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Health from an environmental perspective: public policies and citizen mobilisation

Isabelle Renaudet, Aix Marseille Université-TELEMME-CNRS

The impact of the environmental crisis on health is a major challenge for our societies and has become an increasingly prominent public concern since the end of the 20th century. In an article published 21 November 2018 on the possible effects of one of the most significant outcomes of the environmental crisis, ‘climate chaos’, the French newspaper Le Monde identified health as one of the main areas that will be affected, alongside food, water, security, the economy and infrastructure. Based on a study (a review of 3,300 analyses of climate change conducted since 1980) published in the journal Nature Climate Change, this newspaper article detailed the associated ‘thematics’ in the domain of health. It showed that the major disruption that is forecast will impact every area of our lives. The thematics included personal wellbeing (increased risk of suicide, depression and other mental disorders), food-related consequences (malnutrition, famine, food poisoning) and a resurgence of vector-borne and epidemic diseases. Echoing the millenarian fears of the past, the impending disaster is even fuelling new nosological categories, such as climate anxiety, eco-anxiety and solastalgia (a term referring to psychological or existential distress linked to environmental changes).

Issue 19 of the journal Amnis proposes to address this connection between health and the environment. In addition to the fact that the recent fire at the Lubrizol chemical storage plant in Rouen on the night of 25–26 September 2019 confirms the importance of this topic (which was decided on four months ago), there are three good reasons why Amnis should examine the impact of the environmental crisis on health. First, tackling this subject gives the journal the opportunity to continue its reflection on the key political and social questions facing contemporary societies. Second, the subject lends itself particularly well to multidisciplinary interpretations, which Amnis has been committed to encouraging since its creation. Third, the principle of social responsibility in research, which has always inspired its various contributors, can be showcased with this subject. The aim will be to take an objective look at the issues associated with the impact of the environmental crisis on health within a context in which public discourse tends to blur the boundaries and delegitimise the types of action taken by some social actors.

The journal issue resulting from this call for papers will of course not be able to cover the whole range of research paths opened up from a correlation of these two variables (health and environment). We have therefore prioritised the research areas we would like the proposals to respond to. In terms of cultural area, we expect the proposals to focus on those areas cultivated by Amnis, in other words on European and American societies. Moreover, while climate change progresses according to its own rhythm and evolutions in the ecosystem often take place over a long period of time and while the boundaries of the Anthropocene can shift depending on the space or subject explored, the proposals must take into account the journal’s contemporary profile by working within its chosen chronological framework (19th–21st centuries). Outside the specific case of the 20th century, which serves as an emblematic laboratory of the environmental crisis (Mc Neil, 2000), particularly the period from the 1950s to the 1990s (Pfister, 2010), historiography has been enriched by studies that reveal how long this question has been under discussion, especially for the 19th century (Massard-Guilbaud, 2010 ; Le Roux, 2011). Equal attention will be given to articles shedding light on situations rooted in either of these two centuries or in the first decades of the twenty-first century.

To avoid too broad a thematic diversity, the reflection should fall within the scope of the following five areas :

1) The first area involves thinking specifically about the subject proposed for reflection. Possible avenues to explore : categories that can be used to help us understand the subject (environmental pathologies [Gaillé, 2018]) ; environmental health (Ecologie&Politique, 2019) ; ways of examining the link between health and the environment, particularly from an interdisciplinary perspective ; the societal implications of the topic for the human and social sciences, notably in terms of the light it can shed on past situations that may provide decision-making models to help us respond to present-day emergencies.

2) In terms of the relationships between societies and the ecosystems in which they evolve, attention will be given to proposals that examine the interactions between environmental phenomena and natural and biological risks. What factors/processes contribute to generating an environmental substrate that poses a threat to public health ? In what sense are viral and vector-borne epidemics (whose resurgence is of concern to health authorities) a pertinent vantage point from this perspective ?

3) Despite the fact the historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie was prompted to claim as far back as the late 1970s that ‘the main environmental problems today are more chemical than microbial’ (translated from French), the impact of pollution on health remains a key concern in the environmental crisis. This question could be addressed in relation to industrial activity, the use of pesticides, air quality, and so on.

4) In keeping with the journal’s social and cultural approach to politics, this issue will give special consideration to articles that examine the impact of the environmental crisis on health from a public policy perspective. The areas mentioned above will undoubtedly interconnect with this thematic. The ‘long history of quarantines’ (Zylberman, 2013) testifies to how long institutional actors have been implementing public health policies, which have been reinforced with the development of an international framework for action (Bourdelais, 2001 ; Chiffoleau, 2012) in response to the microbial unification of the world (Le Roy Ladurie, 1978). Similarly, research on the effects of industrial pollution has shown that contamination management has long been considered a ‘state matter’ (Massard-Guilbaud, 2010, translated from French). Given its political and social science focus, the journal will expect the question to be tackled in particular from the perspective of the greening of public policies from the end of the 20th century onwards (Marc Mormont, Natures Sciences Sociétés, 2013).

5) The journal’s commitment to the analysis of social movements and their dynamics (McCarthy and Zald, 1979), including their singularities and their interconnections across transatlantic space, means the question of citizen mobilisation will be a key focus in the forthcoming issue. Set within a notably Anglo-American historiographical tradition (Mauch, Stoltzfus, Weiner, 2006 ; Rootes, 200), which was illustrated in a new light within the context of the Franco dictatorship by Pablo Corral Broto in his PhD thesis on Aragon (2016), this question points to new mobilisation mechanisms, mainly implemented by the younger generations in response to the environmental crisis. What repertoires of action do these protest movements draw on ? What do they say about climate anxiety, the global threat of ‘microbial storms’ (Zylberman, 2013) and the everyday threat of air pollution ? This issue invites an exploration of these many research avenues.

Proposals for articles (30 lines) may be written in French, English or Spanish. They should be sent along with the author’s Curriculum Vitae by 20 January 2019 to the following address:

Accepted articles must be received by 30 June 2020. Following submission to the journal’s scientific committee and two external reviewers, the articles will be published on the journal’s website (http :/ in 2020.

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