Carolyn Raffensperger

Environmental integrity and climate stability are foundational to public health, and we need to address them as a public rather than private duty. Let’s reimagine a new idea of the government as a protector of our planet and our health, for without a healthy earth, a stable climate, and clean air and water, we cannot be healthy.

I wish I could say that I love Iowa, but the truth is that I am filled with great sorrow and grief for this place and how we have neglected it. It is our responsibility to tend the place where we live, but we have failed to do so here. Iowa is the most ecologically damaged state in the union. What used to be prairie and wetlands has been taken over by corn, soybeans and hogs. The damage we’ve done to the land comes right back to us, since public health is deeply intertwined with environmental health. Our planet is sick, and human health suffers because of it. To heal the land, to heal our bodies and to be able to say that we truly love Iowa, we must address climate change.

 

As an environmental lawyer and the executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, I am no stranger to issues of climate justice. My day-to-day work involves collaboration with Indigenous communities, who are disproportionately affected by climate change. I have provided legal assistance in solidarity with Standing Rock to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and have aided resistance efforts against other pipelines including Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3. 

 

Pipelines threaten indigenous groups’ access to clean air and water and perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels. Indigenous peoples have been living on this land for many generations without destroying the environment, yet they are most vulnerable to issues caused by our society’s irresponsible treatment of the land. We must act more responsibly to leave this earth in better shape than we got it, so that future generations of people, so that the beaver and white pelican, have a planet to thrive on. 

 

To start, we need to reevaluate the role of our government. Growing the economy at the expense of people and the environment is unacceptable. The government has a greater responsibility to prioritize public health and protect the common wealth--the oceans, rivers, forests and national parks that we share. In doing so, we should look to long term ecological solutions such as rewilding instead of technological ones that end up hurting other members of our ecosystems. Most importantly, the government must follow the precautionary principle, which instructs us to take seriously any likelihood of harm and act before issues like climate change worsen. 

 

Environmental integrity and climate stability are foundational to public health, and we need to address them as a public rather than private duty. Let’s reimagine a new idea of the government as a protector of our planet and our health, for without a healthy earth, a stable climate, and clean air and water, we cannot be healthy.

 

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