Brain Health is Key to a Climate-Friendly Future

In this perspective, Agustín Ibáñez, Harris Eyre and Mohamed Salama explore the concept of brain capital, emphasizing the critical role of investing in brain and mental health to address climate change challenges and promote a sustainable future.

Older adult couple hiking in the mountains

A new paper in BMJ Mental Health, ‘Brain capital, ecological development and sustainable environments’, is a recent output from Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) experts focused on brain health, sustainability, and climate. The paper was led by Agustin Ibanez, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health and Director of the Latin American Brain Health Institute (BrainLat); and Harris Eyre, an Instructor at GBHI, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and author focused on advancing the field of brain capital.

Prioritizing Brain and Mental Health for Climate Action

The concept of brain capital highlights the necessity of investing in brain and mental health support, education, and cognitive development as a fundamental strategy for tackling climate change. Brain health impacts related to climate change—such as anxiety, stress, and trauma—can hinder sustainable decision-making and action. Therefore, prioritizing brain and mental health initiatives and fostering resilience are key to enhancing the adaptive capacity of individuals and societies facing the challenges posed by climate change.

Green brain capital places an emphasis on the brain to deliver a healthy and sustainable environment and, vice versa, on a green environment to promote and safeguard brain health. These points were also made in a recent Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy Research Paper led by Eyre in collaboration with others from GBHI: Ibanez, Walt Dawson, Brian Lawlor, Eoin Cotter, Ian Robertson, Francesca Farina, Laura Booi, and Mohamed Salama.

The environmental determinants of brain health are foundational to this model, as brain health is key to navigating the modern world and thriving. Key brain skills include green skills, creativity, adaptability, digital literacy, and ecological intelligence. Growing green brain capital will require transformations across hierarchical levels in social-ecological systems, ranging from individuals to sub-populations to entire societies.

A Holistic Approach to Brain Health and Sustainable Environments

Discussions around mental wellness and environmental sustainability have gained momentum. Understanding our brain capital is akin to recognizing mental wealth—our thoughts, creativity, and ability to adapt. Simultaneously, our environmental exposures—ranging from pollution to socialization—profoundly impact our brain health, particularly in vulnerable communities. The relationship is reciprocal.

But we also need to intertwine brain health with ecological consciousness. The green skills foster creativity to innovate sustainable solutions, develop ecological intelligence to understand the consequences of our behaviors, and enhance digital literacy to navigate the modern world responsibly, such as discerning credible information on climate change. Cities infused with nature, designed with 'neurourbanism' principles, promote mental well-being, improving cognitive function and providing a salve for stress-related conditions.

Promoting Green Brain Capital

Green brain capital is not a concept, but a call to action. It advocates for comprehensive education strategies, engaging the energetic curiosity of younger generations, and promoting a societal shift in awareness. It's about recognizing that brain health and sustainable living are holistic processes. By articulating our internal and external environments, we will go beyond surviving to thriving.

Mohamed Salama, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health and Professor at The American University of Cairo (AUC), recently presented on the green brain capital model and AUC-funded Delphi process at the Science Summit of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. These activities were also noted in a recent Lancet Neurology Editorial, ‘Sustainable development demands brain health’.

Salama’s AUC-led Delphi process will engage a range of Atlantic Fellows and GBHI community members in the coming years and aims to develop a Global Green Brain Capital Dashboard to educate and support policy strategists.

Salama and Eyre will also present at the upcoming COP28, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, November 30–December 12, 2023.