THE BLOG
10/04/2013 02:38 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Climate Change, Fracking, and Our Children's Health and Future

By Harriet Shugarman, executive director and founder of ClimateMama and a mentor and climate leader for the Climate Reality Project

I feel like I live in a parallel universe. The much-anticipated United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report came out on September 27th, with dire warnings about our current trajectory. Hundreds of scientists from around the world, thousands of peer-reviewed studies, and tens of thousands of report comments confirmed, with more than 95 percent certainty, that humanity is sending our planet into a spiral, hurtling us toward a future doomed by an irreparably damaged Earth that will likely be put into unimaginable chaos in OUR lifetimes.



Terrifying, yes, but a reality we need to acknowledge, face, and move forward to change. And here's how. The world's scientists have given us a small window of hope. We've been told that we can avert the worst consequences of runaway climate change if we immediately start reducing our use of fossil fuels and moving toward a renewable energy future.

Sadly, we've already used up close to 60 percent of the "Carbon Budget" that the IPCC report gives us, and are on target to blow through the remaining 40 percent within the next 25 years. My children will be in their late 30s then, possibly with children of their own.

Yet, less than a week later, the IPCC report already seems like old news, and much of what I hear friends discussing is the new TV season, what costumes our kids will be wearing for Halloween, and a general disappointment in our government over its inability to agree on a budget. Seems Congress missed the memo on the Carbon Budget, infinitely more important to our planet's future and our own--at least from where my children and I sit -- than the current playground antics of elected officials.

As things grind to a halt in Washington, places like Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Montana are rushing full-speed to promote "energy independence" with massive investments and expansion of the fossil fuel industry through "fracking" oil and gas reserves that less then 10 years ago were thought to be unrecoverable.

Now, through a potent mix of "proprietary chemicals and water" forced under high pressure into the ground, cracking the rock that holds them, this oil and gas is flowing. The boom is happening before any real regulation or understanding of the health, climate, economic, and environmental impacts of this form of energy extraction. And increasingly, rather than the "energy independence" argument that has been the mantra invoked for moving forward, commitments for our "homegrown U.S. gas" are being secured in India, China, and England, with a stop or two in the U.S. along the way.

What seems to have been forgotten in this mad gold rush of the 21st century is that natural gas IS a fossil fuel. So while with one hand, our government signed off on the IPCC report, fully understanding and accepting the technical peer-reviewed studies telling us we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, the other hand continues to give the green light and fast-track approval for natural gas expansion. A contradictory move to have it both ways.

But let's leave aside for a moment the climate impacts and dire consequences of natural gas. Let's look at the health impacts we're ALREADY seeing around the country from the chemicals and industry practices associated with fracking. It's important to note that more then 632 chemicals are used in fracking fluid, yet companies are exempt from informing us of which they're actually using due to "trade secrets." We know from scientists that children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures then adults, and that many of the known chemicals in fracking fluid are harmful and potentially deadly.

Currently observed health risks from fracking practices include:
  • Childhood leukemia, prenatal birth defects, low birth weights, stillbirths, spinal and nervous system damage (exposure to chemicals)
  • Respiratory infections, throat irritation, sinus problems, breathing difficulties, wheezing, bronchitis, asthma (exposure to ozone and particulate matter)
  • Loss of smell, rashes, memory problems, headaches, cancer, and other serious long-term health consequences, including cognitive and behavioral development problems and lifelong disabilities (exposure to known carcinogens, heavy metals and radioactive materials)
Parents who live near fracking wells and infrastructure are already watching in horror as their children suffer. Our children are getting sick, and the long-term consequences of exposure to fracking practices have yet to be determined. These reasons alone should be enough to convince us that we must do everything we can to demand a FULL STOP on fracking.

Now's the time to learn more about what's going on in your town or county. The expansion of infrastructure to support fracking -- processing, distribution, transportation, waste disposal and the building of pipelines, compressor stations, and liquefied natural gas facilities -- is happening all around us with little fanfare or information, but with a lot of money and political pressure. Expansion requires notification to communities, so be on the lookout! Once the billions of dollars invested in the fossil fuel industry take hold and we're committed to natural gas, we become culpable in the plot that puts our children, our country, and our planet on a path toward a future that scientists tell us will be unlivable. We can say no, but we need to say it now.

This isn't a Halloween story trying to scare you. These are the incredible facts about what is going on around us. Get involved, educate yourself, and let's stop the madness. Demand a renewable-energy future, for our children and for us.

A speaker, writer, and "mom" activist, Harriet travels the country educating and informing audiences about the realities of climate change and how people can feel empowered to take individual and collective action in their homes, businesses, and communities. Harriet spent most of her professional life working as an economist and policy analyst, including 13 years as a representative for the International Monetary Fund at the United Nations. She chairs numerous regional and local environmental committees and works regularly with national, state, and local organizations to lobby for legislative change on environmental issues. Harriet is the mother of two teens who are her inspiration and motivation for everything that she does!

 

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