I’ve tried to write today’s PediaBlog post many times over the past year. I’ve started drafts (even finished some) but I just didn’t think I came up with the right words to convey how critical the problem of global climate change is to pediatric health in the right way. In truth, I was afraid some of this blog’s readers might find the issue too political (it’s not) or too complicated (it’s not), or my words too preachy (admittedly, my biggest challenge!). When push came to shove, I allowed those fears to guide me into a less conflicted space, and those PediaBlog drafts sat unfinished and unpublished for a long time. It is precisely those same fears, however, that keep most of us from grasping the problem in the first place. To be honest, I would be remiss as a pediatrician (and member of the American Academy of Pediatric’s Council on Environmental Health), not to feature the current risks and projected future consequences of global warming and climate change on health — especially children’s health.
So putting my fears aside, I wrote a short story. “Camden Falls” is a metaphor for what’s happening to our ecosystem and planet: Changes happening slow enough to be almost imperceptible, yet fast enough to be changing the landscape of the world of three generations of Birdsongs living on the Manchee River — our world. The accelerating process of global warming and climate change has raised the level of concern as well as the level of the river, the velocity of the river’s flow, and the depth of the now-ferocious Camden Falls. The momentum of this ongoing process is pushing us towards a calamitous meeting with the Falls and very few technological options for salvation. Surely some will survive the journey over the edge. Who do you think they will be?
There is nothing political about the subject of climate change. The planet doesn’t care who you vote for and the atmosphere has no feelings for which person, business, or government is using it as a sewer. Earth was here long before we came along and it will be here long after we’re gone. Earth simply doesn’t care what we do to it; it only reacts to what we do to it in terms of chemistry and physics. But it is what happens biologically, as a consequence of changing chemical and physical properties, that makes most people acknowledge to their core how important this subject is.
There is nothing mysterious about what is (increased carbon dioxide emissions from modern human activities along with a decline in the capacity for the planet to absorb them) and what isn’t (solar cycles or Earth’s natural cycles) making the planet warmer at the rapid rate it is. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist — or any scientist — or even have a college degree to understand the science behind this issue. The multitude of scientific studies that support the reality of global warming and global climate change are quite accessible and not difficult to grasp for anyone with critical thinking skills. It simply takes some skill with Google search and some time to read and think. If you come away skeptical, then welcome to science! If you come away cynical and denying the problem, you need to re-read the literature. Really, it’s pretty interesting and it’s not that hard.
There is no controversy between those who agree that global climate change is happening and those who mock it as a “hoax.” (Similarly, there is no controversy regarding the efficacy and safety of vaccines given to children, even though, in both cases, some will make up their own “facts” to create a false one. That subject has been covered many times on this blog.) The number of human beings who accept the science of planetary warming and global climate change dwarfs the number of human beings who, considering the same scientific data, deny its existence. (By far. It isn’t even close.) And most of these people believe we have a very serious (existential, some might say) problem on our hands. (Anti-vaxxers — those who refuse to give any vaccines to their children — are also a very, very small, though still problematic, minority of parents.)
Unfortunately, these climate change deniers (and anti-vaxxers) seem to have access to the loudest public megaphones, enabling them to complicate an uncomplicated subject. Their ideas have been given legitimacy when none has been earned. As a result, the real issue (which is political, mysterious, and totally controversial) — what to do about it — never gets discussed in any serious way. And that is the discussion we need to be having. Can we slow down and stop global warming before the climate is changed catastrophically? Have we reached a tipping point where trying to stop this runaway train of global warming is futile? How do we mitigate the climate changes we’re already seeing now as well as the more severe ones we can expect in the future?
As a society, we need to stop being distracted. We need to focus now. We can (and we should) be aware of the economic and, more importantly, health dangers that lie ahead in regards to climate change. But we also can (and we should) be aware of the opportunities to improve our economy and our health that lie ahead for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren if we do something about climate change, starting now.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore the current and predicted future health consequences of global climate change.