Writing about climate change on The PediaBlog this week has been a challenging process for me. On one hand, I feel like I’ve done the research, considered varied perspectives, and studied the science enough to write credibly on the subject. On the other hand, it’s hard to express what I believe — that climate change represents a clear and present planetary emergency, today, at this moment — without sounding alarmist, or at least, pessimistic (which is not my nature).
I’ve written about climate change this week because I believe it may be… no… I believe it is the most important issue that we, as global citizens, as Americans, as parents, and as children face. The science is about as clear as it is going to be because human beings have never experienced the level of CO2 in the atmosphere we are measuring today; when it comes to this degree of warming from this amount of carbon dioxide, we have no direct, experiential benchmarks to refer to. We know what has caused that rise in CO2 (burning carbon-intensive fossil fuels, mostly), but we have to rely on scientific models (which turn out to be highly accurate) to be our crystal balls to make future climate predictions. We have our own eyes to watch glaciers and sea ice melt, island and coastal nations sink, and unprecedented (in human experience) storm surges, floods, droughts, and other climatic disasters as they happen, in real time, but if they are not happening directly to us — to our families, to our friends, to our communities — we are not likely to respond with action.
Most people I talk to understand the basic science underlying climate change. In actuality, very few Americans (and even fewer citizens of other countries) think that climate change is a hoax. Polls have shown the vast majority of Americans in agreement with the global scientific consensus that the planet is getting warmer, the climate is changing, and we are the reason why. The very small minority who don’t buy it are the squeaky wheels who troll Internet forums, write letters to the editor, profit from the sooty status quo, or have access to commercial and political pulpits that provide them the grease to keep them going.
So let’s tune out the noisy nonsense of the “hoax-sters” for a minute (you can find all their debunked-yet-still-repeated-myths here) and agree that the polls are correct and that people want their governments, industries, and markets to address this problem. The discussion that has taken place at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris these past two weeks, and the debate that’s happening out in the real world, revolves around one simple question: What do we do about climate change?
In November, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement making the case for pediatricians like myself to advocate for aggressive action to combat climate change:
Pediatricians have a long history of advocating for social policies that protect the health and welfare of children. Informed by an understanding of the threat that climate change poses to current and future children, pediatricians can play a valuable role in the societal response to this global challenge.
The gist of the AAP’s “Recommendations to Pediatricians and the Health Sector” centers on increasing awareness, education, anticipatory guidance, and political advocacy:
1. Work to promote medical educational opportunities regarding the effects of climate change on the environment and child health. Programs during medical school and residency, as well as continuing medical education, can inform pediatricians on current and anticipated effects.
2. Seek ways to reduce the carbon and environmental footprint of health facilities, including hospitals, medical offices, and transport services. Consider ways to increase energy efficiency, incorporate renewable energy sources, reduce waste, and promote public and active modes of transport (eg, walking, bicycling) during new construction or remodeling.
3. Use existing anticipatory guidance as a framework for discussing climate change with families. For example, encouraging active modes of transport or promoting consumption of plant-based proteins helps reduce carbon emissions and promotes health. Encourage family choices that reduce fuel consumption, such as utilization of public transportation or fuel-efficient vehicles. Serve as a personal role model for practices that promote environmental sustainability.
4. Educate children, families, and communities on emergency and disaster readiness…
5. Advocate for local, national, and international policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for adaptation strategies that improve preparedness for anticipated climate-associated effects. Educate elected officials on the risks climate change poses to child health; speak at public hearings; and provide expert testimony. Help educate the public through letters to the editor and community engagement.
6. Help to build a broader coalition across disciplines to address climate change at the local and national levels. Pediatricians are uniquely positioned to advocate for sustainable electricity-generating systems, accessible public and active transportation, plant-based food availability, and green spaces that ultimately affect child and family health. Collaborate with health departments and research facilities to enhance surveillance, analysis, and reporting of climate-sensitive health effects and to strengthen disaster preparedness.
The AAP also has specific “Recommendations to Government”:
1. Promote energy efficiency and renewable energy production at the federal, state, and local levels while decreasing incentives for continued production and consumption of carbon-intensive fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.
2. Fund research, surveillance, reporting, and tracking of climate-associated health effects. Invest in prudent and vital preparations for public health care systems, anticipating climate change effects.
3. Support education and public awareness of the threats from climate change for public and children’s health now and in the future.
4. Develop essential adaptation strategies and assist state and local governments, public health agencies, and health professionals in implementation of these strategies. The specific needs of children should be addressed in disaster preparedness and response.
5. Include the health sector in national and international policy-making meetings that address the threats of climate change.
6. Fund public transportation systems and support urban planning designs that incorporate walkability, open space, green building design, reduced dependence on automobile transit, and climate change resilience.
So how is the United States doing on finding solutions to climate change? Better than you might think. Tomorrow on The PediaBlog, we’ll consider whether what we are doing right now is enough to keep global temperatures below 2 ºC (3.8 ºF.) — the point above which, climate models predict, really bad things hit the proverbial fan — or whether what we are doing is too little too late.