Climate Change, Children, and Science

The following was published in ISSA Today Magazine two years ago.  It is printed here so I can share one of the most important events that occurred on Earth Day 2017.

I worry about turning people off by even using the term ‘climate change’ as it has become so politicized in American society. But this article is not political. Medical science and climate science are overwhelmingly clear on the subject, and in recent years, several reports have been released specifically about the impact of climate change on children.

An article published in October 2015 on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website seems to sum up what most of these studies are finding. According to the article:

Pediatricians, children, and parents are seeing the impact of climate change every day. Worsening heat waves and severe weather events, changing allergy seasons and shifting infection patterns affect many children directly. It can be hard to make sense of it all, let alone know what to do about it.1

This article, along with recent studies published by such organizations as UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), have all come to the same conclusion:

Children, because they are smaller, have underdeveloped immune systems compared to adults, have minds and bodies that are still growing, and are simply too young to protect themselves are more susceptible to changes in our environment than adults. Just as climate change is beginning to show its negative footprint on vegetation, waterways, and animals large and small, it is negatively impacting our children.

The AAP article and other studies have offered examples of how this is happening. And we should note before exploring these examples that while climate change will likely impact children more seriously in underprivileged and underdeveloped areas of the world, most significantly on the African continent, children living in North America and other developed countries around the world are not immune to what is occurring.

Some examples of the coming changes might include the following:

Heat-related illnesses: As temperatures rise and heat waves become more severe and last longer, children playing outside will likely have more heat-related illnesses than before; this is especially true for young athletes such as football players who are at an “elevated risk” of illness according to the AAP report.

Outdoor air quality: Warmer temperatures can result in more smog and ground-level ozone in the air. This is not aqueous ozone, which is making headlines as an effective cleaning agent in the professional cleaning industry. Rather the ozone of concern is that which forms in the lower atmosphere that we breathe. It is formed naturally when sunlight strikes oxygen but also develops from vehicle exhaust, some manufacturing processes, and chemical reactions. This ozone stays close to the ground, and with prolonged and more severe heat it can reach higher concentrations that are unhealthy to breathe, especially for children.

Unusual illnesses: While it has not been officially confirmed, some public health officials believe there is a Zika virus/climate change connection. The World Health Organization reports that El Niño, moving across the Pacific Ocean, along with shifting temperature and rainfall patterns, has helped one Zika-transmitting mosquito – Aedes aegypti – survive longer and in more areas of the world where it has never traveled before.

More carriers of illness: Related to this, a just-released study suggests that due to climate change, there will be more mosquitos, including the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The study anticipates an increase of roughly 8 to 12 percent in the number of people and children exposed to these disease carriers; Australia, Europe, and North America are projected to see the largest increases.2

Extreme weather events: In addition to the risk of injury or death, unusual and unexpected weather events and disasters put children in greater danger of separation from parents or caregivers, which can have mental health consequences.

Food and water scarcity: Some of the most serious droughts, along with floods and rising sea levels, have a climate change connection. These most devastating events impact food production and water availability, which make food prices increase and affect sanitation and water quality, affecting all of us but especially the most vulnerable population segment: children.

To address all these issues we need science. And we need to trust science. Historically, science has made America one of great leaders and one of the most advanced countries in the world. We need to continue on this path.

Photo Credit: The New York Times