Pediatricians’ Rx: Vote for Climate Leaders
Pediatricians from all 50 states sound the alarm on the risks of climate change on children’s health and urge people to vote. It is the first time pediatricians from across the U.S. have come together to encourage voter registration.
As pediatricians from every state across America, we urge you to vote for leaders up and down the ballot who will take bold, decisive action on climate change to protect the health and future of our children.
Climate change lives in the bodies of children. In our hospitals and clinics, we see this every day. When wildfire smoke obscures the horizon in California, we think of our patients with asthma, struggling to breathe when they step outside. Pediatricians in Nevada worry for our infant and toddler patients, whose polluted lungs may never develop properly, leading to life-long breathing problems.
When suffocating summer heat descends day after day, we grieve for our newborn patients, whose tiny bodies cannot yet regulate temperature, leaving them vulnerable to illness and even death on extremely hot days. In Virginia’s record-breaking summer heat, pediatricians are concerned about pregnant women, who, when exposed to heat waves and pollution, are more likely to deliver premature babies.
When we experience extreme weather events and environmental disasters, like the “derecho” windstorm in Iowa or Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, pediatricians grieve for our patients who have lost their homes, schools, doctors’ offices or economic security. Traumatic events, what pediatricians call “adverse childhood experiences,” are toxic to children’s developing brains. Trauma such as losing a home can cause long-term mental and physical health problems. When children lose their sense of safety and stability, they lose part of their childhood.
These effects of climate change disproportionately harm children of color. Black and Latinx communities are often exposed to more air pollution because they are more likely to live near power plants, highways and factories, and climate change makes pollution worse. In cities like Baltimore, Richmond, and Boston, with histories shaped by discriminatory “redlining” policies, communities of color often have fewer trees and more asphalt, making them hotter and increasing exposure to extreme heat.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened racial and socioeconomic health inequities. People from communities of color are more likely to be infected and more likely to be hospitalized. With the closures of public spaces, families without home air conditioning no longer have access to places to escape the heat, such as public pools and air-conditioned recreation centers. Widespread unemployment means that when extreme weather events occur, families have less of a safety net to rebuild or relocate.
At the same time, climate change is already altering disease patterns. In our pediatric clinics in Maine and Vermont, warming weather means that pediatricians are seeing dramatic increases in children with Lyme disease. Research suggests that climate change fueled the explosive spread of Zika virus in 2016. In 2019, Dengue Fever affected more people, in more places, than at any time in recorded history.
Climate change is here, and it harms children’s health. We must act now. Climate scientists from around the world estimate that we have just ten years to take drastic action, to avoid the worst-case scenarios. Ten years to cut carbon emissions, generate a robust renewable energy economy, and create climate-resilient cities and towns. The good news is that climate solutions — including accelerating our transition to a clean energy economy, investing in smart urban planning and transportation infrastructure, and securing a safer and more sustainable food system — immediately benefit children’s health, and advance health equity.
The November 2020 election will help set a course for our children, our country, and our future. A vote for climate leaders is a vote for children’s health across our nation. Your vote has never been more important.
Pediatrician signatories, by state:
Stephanie Berger, MD, Alabama
Amy Vagedes, DO, Alaska
Diane Hindman, MD, Arizona
Gary Wheeler, MD, Arkansas
Amanda Millstein, MD, California
Sheela Mahnke, MD, Colorado
Carl Baum, MD, Connecticut
Abby Nerlinger, MD, Delaware
Rani Gereige, MD, Florida
Rebecca Philipsborn, MD, Georgia
Brooke Hallett, MD, Hawaii
Elizabeth Kleweno, MD, Idaho
Nahiris Bahamón, MD, Illinois
Jillian Gorski, MD, Indiana
Robert Blount, MD, Iowa
Nefertiti Terrill-Jones, MD, Kansas
Julia Richerson, MD, Kentucky
Theresia Sutherlin, MD, Louisiana
Shalini Shah, DO, Massachusetts
Abby Fleisch, MD, Maine
Michael Ichniowski, MD, Maryland
Aristides Diamant, MD, Michigan
Brian Kirmse, MD, Mississippi
Elizabeth Friedman, MD, Missouri
Lisa Cinar, MD, Minnesota
Lori Byron, MD, Montana
Barbara Bentz, MD, North Dakota
Kimberly White, MD, Nebraska
Debra Hendrickson, MD, Nevada
Jeanne Craft, MD, New Jersey
Stephen Goldstein, MD, New York
Ryan Ratts, MD, New Hampshire
John Sutter, MD, New Jersey
Jennifer Achilles, MD, New Mexico
Stephanie Johannes, MD, North Carolina
Barbara Bentz, MD, North Dakota
Melody Lee, MD, Ohio
Rebecca Varkey, MD, Oklahoma
Peter Reed, MD, Oregon
Steph Lee, MD, Pennsylvania
Karen Maule, MD, Rhode Island
Martha Edwards, MD, South Carolina
Joseph Zenel, MD, South Dakota
Laurei Tucker, MD, Tennessee
Jessy George, MD, Texas
Hanna Saltzman, MD, Utah
Leslie Young, MD, Vermont
Samantha Ahdoot, MD, Virginia
Pragya Rai, MD, Washington
Kate Waldeck, MD, West Virginia
Andrew Lewandowski, DO, Wisconsin,
Travis Riddell, MD, Wyoming