By: Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP
When pediatricians take care of children, we aren't just thinking about their health and safety now—we are thinking about their health and safety in the future, too.
When we talk with parents about
healthy diet and
exercise, we aren't just thinking about good growth and energy now, we are thinking about making sure that children grow into healthy adults. When we talk with parents about
tobacco exposure, we aren't just thinking about
avoiding asthma attacks, we are thinking about the risk of future lung cancer. When we talk with parents about helping their children with
homework, we aren't just thinking about passing first grade or getting into
college, we are thinking about their ability to earn a living wage when they grow up.
That's why pediatricians care about climate change, and why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued the policy statement entitled "Global Climate Change and Children's Health." Climate change not only affects the lives of children now, it has everything to do with their future.
Climate change is a reality. The earth's temperature is rising. Glaciers are shrinking. The sea level is rising. Weather has become more extreme, both
cold—as has rainfall and drought in different parts of the world. Scientists are clear that we are responsible for this change: the rise in greenhouse gases, mostly from our use of fossil fuels and from deforestation, has led to changes we are seeing. This isn't natural. We did this.
And it affects our children.
Here's How Climate Change Affects Our Children Now:
Children are more vulnerable to
heat waves, especially infants and athletes.
Extreme weather events, such as
wildfires, not only directly threaten the lives and safety of children, they put them at risk of mental health problems—and can also cause lasting effects when they destroy their communities and their schools.
Poor air quality from climate change can cause breathing problems, especially in
children with asthma.
Climate change has led to increases in infections such as
parasites, which are often more dangerous to children than adults.
In some parts of the world, climate change has led to less food—and
less healthy food.
If Climate Change Continues:
But if climate change continues, so will the effects on our children as they grow into adults. They will live in a world with:
Fewer species of plants and animals
Less land, as the seas rise
Mass migration, as people try to find a safe and healthy place to live
More instability, as people and governments argue over limited resources
What Everyone Can Do, Starting Today:
We don't want any of this for our children. Which is why we need to act
now. There's so much that each and every one of us can do, starting today:
reduce our energy consumption and waste—as individuals, families, communities and societies.
We can work to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas—and increase our use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
We can create and strengthen systems that can help keep us safe from the effects of climate change, such as
early warning systems for extreme weather, and ways to keep people safe during extreme weather and natural disasters.
We can find ways to strengthen our health care system to be ready to help not just in cases of extreme weather or natural disaster, but also to help with the
effects of extreme heat and poor air quality.
We can advocate for local, national and international policies that decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Let's work together to leave the world a better, healthier, safer place—and give our children a better, healthier, safer future.
About Dr. McCarthy:
Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Along with serving on the HealthyChildren.org Editorial Advisory Board, she writes about health and parenting for the Harvard Health Blog and Huffington Post.