On Earth Day we are reminded that, historically, the greatest improvements in life expectancy and quality of life have been due to advances in environmental public health. As medical students, we feel that the protection of our environment remains crucial today.
In recent years, the Floridan Aquifer, a major source of our fresh water, has been in danger of depletion and saltwater intrusion, conditions linked with sinkhole formation. Our water sources are under the constant threat of agricultural and industrial pollution. This threat will increase if oil companies’ attempts to curtail the Clean Water Act are successful and fracking is allowed near the Everglades.
Globally, climate change is a public health emergency that pollutes the air, contaminates water, threatens the food supply, and spreads infectious disease. We already see increasing emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths.
If we continue our current course, the resulting burden of disease will exceed our capacity for medical treatment in our lifetimes. The recent report by the United Nations confirms the link between climate change and burning of fossil fuels. If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut, the best scientific knowledge indicates catastrophic consequences for human health.
But environmental decline is not inevitable. History has shown us time and time again that people, when united, can stop the most terrible of threats. As individuals, we can increase our efforts to conserve water, recycle and reduce motor vehicle usage.
As a community, we urge all citizens to stand against fracking, coal and tar sands exports, and mining and drilling on public land. Let us work together to support candidates and policies that increase energy efficiency, promote renewable alternatives to fossil fuel, and protect our waterways from pollution.
This letter was also signed by Cindy Nguyen, Thanhnga Doan, Manjari Pedapudi and Camille Imbo. The writers are members of Student Physicians for Social Responsibility, University of South Florida College of Medicine.