In just over a month, colleagues from all over the world will be gathering in Kunming, China for EcoHealth2012 - the 4th Biennial Conference of the International Association for Ecology & Health, which will run from October 15-18. Each of the previous Biennial conferences (Wisconsin, USA, 2008; Mérida, Mexico 2010; London, UK, 2010) have been landmark moments for the consolidation of the field of ecohealth, offering a distillation of innovations in ecohealth research, education and practice and a snapshot of the excellence, integration and impact that the field of ecohealth is increasingly well-known for. This October’s events are the culmination of impressive effort by our Conference Co-host Jianchu Xu and his team at the Kunming Institute of Botany, as well as an extensive team of people from around the world who have been contributing to the development of this event. Based on the conference program and list of plenary speakers, I’m sure that you will share in my growing anticipation of an exciting and productive conference.
Yet, although each conference has its own life and story, considering the amount of time, energy and resources that are invested, it seems important to see EcoHealth conferences as a point of reference within a continuum of past, present and future efforts – not least for a field as rapidly evolving as ecohealth. The development of this blog provides a space to provoke and reflect on such questions - including What do ecohealth conferences mean for you?
My brother once told me that unless I could summarise my message in a six-pack, that I wasn't being clear enough. So that is my challenges to us all…. a six-pack challenge!… That’s right, even shorter than a tweet, or a Haiku! What do ecohealth conferences mean for you? (in six words of less!) Here’s mine:
Ecohealth2012: history unfolding, diversity, emergence, resilience, challenges
Fortunately, this open-blog format also affords the luxury to ‘show my working’ and justify my six-pack response… as I will do below. But we’re also interested in your response to this challenge? Share your thoughts by adding to the comments to this response!
Ecohealth2012 offers for me a point of reference in a range of professional and personal milestones that have followed remarkably ‘biennial’ demarcations for the last 20 years! For me, EcoHealth2012 is:
- 20 years since I put in my application for medical electives in Israel and Edinburgh, partly focused on developing a nascent interest in future study linking environment and health;
- 18 years since I graduated as a Medical doctor (MBChB) in New Zealand and began my hunt for interdisciplinary graduate training that could link my interests in environment and health;
- 14 years since I completed my graduate studies in Human Ecology in Brussels (2008), and returned to New Zealand with a fellowship to work at the ‘Ecology & Health Research Centre’ at the University of Otago’s Wellington School of Medicine;
- 12 years since I attended my first conference explicitly addressing the links between Ecosystems and Health at the 2000 ‘Ecosystem Health’ conference in Brisbane Australia, where I met numerous colleagues I have been working and collaborating with since;
- a decade since a series of key events in 2002, including ‘Ecosystem Health’ conferences in USA and Australia and the Rio+10 meeting in South Africa. The ‘Healthy Ecosystems, Healthy People’ conference in Washington D.C. was host to foundational meetings and agreements to merge the journals Ecosystem Health, Global Change and Human Health and a proposed journal on Conservation Medicine. At this meeting I accepted the position as Managing Editor of the new journal, working with Bruce Wilcox, founding Editor-in-Chief, and a team of Co-Editors: Pierre Horwitz, John Howard, Jonathan Patz, David Waltner-Toews and Peter Daszak. Later in the year, the Rio+10 events in Johannesburg and the 2002 IndoPacific Ecosystem Health Conference in Western Australia prompted reflection on how the links between health, ecosystems and sustainability would unfold in the decade to come….
- 8 years since the 2004 launch of our new journal EcoHealth - with an editorial vision of EcoHealth as a “Transdisciplinary Imperative for a Sustainable Future”
- 6 years since our 1st biennial conference in Wisconsin Madison, and the launch of the International Association for Ecology & Health;
- 4 years since the Ecohealth Forum 2008 in Mérida, Mexico, and the first Biennial General Meeting of the International Association for Ecology & Health;
- 2 years since EcoHealth2010 in London, UK, following which the Board of the International Association for Ecology & Health confirmed my appointment of President of the Association;
Clearly these biennial markers are drawn from my own history and experience, but these biennial markers joins with many other pathways and lineages that will be converging toward EcoHealth2012.
- What is your scholarly and professional history to arriving at ecohealth conferences?
- Does it matter? I would argue Yes! Reflecting on the diverse histories of those engaged with ecohealth is a core strength of the field.
“Diversity”, “Emergence”, “Resilience”
These themes come directly from a recent EcoHealth Editorial where I positioned diversity, emergence and resilience as guides for the next generation of ecohealth research and practice. The concluding paragraph speaks directly to some of the opportunities provided by ecohealth conferences. Specifically:
“Ecohealth will continue to find both strength and tensions in how it navigates the diversity it represents and should not be surprised by particularly persistent wrinkles that are not easily ironed out—notably issues around redundancy and territory, and among the conceptual and methodological divides that limit our ability to bridge the social and ecological in relation to health. We are also challenged and enabled by the emergence that is the result of the converging interests alluded to above, crossing a rich array of disciplinary, sectoral, cultural boundaries. If our understanding of complexity has taught us anything, this emergence will follow attractors we may never have imagined and yield surprises, unusual allies and unexpectedly rich and challenging results. Ultimately, the field of ecohealth, whose conceptual scope overlaps with that of resilience, is also challenged to be resilient itself. The design and learning challenges required to demonstrate scholarly, organizational and social-ecological resilience are not minor, but we must recognize that this is a multigenerational process that requires humility and commitment to ongoing learning. The Association and its journal enthusiastically invite you to be engaged in that ongoing process.”
Finally, ecohealth conferences pose fundamental challenges regarding the role and structure of international Associations (and their activities) in the 21st century. Just as my Editorial highlighted the contemporary challenges faced by journals, our biennial conferences – with their intensive programming combined with Association activities, elections and awards – demand critical reflection on the concept and contributions of membership organizations, their conferences and their journals in 2012. It seems important to ask how we can best harness these activities and efforts to contribute to the espoused mission of the International Association for Ecology & Health to:
“strive for sustainable health of people, wildlife and ecosystems by promoting discovery, understanding and transdisciplinarity”.
Some of the biggest challenges for conferences in 2012 are the increasingly expensive barriers of space, time and distance –not to mention carbon footprint – that are required when we convene, and benefit from in-person exchange with our expanding and diverse international community. EcoHealth2012 seeks to respond to some of these challenges with a range of innovations that encourage engagement in our Association in a range of new ways. Watch this blog, our ecohealth.net website, and member communications for announcements in the countdown to EcoHealth, including:
- integration of Web-based and Distance-Engagement (WEB-ADE) activities into the EcoHealth2012 conference format including posting of key plenary conference sessions and options for offsite participation in selected symposia and workshops;
- preparation and discussion of an ‘EcoHealth2012 Statement’ profiling the role of the International Association for Ecology & Health as a space to continue and expand on the range of initiatives that are seeking to address the integration of health, ecology and sustainability concerns in 2012, including Rio+20 and related publications and activities;
- detailed announcements regarding the first IAEH regional conference, to be hosted in Abidjan October 1-5 2013.
Of course, a related challenge is responding to and harnessing new formats of communication and exchange, in order to better fulfill the ambitious mission and objectives of this Association. As a self-proclaimed slow-adopter of technology (and first-time blog contributor!) my hope is that Association members and ecohealth enthusiasts will utilize this blog as a dynamic space to address challenges and opportunities for the field of ecohealth before, during and after the EcoHealth 2012 conference.
Whether in 6 words or 1000, I look forward to reading your responses to the ‘six-pack challenge’ and/or your own contributions to this ecohealth blog…