Professor Colin D. Butler

PhD, MSc (epidemiology), BMed, BMedSci(Hons), DTM&H, Dip(Epi)
Honorary Professor
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: 0428811675

Areas of expertise

  • Public Health And Health Services 1117
  • Epidemiology 111706
  • Other Environmental Sciences 0599

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

NGOs I have co-founded: BODHI Australia, BODHI (each 1989-present), Drs for the Environment Australia (2001 - founding board member) and 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).

Zayed Prize for Environment (2006) (runner up, shared, for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment),

Australian Population Association: Borrie Prize (2002)

Australasian Epidemiol Association student prize (1998)


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 November 2028.

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, plus about 50 indirectly relevant, of about 200 altogether, in addition to about 100 other pieces in journals, eg letters and book reviews.

In 2023 I was appointed Specialty Chief Editor for Planetary Health for Frontiers in Public Health

Edited Books:

"Climate Change and Global Health. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary effects" (CABI) (2014); 2nd edition in preparation (I am senior editor with co-editor Dr Kerryn Higgs). See

"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).

Available student projects

As an Honorary Professor I am currently not in a position to be the primary supervisor for any student, however I might be willing to advise students keen to reduce the risk to civilization from Limits to Growth, including climate change. I am particularly interested in the "tertiary" health effects of climate change, manifest through large-scale migration, conflict and famine.

Past student projects

Using Reproducible Research Pipelines to Help Disentangle Health Effects of Environmental Changes from Social Factors (Ivan Hanigan, PhD) (2016) (chair)

Climate Change, Health and Conflict (Devin Bowles, PhD) (2015) (chair)

Constructing the Social life of the Kangaroo: A Commodity Study (Michelle Young MPhil) (2017) (on panel)

Operational Research to Identify Amenable Barriers to Kala-Azar elimination in Bangladesh (Kazi Rahman, PhD) (2015) (on panel)

An Evaluation of Factors that Influence the Governance Context of Climate Change Adaptation and Health (Kathryn Bowen, PhD) (2013) (on panel)

The Democratic Road to Health For All: The Trade Union Movement as a Public Health Actor (Annie Caroll, PhD) (2012) (on panel)

Advancing and Resolving The Great Sustainability Debates (Michael H. Smith, PhD) (2006) (on panel)

Cognition, intelligence Tests and Lead; Components of the Environmental Burden of Disease (Bhaval Chandria, BPH (Hons)) (2012) (supervisor)




Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  18 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers