Prof Colin Butler

Honorary Professor
College of Health & Medicine

My interest in global health precedes medical school, which I started in 1980. I spent 1985 mostly in tropical disease endemic countries, which consolidated my opinion that public health trumps individual medicine in tems of helping people, if only raw numbers are considered. While working mostly as a general practitioner I co-founded the NGOs BODHI and BODHI Australia, and also published a paper in the Lancet, warning that global health was heading to a precipice, fuelled by the convergence of discrimination, hubris and denial that limits to growth could impede civilizational progress.

ANU connection: continuous 1998-present; as a PhD student, different research positions, both employed and visiting, or Honorary. My current appointment is until 2023.

Other universities: UTAS (1990s), Deakin (2006-7); Univ Canberra (2012-2019) (Adjunct Prof 2016-2019), Flinders (Principal Research Fellow) (2017-20).

In 2014 I became the first health contributor to the IPCC (and 1st Australian contributor) to be arrested for civil disobedience over climate change; in this case for protesting Australian coal exports. I believe that climate change is the greatest moral issue of our time; yet it is only one of a suite of interacting threats to global public health; sometimes called "planetary boundaries"; also "Limits to Growth".

I have published about 50 papers and chapters directly relevant to limits to growth and health, as well as at least another 50 indirectly relevant, of over 160 altogether, in addition to about 90 other pieces in journals, eg letters and book reviews.

Edited Books:

Climate Change and Global Health (CABI) (2014); 2nd edition in preparation.

Health of People, Places and Planet: Reflections based on A.J. (Tony) McMichael's four decades of contribution to epidemiological understanding (ANU Press) (2015) (I was senior editor, co-editors Jane Dixon and Tony Capon).

NGO co-founding: BODHI, BODHI Aust (1989), Drs for the Envt (Aust) (2001), Health-Earth: (2014)

Major Grants: ARC Future Fellowship (2011-15).


Public Health Association of Australia: Tony McMichael award for public health, ecology and environment (2018).

French Environmental Health Association: One of a 100 "doctors for the planet" (2009).

Australian Population Association: Borrie Prize (2002)

Research interests

Future population health and the survival of civilisation in the context of diminishing resources and denial. However some hope exists due to new technologies and ways of human organisation.

Key words: Sustainability, eco-social interactions, environmental health, infectious diseases of poverty, ecology and health (especially the ecology of infectious diseases), discrimination, prejudice and the struggle for improved social justice, intergenerational ethics, limits to growth, climate change, conflict and its avoidance, food security, energy and the new industrial revolution, human nutrition, extreme weather events and extreme agricultural events, one health, ecohealth, planetary health, conflict, migration, famine, gain of function

  • Butler, C. D. 2012, Malnutrition. In: Juergensmeyer, M. & Anheier, H. K. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Global Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. pp 1095-1100.
  • Butler, C.D. & Soskolne, C.L. 2012, 'Ecosystems - Stable and Sustainable'. In: Gellman, M.D. & Turner, J.R. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer.
  • Butler, C.D. 2012, 'Population Trends and the Environment'. In: Friis, R. H. (ed.) Praeger Handbook of Environmental Health. Westport, Connecticut: Praegar. pp. 215-231.
  • Butler, C.D., Powles, J. & McMichael, A.J. 2012, Human Disease: Effects of Economic Development. In: Hillier, J. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Kovats, R.S. & Butler, C.D. 2012, Global health and the global environment: linking research and policy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 4, 44-50.
  • Butler, C.D. 2011. Life on Eaarth McKibben, B. (2010) Eaarth: making a life on a tough new planet. New York, Henry Holt and Co. (book review). EcoHealth, 8, 244-246.
  • Butler C.D. 2009, 'Without and within: science and the middle path'. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities 2:85-95.
  • Butler, C. D. 2008 'Sustainable health for all by the year 2100?' International Journal of Public Health, 53, 223-224.
  • Butler, C.D. & Friel, S. 2006 'Time to regenerate: ecosystems and health promotion'. PLoS Medicine, 3, e394.(Open access)
  • Butler, C. D. 2005 'Peering into the fog: ecologic change, human affairs and the future'. EcoHealth, 2, 17-21.
  • Butler, C.D. 2000, Inequality, global change and the sustainability of civilisation. Global Change and Human Health, 1, 156-172.