Every child born today will be affected by climate change. How we respond will determine the world we live in tomorrow and will shape the health of children across the globe at every stage of their lives.
Climate change is a public health crisis that threatens children’s health and exacerbates health disparities. Children disproportionately bear the impacts of worsened air and water quality, extreme heat and weather events, food system insecurity, changing patterns of infectious disease, longer and more severe allergy seasons and mental health harms.
In addition, air pollution from burning fossil fuels has many consequences on children’s health, such as but not limited to causing and exacerbating chronic lung illness, affecting birth outcomes, including prematurity and low birth weight, and neurodevelopmental toxicity, including IQ loss, deficits in attention, learning disabilities and sleep disorders.
The Trump administration just announced its plan to gut Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass National Forest is home to some of the most incredible wildlife and communities that cannot be replaced. Alaska natives rely upon the lands and waters for culture, subsistence lifestyles and livelihoods as a matter of survival. The Tongass also provides vital habitat for eagles, bears, wolves, salmon and countless other species.
Gutting the Roadless Rule protections means that more than 9 million acres of irreplaceable old-growth temperate rainforest will soon be open to clearcut logging and other exploitation with irreversible ecological damage. This is devastating. The Roadless Rule is one of the most popular conservation measures of the last century. This news comes after the Trump Administration already rolled back regulations allowing oil and gas drilling in our national forests, dropped out of the Paris Climate Agreement, eased restrictions on activities like mining and drilling that had been restricted to protect endangered species, loosened regulations on toxic air pollution, weakened Obama-era fuel economy rules, dramatically downsized two national monuments so that those areas could be mined and drilled, dropped climate change from the list of national security threats and has shrunk the EPA as illustrated by their diminished prosecuting power (criminal prosecutions are at a 30 year low). Roadless areas stand as sentinels in the fight against climate change, and are some of our last great wild places. At a time when forests are burning all over the world, the clock is ticking to keep the carbon and wildlife-rich Tongass National Forest intact.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only about 10 years to slow the trajectory of climate change and to hold global warming below a threshold that will protect children’s health and preserve the health of our planet. Exceeding this threshold will result in significantly worse health, ecological, and economic harms. The urgency of climate action at this time cannot be overstated.
We must remember that climate solutions are child health solutions – clean energy, sustainable transportation, vibrant and inclusive urban planning, and sustainable food systems all have immediate child health benefits in the form of cleaner air, safe spaces for kids to walk and play, support for social cohesion and healthier food. These solutions should address the environmental and economic injustices that contribute to health inequities, including, for example, disparities in chronic disease burden and in COVID-19 outcomes.
Nothing and no one should be able to destroy the few forests this country has left. Our planet cannot afford profit-driven policies that devastate forests and other ecosystems. A vote for Biden will help to protect our children’s health and will prevent the Trump Administration from further besmirching our environment.
Dr. Pat Bruno is a pediatrician with Geisinger. He is the medical director for the Child Advocacy Center in Sunbury.