As a Pediatrician, I am well-versed in providing guidance to families to keep their kids healthy. Cut back on sugary drinks. At least 1 hour of physical activity per day. Limit screen time. Brush your teeth. The more time I have been in practice, the more I have learned that these individual choices are not the only determinants of health. Children can follow these basic guidelines to develop healthy habits, but unless we implement climate solutions now, they will experience significant health repercussions from the rapidly changing climate.
My patients in South Carolina have already seen the devastating impacts of climate change. Patients without air conditioning during blistering heat waves. Families forced to evacuate during hurricanes only to return to homes that have been destroyed. Children with asthma attacks due to air pollution and worsening pollen. One-hundred and 500-hundred year floods that are occurring far more frequently. With all of this suffering, I have had moments of despair, especially when the national conversation seems to be ignoring the climate crisis that is right in front of us. But those are also the moments when I found opportunities to act.
Hope is possible and a different future can be our reality through advocacy and partnership with dedicated individuals. I became a South Carolina AAP Climate Advocate which introduced me to the amazing work that pediatricians are already doing across the country. This inspired me to found the South Carolina Health Professionals for Climate Action in June of this year to bring together other health professionals dedicated to addressing the climate crisis. Once I started being more vocal and visible with my advocacy, I was amazed at how easy it was to find a group of physicians who were ready to join me to work towards a healthy climate for our patients. All of the members of our leadership team are new to climate advocacy, but health professionals are trusted voices on climate change. Even though we are novices, we are using our voices, experiences and passion to fight for a better future. I still have moments of despair, but knowing that there are similar state, national and international groups working to protect the world, I know change is possible. However, these groups cannot do it alone. Pediatricians, parents, grandparents and anyone else who cares about the wellbeing of children need to take action on the climate crisis.
If you are interested in learning more about the South Carolina Health Professionals for Climate action, go to schealthclimate.org. For information about other state health advocacy groups, go to The Medical Consortium on Climate and Health website medsocietiesforclimatehealth.org.
Dr. Hayley Guilkey is a general pediatrician in South Carolina. She is a South Carolina AAP Climate Advocate and founder of South Carolina Health Professionals for Climate Action.
This blog is part of a series from pediatricians we will feature throughout October, Children’s Health Month.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.