Extreme weather conditions linked to climate change have impacted the environment, economy, and health of communities throughout the world. Recently in the U.S. alone there has been flooding in Texas and Philadelphia, droughts in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, fires in Yellowstone National Park, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and heat waves throughout the Southeast. These disasters, and other climate change-related phenomena, result in direct and indirect impacts to human health. Children, estimated to carry 88% of the global burden of climate change-related disease, are disproportionately affected.
Children’s unique physiological and behavioral traits can place them at greater risk of harm and can increase the severity of harm imposed upon them from climate change. Moreover, children from low income communities and communities of color are at a greater risk of being negatively affected by heat waves, droughts, food insecurity, increased air and water pollutants, and other climate change related issues. The youngest of children also lack power to protect themselves from environmental hazards or to advocate for their protection.
October is Children’s Health Month, and the second Thursday of every October is with Children’s Environmental Health Day (CEH Day) which raises awareness of how environmental factors influence children’s health and calls on all members of society to take actions to protect children. This includes acting now to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing our personal carbon footprints as well as mobilizing to demand that bold policies be enacted at all levels of government.
Individual actions to reduce carbon footprints empower each of us to be a part of the solution, and can be an important part of mitigation. For example, we can reduce energy expenditure and greenhouse gas emissions by curbing our wasteful behaviors and increasing the energy efficiency of our homes, and we can more directly reduce carbon dioxide emissions by driving less.
Americans generate hundreds of tons of waste each year. Some of this is food, of which up to 40% purchased in the U.S. is not consumed. Each of us can take responsibility to only buy and portion the amount we will be able to eat, thereby significantly reducing our collective food waste. We can also work to reduce our purchasing and disposal of material goods and their packaging. When consumer products reach the end of their usefulness or desirability, we should re-use or recycle when possible. We can also cut energy use in our homes by sealing drafty doors and windows, replacing lightbulbs with LED lights, and adjusting the thermostat when we are out of the house. And when out and about, we should consider greening our commutes by walking biking, or using public transportation whenever possible, especially to frequented locations, like work. All of these actions save not only energy but also money.
Of course individuals cannot shoulder all climate change mitigation efforts. Political and institutional actions are critical to effect significant, systemic and enforceable progress. Thus one additional and very important individual action to take is to exercise your right to vote next month in the 2018 midterm election. Vote for candidates who have strong records on climate action or whose platforms indicate clear and strong action upon entering office. Share this post with others and encourage them to vote in support of children’s environmental health too. Children are our future—let’s ensure they have the best chance at a healthy life!