By Devon Murray
The climate crisis brings with it grave implications for the health and livelihoods of us all, especially our children, who are inherently more vulnerable.
According to the Children’s Climate Risk Index, published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, nearly every child on earth is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, such as heat waves, air pollution and water scarcity. Moreover, half of all children worldwide face these dangers while also lacking access to basic services like water, health care or education, putting them at greater risk.
Seham Elmrayed, a pediatric epidemiologist and instructor at AUC’s Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology, has conducted research on child development all over the world, from rural villages in Gambia to the bustling metropolis of Calgary — and everywhere in between, including Copenhagen, Libya and Egypt.
“Climate change has adverse health effects on children starting from before they are born,” said Elmrayed, “Almost everything taking place in society can impact how children grow, making them extremely sensitive to deviations and changes in their environment.”
Air pollution can disrupt development in the womb and lead to chronic lung conditions such as asthma. Heat waves prevent children from playing and exercising outside, which may increase child obesity. The kiddos who play outside regardless of the weather are more at risk of experiencing heat strokes and exposure to disease-carrying insects.
“Rising temperatures mean more than just heat waves,” Elmrayed stressed. “They indicate that insects carrying diseases like malaria and dengue have increased their range and will continue to do so.”
Elmrayed emphasized that nutritional intake, the “biggest component of child growth and a major determinant of a child’s physical growth and neurological development,” is also at risk — with climate change impacting agricultural systems in every corner of the Earth. “Food insecurity is often accompanied by a lack of healthy meal options,” she said. “In areas where this insecurity is common, you see patterns of stunted growth, malnutrition and waste — all of which can lead to an inability to focus at school and an increase in mental health issues.”
These are just a few of the climate consequences our children are up against.
Teach Your Children
Elmrayed believes that the best way to protect children is to empower them. “Helping children realize how much of an impact their daily routines and consumption choices have on climate change will enable them to make a difference as consumers,” she said. “Eco-friendly habits have to be taught from a young age. Parents should be proactive and communicate openly at home about consumption.”
However, teaching these habits is just half of the challenge.
“Explaining why it’s important to adopt green practices will make children more likely to continue practicing them into adulthood,” Elmrayed said, “As humans, we usually adopt or change certain behaviors once we have the knowledge to back it up.”
As the crisis continues to worsen, young people face an uncertain future. Reflecting on our own consumption patterns and engaging our children in this exercise is the most powerful thing you can do, according to Elmrayed. “The children of today will be the adults of tomorrow. It is they who will face more consequences from climate change,” she said. “We have to be willing to step up and guide them in this fight.”
Photo by Omar Mohsen