life-support
systems and the role of
public health

by Colin Soskolne
Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Public Health Sciences
Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta
July 2000


umans, like other forms of life on Earth, are dependent upon the capability both of local ecosystems and of the global ecosphere for maintaining health. However, in relatively recent times, humans, particularly in industrialized countries, have developed an erroneous perception of being separate from nature's processes.

(photo: World Health Organization)

Many different measurement techniques show that current global patterns of human activity (over-consumption, population growth and the inappropriate uses of technology) are unsustainable and are likely to have profound consequences for human health. Major changes in policies that govern society are to be sought if emerging trends in ecosystem degradation resulting from human activities are to be arrested. Rational changes in policy will require the availability of scientific information appropriate to measuring global changes.

A jointly-authored 74-page "Discussion Document" is accessible on the Web site of the World Health Organization (WHO) European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Division. The document's title is "Global Ecological Integrity and 'Sustainable Development': Cornerstones of Public Health" by Colin L. Soskolne and Roberto Bertollini. Preface, Executive Summary, Foreword and Table of Contents, as well as a PDF version for download, are available directly at this link.

The intent behind this Discussion Document is to extend the thinking embodied in previous reports warning about the implications for both human and other forms of life on earth should life-support systems associated with global change be degraded. Life-support systems of concern include fresh and ocean waters, fisheries, forests, climate, soils, air, as well as biodiversity. Current indications suggest that not only are certain life-support systems malfunctioning, but some are even collapsing.

The Discussion Document stems from a WHO (Rome Division) Workshop, December 3-4, 1998. It presents a summary of the Workshop discussion and subsequent exchanges of opinions among experts worldwide. The authors believe that global change has become an issue warranting public health involvement. The public health community needs to face the challenges presented by global change and equip itself with the necessary scientific and technical means to anticipate and, where possible, prevent human health consequences arising from degrading life-support systems. The document is neither intended to be conclusive nor to reflect a WHO position on these matters. Rather, it is a contribution to the discussion on the human health consequences of global change. It is provided for the scientific community at large as a basis for future thinking and planning in this area. Comments, suggestions and criticisms continue to be encouraged.

Where this document differs from its predecessors is in its framing of the issue and in its timing. The information upon which concerns are now based draws upon more systematic data and reflects longer-term trends. Hence, the concerns are more compelling. Furthermore, the political climate now may have become more receptive to new priorities, packaged differently, in order to have access to options that are conducive to a sustainable future. The combination of these circumstances means that the message contained in this document could actually trigger global actions where previous efforts, whether in the form of conference reports, books, agency reports or movies, did not.

This Discussion Document also differs from all prior reports in that it calls upon WHO to recognize the issue of global ecological integrity as one of its foci for future activities. It calls upon WHO to consider placing the issue squarely onto its agenda for health in the new millennium, working jointly with related United Nations agencies playing their respective full and integrated roles.

A follow-up Workshop is anticipated (probably in late Spring of 2001) to subject the content of this Discussion Document to a broader range of critique.

The concerns raised in this Discussion Document are of great potential consequence. They are also of an unfamiliar type and scale. The challenge lies in communicating the message contained in this document in a credible way to the various constituencies by which it is intended to be taken seriously.