Asthma, Climate Change, and the Power of Your Voice

Molly Rauch, Moms Clean Air Force

Asthma is a major health problem, affecting more than 6 million US children. It is the leading cause of lost school days, and it costs our nation more than $50 billion every year. It’s a disease with society-wide impacts. And climate change is making it worse.

But even though asthma is one of the most relevant, immediate, and widely recognized health impacts of climate change — top scientists, doctors, and even the President have all discussed the connection between climate change and asthma — there have been few initiatives to educate asthma patients and their families about those links.

Now, a new brochure about climate change from Moms Clean Air Force and the Allergy and Asthma Network has been developed specifically for those who have asthma and the parents who care for them. The first-of-its-kind resource outlines how climate change triggers more asthma attacks. Here’s what’s happening right now — and why climate change will continue to make asthma worse:

Pollen. When carbon dioxide levels rise, some trees and plants make more pollen, and the pollen is more potent. Warmer weather allows trees and plants to start making pollen earlier in the season.

Heat. Heat waves are becoming more common. Heat waves can lead to deaths among the elderly and those who are already sick. Heat waves also trigger asthma attacks.

Smoke. Climate change is making wildfires worse. The smoke from wildfires can spread hundreds of miles. For asthma sufferers, wildfire smoke can trigger symptoms.

Mold. When plants are surrounded by high carbon dioxide levels, they develop mold spores that are more powerful. Climate change also increases severe weather events such as storms, heavy rainfall, and flooding — such as the sunny day flooding that regularly inundates parts of Miami. Damage to homes, schools, and other buildings could increase indoor mold. Whether indoors or out, mold triggers asthma.

Smog. Smog, or ground level ozone, is a powerful lung irritant formed when chemicals from power plants, cars, natural gas drilling, and other sources mix with heat and sunlight in the air. More heat equals more smog, especially in large cities.

Why is it important to educate asthma patients and their families about climate change? Because this is an all-hands-on-deck moment in human history. Climate change is not something happening somewhere else to “the earth” or “the environment.” It’s something happening to us, right here, right now. It is having widespread impacts on almost every aspect of our civilization.

People don’t generally see it that way, though. If they did, we’d have tons of climate-friendly initiatives being implemented at the local, state, regional, and federal levels. Instead, there are some bright spots of progress (think: Paris Climate Agreement) amid a lot of intransigence (think: lawsuits opposing America’s Clean Power Plan, the first plan to limit climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants).

That’s why public education is so important. People need to see how climate change affects them personally. That means more information about the links between climate change and our health, like the National Climate Assessment. That means more storytelling and reporting on the human cost of climate change, like the Years of Living Dangerously series. And, perhaps most importantly, that means more people speaking up for our children’s health and future.

It’s as easy as raising your voice. Talk about climate change with your lawmakers, and vote for those committed to climate solutions. Together we can do something about climate change.


Molly Rauch is a mom who lives and works in Washington, DC. She is Public Health Policy Director for Moms Clean Air Force, a group of more than 900,000 moms and dads united against air pollution and climate change. Her writing has appeared on Goodhousekeeping.com, Womansday.com, Parents.com, and other sites.