As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States released its Climate Change and Children’s Health Report, the implications reverberate not only within the country but resonate globally. Children, being a vulnerable demographic, bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change, including higher rates of respiratory disease, reduced academic achievement, increased risk of infections, and heightened housing insecurity, especially in coastal cities. Our research project (Habitable Air), exploring urban inequality in the context of climate change finds this report immensely useful for our ethnographic research spanning South Africa, Germany, and the United States. By leveraging the data and insights from this report, we aim to inform policymakers and citizens worldwide, urging them to take decisive action to protect our future generations.
Extreme heat waves are a significant risk factor for children’s health and education. The data extracted from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project’s Kids’ Inpatient Database highlights a direct correlation between temperature increase and emergency department visits for children. Moreover, rising temperatures can adversely impact children’s concentration and learning abilities in the classroom, potentially leading to reduced academic achievement and future income loss.
The challenge of installing air conditioning in schools in poor neighbourhoods underscores the importance of addressing urban inequality in the face of climate change. Children from marginalised communities are more susceptible to the adverse effects of extreme heat, thus requiring tailored solutions that prioritise their well-being.
Stable housing is another critical aspect of children’s health and development that climate change threatens. With the rising sea levels causing increased flooding in coastal cities, millions of children in the US face the risk of displacement and trauma. This aspect is particularly relevant for our research, as we explore the implications of housing insecurity on children’s health and long-term outcomes.
Climate change also poses challenges to children’s outdoor activities, impacting their mental and physical development. Longer warm seasons lead to prolonged exposure to pollen, associated with higher rates of asthma, eczema, hay fever, and even ADHD. Air pollution, which worsens due to rising temperatures and wildfires, further compounds health risks for children, particularly those with developing lungs.
Although the EPA report is specific to the US, its findings align with global trends, indicating the universality of the threats children face due to climate change. As we conduct our research in our global project sites, we recognise the significance of understanding local contexts and experiences. By leveraging insights from this report and combining them with our ethnographic approach, we aim to shed light on the unique challenges faced by different communities worldwide.
Moreover, the report emphasises the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of colour, which aligns with our focus on urban inequality. It reinforces the importance of addressing systemic disparities and ensuring that climate action is equitable and inclusive.
To address these pressing issues, the report advocates empowering caregivers, parents, and communities to be aware of the risks posed by climate change. Public engagement and advocacy are essential components of effecting change. Signing petitions, engaging with local authorities on sustainability plans, and supporting environmental justice organizations are concrete steps that concerned citizens can take to protect children’s well-being.
The EPA report serves as a critical step in raising awareness and advocating for change. As we combine its insights with our research, we hope to provide comprehensive recommendations to policymakers and citizens globally. By collaborating with organisations and communities at the forefront of climate action, we aim to contribute to a safer and more sustainable future for all children, regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic status.
In conclusion, the Climate Change and Children’s Health Report by the EPA reminds us of the urgent need to address the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable among us. Its resonance with countries around the world reinforces the global nature of the climate crisis. As we delve deeper into our research with Habitable Air, we recognise the report’s value in informing our efforts to understand and combat urban inequality in the context of climate change. Together, we can work towards safeguarding the health, education, and future of our children and creating a more resilient and equitable world for generations to come.
You can read the full report here!