Planetary Health

Planetary Health

CONNECT:  Humans and the planet.

KNOW: The health of one impacts the other. And humans put a heavy thumb on the scale.

UNDERSTAND: If we explore the links and the challenges, we can change course. We can find solutions that lead to health for humans, animals and the planet.

This is planetary health.

UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute, under the leadership of Director Jonathan Patz, is opening doors for Planetary Health research and scholarship that will point us toward a healthy future.

Humans have thrived. We live longer and better than ever, thanks to innovations in public health, agriculture and technology. Yet, as the population grows, as we consume more, long-term health and well-being are in jeopardy. The environment suffers, resources vanish, systems shut down.

This is the Anthropocene epoch: a time in which humans are changing the planet, and—because it is changed—the planet’s ability to sustain a growing human population is diminished.

We already feel the heat of record temperatures and fire, the sting of expanding mosquito populations, the saturation of too much rain. We see the disappearance of pollinators, the collapse of fisheries, the failure of crops. We breathe air so polluted you can barely see through it. “We mortgage the health of future generations to realize economic and development gains in the present,” the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health declared.

UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute is committed to finding the connections between human health and the health of the earth. Looking at what we are doing to the systems that make the planet habitable for human life. Looking at the health consequences of the changes we’ve created, from pollution to water scarcity to the loss of biodiversity to climate change. Looking for resilience and a new way forward.

A young girl carries her seedling to where it will be planted.


The application period for 2020-2021 Planetary Health Graduate Scholarships is closed.

With the Planetary Health Graduate Scholarship program, the University of Wisconsin-Madison brings together graduate and professional students and their faculty advisors from across disciplines who study how the health of the planet and the health of humans are interdependent. Together, they will find solutions that benefit health for all, leading us toward resilience and a healthier, sustainable future.

Climate and health pioneer Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute and the John P. Holton Chair for Health and the Environment, leads the program. It’s funded with a gift from UW alumni Dave and Sarah Epstein, who are also members of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute Board of Visitors. It will be co-administered through GHI and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Learn more.

(Planetary Health Scholarship details) 



Planetary Health Scholars Cohort: Spring 2020

Jessica LeClair

School of Nursing

Jessica LeClair with advisor Susan Zahner, DrPH, RNR, FAAN, associate dean for faculty affairs and Vilas Disinguished Achievement Professor

Watch LeClair’s Planetary Health flash talk here.

Susan Zahner

LeClair, BSN, MPH, is a doctoral student and clinical faculty member with the School of Nursing, where she is integrating the concepts of planetary health and environmental health into academic  courses. She  holds an affiliate appointment with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. LeClair  has worked as a public health nurse for Public Health Madison and Dane County and as a community health nurse for the Ho-Chunk Nation. She co-chairs the Sustainable Madison Committee for the city and co-chairs the Global Nurses Climate Change Committee for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. Her research explores how to build the capacity of nurses to work in the context of planetary health with a focus on environmental justice.

Pearly Wong

College of Letters & Science

Pearly Wong with advisor Maria Lepowsky, Ph.D., professor, Anthropology

Watch Wong’s Planetary Health flash talk here.

Maria Lepowsky

Pearly Wong is a third year doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology and Environment and Resources. Her current research interest is in development, environment, sustainability and intersectionality, through a decolonizing lens. Wong’s dissertation examines changing discourses and practices of development and sustainability by community actors in Nepal in the context of rapid socio-ecological transformation, including climate change.

Wong is particularly interested in looking at development as experienced through the intersection of gender and caste in semi-rural Kathmandu Valley. She is also looks at how resources are mobilized with and for these discourses and practices. She will focus on how insights at her field site converge or diverge from the rhetoric of ‘sustainability’ prominent in the development field today.

Martin Ventura

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Martin Ventura with advisor Susan Paskewitz, Ph.D., M.A., chair, Entomology; director, Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector Borne Disease

Watch Ventura’s  Planetary Health flash talk here.

Susan Paskewitz

Ventura is a master’s student in Entomology exploring biodiversity and efficiency in systems for raising insects for human food and animal feed. He is a member of the Mission to Improve Global Health Through insects, MIGHTi,  research project. Ventura is dedicated to broadening the scope and scale of insect agriculture worldwide as a contribution toward addressing the complex problem of food insecurity. The principal aim of his laboratory research is to formulate low-cost insect feeds derived from common crop residues such as maize stover and straw that have been inoculated with edible fungus.

Jonathan Lala

College of Engineering

Jonathan Lala with advisor Paul Block, Ph.D., M.S., associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Watch Lala’s Planetary Health flash talk here.

Paul Block

Lala is a doctoral student in Civil Engineering. His research focuses on the intersection of climate, water and human development, particularly through the use of climate forecasts for informed management of water resources. Lala’s research has spanned three continents and ranges from natural disaster preparedness to agricultural planning and effective communication of risk. He plans to focus his Planetary Health Scholarship work  on using forecasts to ensure household food security and reduce poverty for agricultural stakeholders.

Ben Iuliano

Colleges of Letters & Science, Agricultural and Life Sciences

Ben Iuliano with advisor Claudio Gratton, Ph.D., professor, Entomology

Watch Iuliano’s Planetary Health flash talk here.

Claudio Gratton

Iuliano is a doctoral student in the Department of Integrative Biology and a master’s student in the Agroecology program, researching how to make agricultural landscapes healthier for people and the rest of nature. His interests lie at the intersection of insect conservation, sustainable agriculture and political ecology. He studies biological pest control by lady beetles in Southern Wisconsin, seeking to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of this important ecosystem service.

Ramin Ghamkhar

College of Engineering

Ramin Ghamkhar with advisor Andrea Hicks, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Watch Ghamkhar’s Planetary Health flash talk here.

Andrea Hicks

Ghamkhar is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering with a minor in Sustainability. His work focuses on the food-energy-water nexus and sustainability of food production systems. He uses the Life Cycle Assessment approach to evaluate the environmental impacts of different food production processes such as aquaponics. He is also compiling economic analysis and mapping techniques to incorporate fiscal and spatial parameters in the quantitative sustainability evaluations.


Planetary Health News

Several people are working with plants at the edge of a forested area.Global HealthFrom tick-born disease and indigenous food to diabetes and cervical cancer, Global Health Institute grants fund projects across campusUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison faculty, staff and graduate students plan to tackle challenges as diverse as indigenous philosophies for resilient food systems, cervical cancer screening, vitamins for children and tick-borne diseases with 25 new grants and awards from the UW-Madison Global Health Institute.Read more…

Global HealthStudy shows cats can contract, spread coronavirusIn a study published today (May 13, 2020) in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists in the U.S. and Japan report that in the laboratory, cats can readily become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus …Read more…

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