“As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”—Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address to the Nation, January 17, 1961
Political leaders have long invoked the grandchildren of tomorrow when speaking of the need to protect the environment. We are those grandchildren, and we are here now.
We have fearfully witnessed the political polarization of environmental issues—fundamental human issues that affect the health, livelihood, families, and dreams of all Americans. As our representatives decide on the future of environmental health protections, we must address the very real, but preventable, issues burdening communities in this country. These are stories of today:
Families lost everything when Superstorm Sandy decimated their homes in Queens, NY in 2012. When heavily damaged public transportation shut down and obstructed work commutes, they struggled to get back on their feet. Neighbors with homes still standing went months without power, and years later face chronic respiratory illness due to mold exposures from water damage. Coastal communities like these will struggle to recover for years and will experience more extreme weather events in the future due to climate change.
Health-conscious consumers strive to buy “safe” and “natural” soaps, cosmetics, and other products. They trust these products for their labels, but don’t realize that even “non-toxic” nail polishes still contain toxic or otherwise unstudied chemicals. They don’t suspect that their “BPA-Free” reusable water bottle now simply contains a different, but strikingly similar, ingredient toxic to reproductive health: BPS. And they don’t know that most of the receipts they touch daily are not free of BPA. The health of consumers, as well as their future children, depends on a strengthening of regulation of chemicals in cosmetics and consumer products.
Farmers’ livelihoods and trans-generational relationships with Mother Nature hinge on the quality of the land and the weather. Recently, unpredictable rain patterns have forced farmers to endure potential crop damages from droughts or floods in any given year. Changing temperature patterns have altered the growing season and accommodated new pathogens, insects, and weeds that harm crops and animals. Because of these environmental challenges, farmers struggle to maintain their farms’ viability, adopt sustainable agricultural practices, and ensure the food security of their customers.
Residents of many towns with aging infrastructures do not suspect lead contamination of their drinking water or the indoor buildup of harmful pollutants from local traffic. They do not realize that their children’s stomachaches, learning difficulties, and asthma attacks are related to a toxic home, a place expected to be safe and free of such hazards. Many parents now prepare for the possibility of irreversible cognitive impairment and chronic disease in their children.
Native American tribes and environmental justice advocates recently traveled to Standing Rock to show solidarity with fellow clean water protectors over the Dakota Access Pipeline. They peacefully protested the unjust disregard of indigenous people’s water quality and health in the name of oil—a fuel of the past, not the future. Many were appalled to watch scenes of abuse and protests that evoked histories, lifetimes earlier, of the violations of their ancestors’ rights to safe, uncontaminated water. Native American water protectors and their ancestors envisioned the country moving forward in history, not backward.
The environment shapes millions of lives all across America. As trivial party politics obstruct urgently needed action on environmental health, real people experience real consequences. Health is a human right, not a partisan issue.
Our future is tightly intertwined with the actions or inactions that the government takes on environmental public health. To our current political leaders, we ask you to not shy away from dialogue about our environmental challenges. We ask you to advocate for a governmental foundation of environmental health protection that can catalyze problem-solving on these rising health issues. We ask you to defend our present and our future as you prepare to pass the baton to us.
As future leaders, we promise to pick up that baton, and run. We will sprint towards the finish line, faster and stronger than ever before. We are fiercely and passionately learning the science and equipping ourselves with the necessary tools so that we can deliver on the promise of a healthy future for our generation and those to come. We will get involved, we will stay involved, and we will strive forward. Because there is no other option. We are the future, and we are here now.