When you think about the doctors and nurses you see in your daily life — what we call clinical care — you may be surprised to learn that such care addresses only 15% of your health care needs.
The remaining 85% is determined by the quality of your water, food, housing and the air you breathe. The quality of your personal relationships also affects your health. We call these factors the social determinants of health.
As future physicians, we aim to break through the 15% that healthcare alone addresses. To ensure the wellbeing of our patients, we must advocate through a holistic lens, which extends to the protection of local environments and communities. Healthy people require healthy environments.
That is why we oppose changes to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These changes would eliminate important environmental safeguards and disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations. The changes would simultaneously silence their voices and endanger their lives.
NEPA requires that public opinion be sought for projects that affect local communities. This has empowered residents to fight back and weigh in when a proposed project might harm their quality of life. NEPA protects the democratic values at the foundation of this country.
President Trump and the supporters of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) claim the proposed changes to NEPA will not sacrifice safety, but will streamline development, allowing for quicker construction of highways, pipelines and other projects. However, construction delays typically result from money problems, project complexities and local politics, not NEPA’s safeguards.
Rapid development without sensible planning comes at a cost, as seen in South Florida. In 2002, 5,700 acres of limestone mining permits were issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Because of a poorly researched Environmental Impact Statement, contamination risks to local waterways were not identified, alternatives to prevent contamination were not executed, and carcinogen levels reached five times the safe limits in drinking water. Thanks to NEPA, the Corps had to spend more than $1 million to clean up the mess.
Under the revised law, citizens who want to report concerns will have to pay fees and solicit scientific citations to make a formal request of appeal. Since WRDA would shortchange the environmental review, scientific evidence relevant to the project may not be available. If passed, this provision will benefit corporations while silencing the voices and diminishing the health of our most vulnerable citizens.
Even with the protections afforded by NEPA, one report found that 76% of Americans living within three miles of the “12 Top Environmental Justice Offenders” were low-income people of color. By undermining NEPA, we are not only telling these communities that their health is dispensable, we are ignoring their suffering.
Instead of hastening the destruction of our planet, we should transition to energy systems based on clean, renewable energy, which lowers pollution and improves our health.
Development must take into consideration the potential impact on the environment and communities. By standing together in support of NEPA, we can reinforce the bonds that fortify our communities and protect the health of everyday citizens who truly make America great.
Miranda Rose Ricart and Samantha Maria Rodriguez attend the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University. They are in the Class of 2022
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.