The warming world has dire implications for us all but it is especially dangerous for kids. They are
more susceptible to heat, infectious diseases, air pollution, and food
insecurity. They are forced to reckon with the realization that adults are destroying their future by failing to do what they must to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies show that children are disproportionately affected by climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change related diarrheal illness will kill 48,000 children younger than 15 by 2030 and nutritional deficiencies are expected to kill 95,000 children in the same time frame. Children are also at greater risk of sickness and death from extreme heat, droughts and air pollution.
Kids are demanding climate action because they have the most to lose. Children like Greta Thunberg are enjoining the fight
against climate change because she realizes that climate change threatens her very survival. In a COP24 meeting with UN secretary general, António Guterres, Greta, said: “What I hope we achieve at this conference is that we realize that we are facing an existential threat. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. First we have to realize this and then as fast as possible do something to stop the emissions and try to save what we can save.”
In a tragic twist of fate those that have done the least to cause the climate crisis will be the ones to suffer from the worst impacts. Future generations will pay the price for our inaction and children will bear the brunt of that cost. The financial toll could exceed $600 trillion and hundreds of millions may die from air pollution, heat, drought, and flooding. Many of these casualties will be children.
Research reveals that kids are the first to feel the effects of extreme weather and its after effects. They are more likely to be adversely impacted by storms, floods, drought and wildfires. Sea level rise, storm surges, extreme rainfall and flooding all cause mold. Children’s developing immune systems make them especially vulnerable to mold and related infections. Climbing temperatures have also been tied to an increased incidence of waterborne diseases like bacterial infections that cause
According to a 2018 study called “Climate Change and Global Child Health,” children will account for almost 90 percent of those who contract climate related diseases. Children, especially young children under 5 are at increased risk of contracting and dying from diarrhea, malaria and nutritional deficiencies.
The study revealed that kids are already suffering from the impacts of climate impacts. This is the view of one of the study’s co-author, Dr. Kevin Chan, Chairman of Pediatrics at Memorial University and head of child health at Eastern Canada. As reported by CNN, Chan says we see evidence of children’s vulnerability to climate change in hurricanes, heat waves and pathogens like the Zika virus.
This view is shared by Dr. Mona Sarfaty, executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and director of the program on climate and health at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. “The danger to children is real and is already witnessed by physicians in the US,”
“Children suffer more heat impacts because they spend more time outside. They are more vulnerable to the heat-related increases in air pollution that come from fossil fuel exhaust, because
their lungs are still developing. Outdoor play also makes them more prey to insect vectors carrying dangerous infections,” she said. “The doctors in our societies are seeing these problems today, and they will undoubtedly get worse if we don’t decisively address climate change.”
We also know that air pollution causes decrements in cognitive performance and this can be particularly injurious for developing brains. The research suggests that air pollution may be linked to impaired learning and lower IQ.
Children are also more likely to experience psychological disturbances as a function of exposure to traumatic events. Displacement caused by climate change related cataclysms can also be very disruptive to children and in some cases it can damage mental health and lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Pediatric organizations are sounding the alarm and advocating for climate action. In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an updated policy statement on global climate change and children’s health in which they called for reductions in our carbon and environmental footprints. The National Children’s Health and Climate Leadership Forum joined ecoAmerica’s coalition to amplify the call for climate action.
If we do not act we will reverse all of the progress we have made reducing childhood mortality and morbidity in the last quarter century. As Sir David Attenborough stated recently, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of
much of the natural world is on the horizon”.
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