Climate change has been impossible to ignore this summer. Extreme heat waves and droughts sparked fires around the world and cloaked California in hazardous smoke.
While less visible than orange skies and wildfire evacuations, our dependence on carbon-rich fuels is changing how our children are growing up. About 5.4 million Californians, primarily in low-income communities, live within a mile of an oil or gas well and breathe polluted air. Some children report near daily nosebleeds, dizziness and nausea. Poor air quality and extreme heat make outdoor play hazardous.
As mothers, we are calling on leaders gathering this week for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to help us achieve a healthy environment today and a livable climate tomorrow for all children.
The young are more susceptible to environmental dangers because their central nervous, immune, reproductive and digestive systems are still developing. Exposure to fossil fuels can lead to irreversible damage.
As a result, children are being kept inside, even though outdoor play is critical to their growth and developing their ability to solve problems, think creatively, cooperate and gain a deeper knowledge of themselves. Staying indoors doesn’t give kids the opportunities they need to take risks and develop motor skills.
Children and mothers are speaking up for a better future. In July, for example, the San Francisco Zero Hour march mobilized about 200 youths worried about climate change. Across the United States, mothers have marched, petitioned elected officials and shared their concerns about the direction the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is headed.
EPA did not shy away from fighting for a planet where children can grow and thrive during the Obama administration. But today it is following the Big Tobacco playbook and putting industry above our children’s health.
We ask leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit to join us in the fight for our children’s health. We need bold action, which means aggressively transitioning from dirty fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.
We don’t want our kids and grandkids to grow up without school recess. We don’t want their participation in sports such as soccer or baseball limited. We want to share memories of summers camping and winters sledding with our sons and daughters. That is how environmental stewardship is passed along, generation to generation.
Gina McCarthy is a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Kelsey Wirth is co-founder of Mothers Out Front, a climate change nonprofit based in Boston.