One million euros for research on the interfaces of the environment, human health and the economy

Nessling erikoishaku

The unpredictability of natural mechanisms has consequences for both human health and the economy. The Nessling Foundation granted a total sum of one million euros for three projects that study health care as part of solutions to the ecological crisis, the spread of infectious diseases in a changing environment, and the value and cost of water pollution.

Humans are not a separate part of nature but completely dependent on it. Despite this connection, the human-made economy in particular and human health are still often treated as phenomena detached from natural systems. We wanted to address this challenge with our special call in the autumn of 2020. We received a total of 57 applications for the two-phase special call, of which three projects received funding of € 300,000.

In the special call, we sought understanding and new solutions to the economic and health challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. Humankind consumes and modifies nature at an accelerating pace. During 2020, climate change and natural disasters plagued humanity in the form of extreme weather conditions and the pandemic. With the special call, we also wanted to bring the fundamental importance of nature for human well-being to public discussion. A total of one million euros had been reserved for the special call projects.

According to our expert evaluators, each of the selected projects is an excellent response to the call. The projects, in collaboration with researchers from various disciplines, seek answers to the burning questions of this time:

How can health care respond to the ecological crisis and participate in the ecological reconstruction?

What is traditionally seen as nature conservation is ultimately also about nurturing human health and well-being and therefore very essential for health care. This project examines the potential of health care to contribute to finding solutions to the planet’s ecological crisis.

In the project, led by Jaana Laisi, the researchers examine the need for new knowledge and changes in basic assumptions, concept and view of people and daily operations of healthcare professionals that must take place to solve the ecological crisis.

The project’s main goal is to build a holistic model of sustainable well-being, that recognises humans as a part of nature, and with the underlying assumption that sustainable well-being stems from diverse, vibrant ecosystems.

What factors affect the spreading of infectious diseases and outbreaks in a changing environment?

The environment changed by the ecological crisis has forced wildlife around the world to move closer to human habitation. Zoonotic viruses are transmitted from animals to humans, especially in areas where biodiversity is extensive and humans and animals live close together.

The project, led by Essi Korhonen, studies host-virus relationships, known and novel viruses and the early identification of potential epidemics in a changing climate and environment. Information on the spread of infectious diseases is passed on to authorities and specialists to support decision-making.

The project will be carried out in Taita Hills, Kenya. The cloud forests of Taita Hills represent high biodiversity. Yet, the environment is changing in these pristine forests. The fragmentation of the forests narrows the wildlife habitats and forces the animals closer to humans.

What are the costs of brownification of inland waters?

The use of forest resources will be intensified in the near future, as wood is increasingly used in bio-based products and as bioenergy to replace fossil fuels. However, the forestry practices affect the quality of water. Practices, such as logging and rehabilitation, cause brownification of water bodies, for example.

The project, led by Elina Peltomaa, examines the monetary value and costs to society caused by the peatland forestry practices on aquatic biodiversity, and the ecosystem services and greenhouse gas emissions of lakes.

The project helps to create new economically and ecologically sound and sustainable models for conserving and utilizing the ecosystem services provided by forests and inland waters. This way the overall impact of forestry, both locally and globally, will become more visible, which means that practitioners will increasingly have to consider the relationship and impact of their activities on water bodies and the ecosystem services they provide.

Congratulations to selected projects! We will be introducing each project on the Foundation’s blog during the year.