Greta Thunberg has been warning us. So has America’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye. Climate change is real and no joke. It’s responsible for some pretty freaky stuff. Some pregnant women are going into early labor because of climate change. Changes have also caused car-size wasp nests to pop up. Sound scary? You bet. Eco-anxiety is a real thing, causing some hopeful parents to reconsider how many children they want have.
If you’re concerned about climate change and its effects, you aren’t alone. We hear and read about climate change on a daily basis, with articles, memes, and videos flooding our social media feeds. Thousands of scientists are adamant that we need to sit up and pay attention. Climate change is a legitimate worry of many, but especially parents, because it’s putting the health of our children at risk.
There’s a lot of talk about climate change, but what does it really mean and how does it impact our kids? According to the World Health Organization, climate change “threatens the essential ingredients of good health — clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter — and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health.”
Yes, climate change is disrupting the quality and availability of our most basic needs. Yikes.
The statistics are grim. Between 2030 and 2050, there will be approximately 250,000 deaths due to climate change. Mainly, these deaths will result from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. You might blow these off if you live in a more developed and medically advanced country, but the reality is, we’re not out of the woods. The current pandemic has made us gravely aware of that.
Extreme heat, caused by ongoing, overall temperature increases, make cardiovascular and respiratory issues worse. This isn’t just an issue for the elderly. Because pollen and other airborne allergen levels rise in the heat, asthmatic patients—including children—are triggered. As a mom of two children with asthma, this is a terrifying reality.
Other climate change concerns include natural disasters, rainfall levels, and infection patterns. These can impact crop production, increase the spread of disease, cause mental health issues (due to forcibly moving from a disaster area), and water contamination.
Climate change isn’t just a physical health issue, I’m learning. The impact on physical health can create issues with emotional and mental health, too. Our children aren’t immune to these fears. My children often know far more than I think they do, and they’re always eavesdropping in on adult conversations. Furthermore, with readily available access to the internet, climate change is no secret. Our kids know that something is up, and it’s something serious.
Dr. Courtney Howard, a physician, professor, and the president of the Canadian Association of the Environment, told Scary Mommy that a range of climate change factors are impacting our children, including wildfires and tick-borne diseases. These have both made the news many times over the past several years, including wildfires in California and the scary truths about living with Lyme disease.
I admit, I didn’t know much about climate change outside of trying to make good choices because somehow, those are supposed to help save Mother Earth. We recycle and re-purpose as much as we can. We use cloth napkins and real dishes, instead of paper and plastic. We shop using reusable tote bags. Isn’t this enough? Are we not doing our part?
Dr. Howard offered some practical steps our families can take. First, she recommends we can decrease greenhouse gas emissions and improve our health by getting from point A and point B by foot, bike, or public transportation. She also recommends moving toward a more plant-based diet. When our electricity comes via clean energy sources like solar and wind, instead of coal-fired power which pollutes the air, we’re making a positive impact.
That’s not all. Most importantly, Dr. Howard says our votes matter. What we do in our day-to-day lives is valuable, but who we vote for is crucial to making more impactful changes. When leaders can influence the laws, we can drastically decrease the damaging outcomes of what’s currently being done, especially by companies, to pollute our air and water.
If you’re feeling grim, you aren’t alone. The more I dug into broadening my understanding of climate change, the more overwhelmed I felt. Are my kids totally screwed? Should I become one of those doomsday preppers, stocking up on canned food and medicine? Dr. Howard offered me some hope. She noted that change-making does work, and including our kids in the discussions gives us “a sense of companionship and empowerment.” Then she added, “Action feels better than anxiety.”
With the 2020 elections coming up in November, I feel more pressed than ever to make sure that those I vote for believe in climate change (you know, real science). And not just someone who believes that climate change is legit, but also understands its impact on us all, and especially our children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.
Parents have to look beyond the here and now. In the midst of our day-to-day busyness, we need to remember that tomorrow matters, too. Our children deserve to live long, healthy lives, free from the toxic and preventable effects of today’s poor choices.