TNC Science Brief

Incorporating Conservation Into Public Health Frameworks

A woman holds a young tree to be planted in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo © Nick Hall / TNC

Conservation efforts are key to human health, especially in developing nations. To help nations protect the most vulnerable workers, new research incorporates conservation considerations into occupational health and safety frameworks.

The Gist

Published recently in Current Environmental Health Reports, the study collates all current research on heat exposure and traumatic injuries. “Then we took two well-established public health frameworks and incorporated conservation and land use considerations,” says Yuta Masuda, a sustainable development and behavioral scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Occupational health practitioners use these frameworks — the Hierarchy of Controls Framework and the Socioecological Models Framework — to think about worker health and safety. But, until now, there hasn’t been explicit and direct incorporation of the various ways in which environmental degradation, especially deforestation, impacts the health of rural workers. The researchers also included ways that conservation actions, such as agroforestry or reforestation, could improve heat health of workers.

The Big Picture

Forests provide significant cooling services, providing shade and reducing the ambient air temperature through evaporative cooling. Those benefits are particularly critical for rural people in tropical countries, who often make a living from extended outdoor labor, or engage in subsistence farming. But these critical ecosystem services are being lost as deforestation increases worldwide.

Previous research from the team found that Indonesian villagers living in recently fragmented landscapes are more likely to report an increase in local temperatures, signaling a loss of the forest’s cooling services. This, in turn, could lead to increased heat stress or work-related injuries.

The Takeaway

Conservationists and climate activists are increasingly looking towards nature’s carbon storage capacity to help solve the climate crisis. But these natural climate solutions can also have significant benefits for improving health and occupational safety, particularly for workers in low-latitude, tropical nations.

“Many countries are making commitments to reduce deforestation or restore forested lands,” says Masuda. “Now that we understand the importance of cooling services more clearly, we need to work with the health sector to maximize efforts that provide these services for human health and well-being. Countries should recognize conservation’s role for both the climate mitigation and human health adaptation.”

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is an award-winning science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative research conducted by the Conservancy’s scientists in the Asia Pacific region. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine's favorite stories take her into pristine forests, desolate deserts, or far-flung islands to report on field research as it's happening. When not writing, you can find her traipsing after birds, attempting to fish, and exploring the wild places around her home in Brisbane, Australia. More from Justine

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