“Keep it simple!” says the pediatrician advising parents about starting infant feeding, taming sibling rivalries, or addressing unwanted behaviors. Sometimes you can say more by speaking less, which is why I’ve always believed in the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” (See yesterday’s PediaBlog post.)
Recently, my mind has been wrapped around health issues being forced by climate change — especially the impacts affecting the health of children. (Climate change is being forced by global warming, which is being forced by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Said another way: greenhouse gases retain heat, so the planet warms, the climate changes, and health is impacted.) Finding ways to communicate complex science isn’t always easy, so I was pleased to come across an elegantly simple way of saying a lot about climate change without saying much at all.
From the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, here are five key ideas about climate change that can be explained in 10 words:
- Experts agree.
- It’s real.
- It’s us.
- It’s bad.
- There’s hope.
There’s an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists (and graduates with other science degrees) that climate change is real and happening right now. While the climate has changed many times over the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history (by contrast, weather changes all the time), it does so slowly over many tens-to-hundreds of thousands of years. From many different measurements, observations, and experiments, scientists tell us that the global warming happening today is unprecedented, never before seen in the 2.6 million years of this current (the planet’s fifth) global ice age. Humans have never lived for a moment when CO2 has been this high (400 ppm). Until now. And as we know, CO2 is driving global warming.
Despite what you might have heard from false experts and ill-informed politicians, climate change is no hoax. And we humans have our fingerprints all over it. When you add up all the factors that cause CO2 to increase to these levels to cause global warming, and then subtract all the factors that cause CO2 to decline, causing global cooling, it’s clear that warming wins — by far. The causes of the excess CO2 and other greenhouse gases are almost entirely anthropogenic — caused by mankind’s extraction and consumption of carbon-intensive (fossil) fuels. It’s not volcanos, it’s not cow farts, and it’s not the Sun. It’s us.
And it’s bad. It’s already hurting people around the world and in this country. Heat waves are more frequent and last longer. Air quality worsens as the atmosphere gets warmer, making asthmatics’ respiratory symptoms worse (8-9% of American children have asthma), heart attacks and strokes more prevalent, premature labor (and its associated risks to the newborn) more common, and cancer risks higher; plant pollens jump off the charts and allergy seasons start earlier and last longer. Extreme weather events cause major damage and destruction to places, and displacement and death to people, with greater frequency and intensity. The occurrence of infectious diseases rises as insect vectors multiply and spread out poleward — all of a sudden, mosquito-borne Zika is a scary thing and tick-borne Lyme disease affects more people in more places. Sources of drinking water and supplies of food are contaminated and spoiled, especially after coastal and inland flooding wipes out vital infrastructure. Wet areas get wetter and dry areas get drier, and the resulting floods and droughts impact farmers’ food yields. The mental health effects — anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — are all consequences of loss of life, property, and purpose, especially after extreme weather events. And don’t waste time wondering who the most vulnerable among us to experience adverse health outcomes of climate change might be, the answer is obvious: infants, children, and their mothers.
But this is important: There’s hope. But only if all of us act now. We’ll have more on what each of us can do to make a positive difference in the world we want to live in, tomorrow on The PediaBlog.