As COVID 19 cases rise in Montana, we are all grappling with decisions that will impact the way forward for our families and children. History and science tell us that our society will emerge from this pandemic, albeit with grave losses that are unequally distributed.
Unfortunately, we are facing another grave public health crisis being eclipsed by current and everyday tragedy … one from which science is telling us we may not emerge.
As a pediatrician, I am concerned about the health impact of climate change and what this will mean for the health of our children and the world they inhabit. I see great potential, wonder, and joy in the children in my practice and believe they deserve the care and support they need to succeed in this world.
Despite an overwhelmingly divisive political landscape, we have an opportunity to safeguard our children’s future by supporting local candidates who will promote investment in clean energy and policies that allow us to move away from the long-term investment in fossil fuel.
All children are vulnerable to climate change. Their immature physiology makes them more sensitive as a group. With climate change we see increased heat stress, decreased air quality, altered patterns of climate-sensitive infections, and increases in food insecurity. Children have a higher exposure to air, food, and water per kilogram of weight and It is estimated that 88% of the burden of climate related disease occurs in children under 5 years of age.
As we begin voting this month, we have an opportunity to elect candidates who can lift up our economies and promote a renewable energy transition in Montana. Montana Public Service Commission candidate, Monica Tranel aptly states that “the PSC is the most important office you’ve never heard of.”
The PSC sets rates for our energy service, ensures reliable service, and balances the interests of ratepayers with our energy future. Companies in these industries all enjoy monopolies with a captive set of customers. A report from June 2020 from the University of California Berkeley suggests that the United States can transition to 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 while maintaining a reliable power grid, lowering the costs of electricity, saving 1.2 trillion dollars in health and environmental costs and creating 500,000 jobs annually.
I share the concerns of many healthcare professionals that the social circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and play profoundly affect health and drive health disparities. I agree with the authors of a recent perspective piece published in the Journal of Pediatrics who consider climate change a social determinant of health that affects the immediate and long-term well-being of our children.
To be sure, it is easy to feel challenged by exhaustive lists of individual changes we should make to promote a healthier climate. Above all other individual efforts, exercising the right to vote may be the most powerful effort we can make.
Our children will eventually remove their masks. Vote for a future in which we can ensure breathable air and a healthy climate, and please consider climate advocates like Monica Tranel when you vote.