For the last month or so there has been daily information about climate change particularly related to the abnormally high heat along the Gulf Coast and to the incredible air pollution related to Canadian wildfires. These two situations are harmful to all particularly children and the elderly.
Climate change gets a lot of press and even young children know that it is not good thing and potentially harmful. So what is climate change? How are parents supposed to explain what is going on and how do they help children understand the problem and help them seek solutions. Like many serious problems they seem overwhelming and scary for parents and there is a tendency to protect our children from them.
First it is helpful to understand a few things about “climate change”. Since the earth came into existence well over 2 Billion years ago it has been under the influence of the sun’s pull, changes in the ever-moving continents, changes in the earth tilt as it rotates around the sun and volcanoes. These changes effect the currents of warm air and water from the equator and allow ice sheets to grow.
There have been five major ice ages in the last 2 billion years. The most recent one (that we are still in) began about 3 million years ago. Within an ice age (over 3 million years), there are shorter periods of warming and getting colder, glaciers melt or advance. The earth is presently in a warming period that began about 11,000 years ago. Scientists have learned this from studying cores of ice and sediment that can be over 2 miles long mostly from Greenland and Antarctica.
Earth’s climate has been constantly changing long before humans came into the picture. Unfortunately scientists have observed unusual changes recently. The earth has warmed up much more quickly in the last 150 years than would be expected. This is largely due to human activity starting in the industrial revolution increasing the production of carbon dioxide and methane by the creation of industrial products, heating and cooling homes, transportation and large animal farming. These increased gases stop the heat from escaping our atmosphere causing a hotter earth.
It is better to talk within the family about problems that affect the family and include the children. Secrets are impossible and cause more anxiety. Helping families to cope with the worries about climate change is to have a plan for the various disasters that might affect the family; floods, hurricanes, wildfires, epidemics, even freezing. This plan should be more than batteries and plywood but following guidelines in hurricane preparedness. Like flood zones there are disaster plans for wildfire zones, industrial emissions, pandemics. Being prepared is essential.
Besides educating the politicians that make the guidelines to help protect families there are many educational tools about climate change for children on the internet. Educational videos for children to learn about climate change, what can be done and how to take better care of the planet are available on https://www.youtube.com.
Sally Robinson MD
Keeping Kids Healthy July 2023