By Molly Rauch
In 2050, my three kids will be about the age that I am now. Maybe they’ll have busy jobs and families; maybe I’ll get to spend time with grandchildren. But in moments of raw honesty, I am also aware that my kids will be adjusting to a different world — a world made uncomfortable, unjust, and unhealthy ways — by climate change.
Why am I thinking about 2050?
That is the date by which countries will have to reduce their climate pollution, according to an agreement that will be finalized at the UN climate talks in Paris in December.
So, for parents, 2050 looms large.
According to the WHO, climate change is already causing more than 150,000 deaths per year, every year. While climate change affects families and communities around the world, children in developing countries are harmed disproportionately. Eighty-eight percent of the burden of disease from climate change today is felt by children in developing countries.
By 2030, climate change will take 250,000 lives every year, according to the WHO.
Children’s little bodies are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of their developing organ systems, which are not yet fully formed; their respiratory rate, which is relatively faster than that of adults; and their behaviors — such as spending more time outside, and their reliance on others. Children feel the brunt of heat-related illness and death; they also suffer more from asthma, respiratory infections, and the stunted lung development caused by air pollution — and we will see increasing air pollution, in the form of soot from wildfires, a longer and more intense pollen season, and smog from our reliance on fossil fuels.
New research indicates that rising temperatures and periods of drought will lead to low birth weight in infants, which is a marker of overall health.
Insect-borne diseases like malaria, Dengue fever, and Lyme disease are predicted to increase in a warming world. So are the foodborne and waterborne diseases that cause diarrhea, one of the most common killers of children worldwide. These diseases are likely to spread as extreme weather events lead to infrastructure and sanitation breakdowns, and as heat increases fly populations. Food insecurity is a huge risk if climate pollution continues unabated — and children will suffer from malnutrition as food prices rise and crops fail.
Every year over 100 million young people are affected by disasters, according to the UN. The extreme weather caused by climate change will continue to harm millions of children annually.
Finally, children will experience emotional disorders from the overall chaos of climate change, including extreme weather, civil unrest, mass migrations, and an increasingly inhospitable planet.
Fossil fuel pollution is driving dangerous climate change. But that pollution itself is also threatening our children directly. Industrial pollution from coal plants, from oil refineries, from fracking, from trucks and cars, from cement plants, from smelters and mines — these activities are poisoning families and communities now, and laying the groundwork for a compromised planet in the future.
What that means for parents, is that addressing climate change is an incredible opportunity to give our children not only a safe world for their future, but a world that keeps them healthy today.
Our role as parents is to guard the health and safety of our children. It’s our moral obligation to take action to protect their health and future. That’s why we are joining together with other parents from around the world in the Our Kids’ Climate initiative.