The population most at risk for climate change is the least able to stand up for itself: young children.
The era of climate change is already here: a heatwave in mid-June put more than 125 million Americans on extreme heat alert, when more than a millennium of dry conditions caused devastating wildfires and unprecedented flooding in Montana in the southwest.
Global warming poses a huge threat to early childhood development – so much so that last summer UNICEF declared the climate crisis a “child rights crisis”.
Yet little attention has been paid in the United States to this juncture of climate change and childhood. That’s why the think tank Capita and the Aspen Institute are teaming up to launch the first national Early Years Climate Action Task Force.
The climate movement can advance its goals centering on young children and their parents.
Climate change is already having a lasting impact on children’s health, growth and development. Extreme weather events, longer and more intense heat waves, and climate-related displacements can be increasingly major sources of toxic stress, which can alter the development of a child’s brain architecture in a way that can “impair memory, function, and decision” American Psychological Or according to the APA.
Climate change also threatens the well-being of children in other ways, such as increasing air pollution and the spread of new (or recurrent) diseases. The damage is not limited to children’s bodies: climate change-enhanced weather destroys their physical care environments such as homes, playgrounds, children’s clinics and child care programs. A recent survey shows that schools in many parts of the country are losing twice as many educational days in the scorching heat as they did a decade ago.
Related: Climate change threatens America’s isolated school infrastructure
Children under the age of 8 are uniquely at risk, as their developing bodies and brains take these injuries particularly hard. For example, young children breathe at a much higher rate than adolescents or adults, and because of their small size they breathe air near the ground, where pollution is concentrated. Similarly, young bodies are made up of a high percentage of water, and their metabolic rate is high, which means they can dehydrate much faster.
And, in terms of mental health, according to the APA, “after climate events, children generally show more severe distress than adults.” Eco-anxiety among adolescents is already on the rise, as today’s and tomorrow’s young children will struggle with the climate crisis much later than the older generation.
All of these effects can negatively affect academic performance, health, relationship formation, and other long-term life outcomes.
Related: Climate change is a health crisis. Are the doctors ready?
So where do we go from here?
Early childhood movements must combat climate change; The climate movement could advance its goals by focusing on young children and their parents – a largely unnecessary constituency. We can and should do more at this juncture, child care programs include clean and efficient air-conditioning and air-conditioning systems that run on renewable energy, through providing age-appropriate climate education for young children and their families, or establishing public policy (e.g. Wales’ Well-Being of Future Generations Act) which is responsible for the effects of climate change on children.
This is also where the Early Year Climate Action Task Force – made up of policymakers and parents, childhood and climate movement leaders, educators and pediatricians – can make a potential difference. Its responsibility is to recommend a specific action plan in the middle of next year that can be implemented and adapted by the early-year sector, the climate sector and the nation as a whole.
Inspired by the catalytic work of the K12 Climate Action Commission in Aspen, a series of listening sessions will be held with task force content-area experts and those who have already experienced the major effects of climate change. They will focus on communities disproportionately affected by climate change, including areas with high populations of indigenous, black, and / or Latino individuals; Rural and urban communities with high populations of low-income families; And geographic communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Ultimately, the impact of all efforts to improve childhood health, development, learning and well-being if we do not tackle climate change. As the futurist Alex Stephen puts it, “The planetary crisis is not a problem, it is an era.”
The time has come to consider the effects of these new norms on the nation’s youngest residents.
Elliott Haspel is an early childhood policy expert who served as a senior adviser to the early-year Climate Action Task Force.
Laura Shifter is a Senior Fellow of K12 Climate Action at the Aspen Institute.
Dr. has created this story about climate change and childhood Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.