Parents make the best activists.
I remember when my 10-year-old was just a baby. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., when I learned the heavy metal lead had been found in the DC water system at very high levels. I knew a lot about lead poisoning and its health effects on children, as I had worked for an environmental health policy organization in New York, interned for the New York City Department of Health, and have a master's degree in public health.
But I had never faced these issues from the other side -- as a parent. I never faced these issues with the health of my baby on the line. Suddenly I had so much at stake. I had to get involved. So I scoured the newspapers for information, searched the mommy Listserv, and talked about it with acquaintances at the playground. Soon I found myself at meetings with parents and community groups, making signs for demonstrations, and speaking at city council hearings.
I brought my baby girl with me and spoke from the heart. And I saw how important and powerful it was to speak with a parent's voice. Scientists, officials, engineers, and professors were all needed in addressing this issue, but it was parents who had the most relevant stake in what was happening. If we didn't get involved, who would advocate for our children's health?
We were the engines. Parents made change happen.
I've been thinking about this in the wake of the latest IPCC report about how climate change is going to have severe impacts on our health and well-being in the near future.
Here's why parents will fix the climate crisis:
- Children face the heaviest health burden from a warming world. Climate change is happening now, and it is hurting children far more than other age groups. In 2011, a team of researchers looked at global health data from the year 2000 and estimated that climate change was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths each year. These deaths were from the changing ecology of diseases like malaria and dengue, increases in diarrheal and respiratory diseases, extreme weather disasters, worsened poverty, food insecurity, and other causes. Of the more than 150,000 deaths attributable to climate change, these researchers estimated that 88 percent of them -- that's 132,000 - occurred in children.
- In a warming world, air pollution like ozone and particle pollution is likely to increase. Even mercury levels in fish are likely to increase. Children are the most vulnerable to breathing dirty air and ingesting heavy metals. They will suffer more than adults, and they need a strong voice to speak for them and protect them. That's our job, as moms and dads, to speak up for our children's health, and the health of other children who don't have a voice.
Here's why parents have a unique role in climate activism:
- We care about the future. Stopping climate change is about protecting the future. The worst effects of climate change may or may not be in our lifetimes. But in order to turn this ship around, we have to act as if the future is important. Who better than parents to do this? Our stake in the future couldn't be bigger.
- This is the perspective we need to bring to the table -- we need to shift the conversation away from arguments about whether today's extreme weather is caused by today's carbon levels, away from arguments about whether today's pollution regulations will harm today's economy, and toward what our world will look like in three, four, five decades.
Parents care about what our children's world will look like. Parents care about what our future grandchildren's world will look like. Parents make the best activists.