Living with Environmental Change II

The Living with Environmental Change module might be one of the broadest modules taught at the University and this particularly well-illustrated by the diversity of guest lecturers featured in this post. Sean Meaden is currently finishing his PhD with collaborator Britt Koskella (who moved to Berkely this summer) on interactions between plant pathogenic bacteria, their plant hosts and their viral parasites. He however also did a tour in Sierra Leone Last December at the height of the Ebola outbreak. In his lecture, he thus could talk about the theory behind disease biology but also about its grim reality on the ground. Although the epidemic is over, two new cases were confirmed in Guinea this week and a British nurse who seemed cured is currently back in hospital after the virus returned. The intranet site for the module has an rssfeed to Guardian stories relevant to the module and the continuous flow of ‘big’ news stories is a reminder of how important the issues covered by the module are. Below a picture by Katina Kraemer of a health worker in a field hospital. Note the puddles of bleach; good at killing the ebola virus but used in these quantities also a health hazard in itself.ebolaSean gave a fascinating insight into the workings of a field hospital during an outbreak and about the factors that contributed to its severity. This was followed by a class discussion on how to possibly prevent or mitigate future outbreaks (i.e. a vaccine that seems to work very well was actually available four years ago but was not trialled and mass-produced…). Also, Sean had a student volunteer demonstrate the difficulty of properly removing gloves laced with ‘ebola’ (glowstick fluid). In the Exeter session, Rebecca Lovell spoke about the positive effects that biodiversity could have on human health and well-being. ‘Salutogenic’ places have long been associated with well-being, from walled gardens in ancient Mesopotamia to green spaces in modern urban cities. However, why this is so is not very well understood. The opposite has even been argued, as negative correlations between biodiversity and well-being have also been found (‘the environmentalist’s paradox‘). The following figure by Barton and Grant illustrates the fact that there are many more effects on human health than just genetics or life-style. Although often much more subtle, the outer layers are probably quite important too:SOER-Fig_5-1-The-healt_fmtThe same figure was also used in the lecture by Mat White in Penryn on the effects of  weather and climate on human wellbeing. This exposed the geography and biology students to the field of psychology, which seemed to go down very well. A subjective (self-assessed) momentary measure of wellbeing (mood) can be given by the PANAS system (‘how are you feeling today?’) or by asking for life satisfaction (‘All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?’). It can be argued that the former measure is more correlated with weather (which also acts momentarily) and the latter with climate (which is also measured over long time-scales). Mat discussed a variety of studies investigating how (the different components of) weather and climate affect wellbeing. Interestingly, in the case of the UK, a warmer climate could actually potentially result in a net positive health effect, for instance by greater levels of outdoors activity. Both Rebecca and Mat used very nice illustrations by former ECEHH member (now at the BMJ) and collaborator Will Stahl-Timmins of which I will show one:salutogenMichiel

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