Interview with Dr. Samuel S. Myers of Harvard University
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by Justine Hudock
Student Community Engagement
Knovva Academy

by Professor Samuel Myers, MD, MPH
Principle Research Scientist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Director, the Planetary Health Alliance

Samuel S. Myers is no veteran of the field of Planetary Health: He’s one of its founders. The broad study of human health impacts on Earth’s natural systems is such a (perhaps dishearteningly) novel concentration that Dr. Myers’s unsown terrain has only very recently been folded into that more compact header. The multi-certificated doctor — carrying with him a bachelor’s from Harvard College, an MD from Yale University School of Medicine, and an MPH from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — the scope of Dr. Myers’s areas of interests seems reassuringly as grand as those problems facing our world’s climate and the welfare of its people. 

We were honored to engage Dr. Myers as one of our keynote speakers at Knovva Academy’s most recent Model G20 Summit, Climate Change and the Future of Humanity, where he spoke with sense, reason, and pride about humankind’s adaptability, breathing new motivation into our international constituency of over 400 students. 

MG20 Program Director Yuxi He sat down with Dr. Myers for a post-Summit interview. 

“The students were very, very engaged. Actually, I hadn’t lectured to high school students before, so I wasn’t sure how accessible the material would be, but the attention they paid, and their absorption of the material, is remarkable. I was really struck by that. The kids asked so many excellent questions, across a huge range of different issues.”

Among other deep-laboratory topics, Dr. Myers discussed some of his areas of expertise with our Summit’s students in encouraging depth: from the quality of air, degraded by biomass burning that causes particulate pollution, to the health of our water bodies and their marine life, along the thread of global consequences of fisheries’ decline for human nutrition and health.

Going in, Dr. Myers knew that his introduction of these topics — however intuitively understandable — had to be broached to his young listeners from the bottom up: While his audience demonstrably had the passion to right the wrongs of human environmental error, nevertheless “… they’re still virtually getting introduced to a brand new field.” That field is the real-world discussion of structures too complex to be solved by simply banning industrial operation.

“What I thought [the students] found most stimulating was thinking about the connections between how human beings are changing our natural systems. Whether it’s the climate or biodiversity or land use change. These students will go forward thinking about the connections between those environmental changes and human health and well-being in a different way, and that’s really the core of the field of planetary health. 

“What are the implications for us and for our health now, and into the future of our transformation of the natural system? Hopefully they’ll understand that new field better, and be thinking about those connections. Whether it’s learning about health or learning about environmental science, they’ll all be thinking about how they’re connected to each other.”

With planetary health, Dr. Myers emphasized during the Summit, every skill set is valuable: “Whether you want to be an engineer, or work in the natural sciences, or be a technologist. Whether you’re thinking about governance or law and legal systems or politics, or you’re an artist and you’re thinking about how to represent a different relationship between people in the natural world: 

“All,” he believes, “of those different skills are relevant to our planet’s health.” All of us, Dr. Myers insists, must be working together to find a different way of living on Earth that protects our natural systems.

“The final domain for action is what I call finding your partners.” It is a theme that he drilled into our students: that these are not problems that we can fix through our own personal individual actions. “We need our communities coming together to do what communities do best: collaborate.
“It’s an exciting time to be just starting out in the world, and it will be more exciting if you find your sort of peers all across the world and come together to make the kind of world that you want to live in. Don’t get dispirited: take action.”

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