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Sustainable Missoula: Climate change and our children’s health

This year, our big blue, autumn sky feels like a tonic. A big sigh of relief after a summer we might not mind forgetting big parts of…90-plus degree temperatures, extreme drought, and wildfires, with thick smoke blotting out our famous “Big Sky.”

We remember how so many families and care providers watched the air quality index closely each day to try to determine if their kids could play outside safely, and for how long. Camps that could be moved indoors did so. Some outdoor-only camps ran anyway, with parents and caregivers left to make tough decisions between needed childcare and increased smoke exposure for their children.

We know of kids who were rushed to ERs with breathing issues exacerbated by wildfire smoke. At night many Montanans sweltered because they couldn’t open the windows to cool down, and lacked air conditioning. Fans helped, but nighttime temperatures gave little relief from the grueling succession of 90-plus degree days.

Much more than an annoyance, air pollution – whether from burning fossil fuels or forests, from industry, or cars – puts our health at risk, especially our children’s health. The climate crisis only increases those risks. Heat and smoke both worsen asthma, and may even increase the number of people who develop asthma.

Adults are more likely to have heart attacks or strokes during heat waves or when breathing polluted air. The damage extends to the unborn. Wildfire smoke and warmer temperatures increase the risk of preterm delivery. Mothers’ exposure to dirty air before birth increases the chances of lung disease in their babies after birth.

Thankfully, the bad news is not the full story. The good news is that we have the power to take action to reduce climate impacts in the long term and give our kids a livable future. We know that the planet will get hotter, but as the most recent IPCC report makes clear, how hot is up to us–and every fraction of a degree matters.

Every day, we have the power to speak the truth about climate: Earth is warming, it’s human caused, and we need bold action to address the problem. We can and should share our concerns about our family’s future in this context, and try to connect in conversations across differences by focusing on shared values with friends and family. (For example: Your child has asthma? Mine too. That’s why I’m worried about climate change.)

As parents and caregivers, we are everywhere in Montana: in schools, places of worship, businesses, and in every level of government. We can use our stories, influence, and collective power to guide policy and action toward a healthier future for our kids. Think about the organizations, institutions and communities you are already connected with–chances are there are opportunities to have conversations and advocate for solutions right where you are. We can become part of the movement for systemic change.

Need inspiration? People across Montana are getting involved to make a difference. Individuals are working with local and tribal governments to develop or update resiliency plans to prepare for climate events. Organizations, such as Montana Interfaith Power and Light, the Montana Farmers Union, the Montana Organic Association, and Climate Smart Montana, to name but a few, are engaging with their members to find and use new practices that improve health and fight against climate change.

People everywhere are contacting their elected officials to let them know taking action on climate change is important to them. Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate are galvanizing healthcare providers. Families for a Livable Climate is bringing together families and caregivers to advocate for climate action, and countless other organizations, businesses, and local governments are stepping up their own climate commitments.

Here’s one thing you can do this month: Join Families for a Livable Climate, Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, and Moms Clean Air Force – Montana, on Tuesday, October 12 from 12-1 p.m. for a lunchtime discussion of climate change and children’s health, and what we can do to fight for a healthy future. Register here.

As our kids become aware of the severity of the climate crisis, they look to us grownups. What are we doing to make a difference? Most of us are already overwhelmed with parenting and/or working, not to mention complications from the pandemic or other challenges. We simply can’t change it alone. We can pick one or two things, and join the movement. So, find your climate people. Reach out, connect, meld with a group that resonates with you. Let your love for your kids (your own, or those in your care) fuel your action, because action is their hope.

Winona Bateman is the Director of Families for a Livable Climate. Dr. Robert Byron is a practicing physician and founding board member of Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

October 4. Climate Can’t Wait Rally, 10-2 PM at the Oval on the University of Montana Campus. The event aims to rally youth (and all of us!) around the passage of the Congressional Budget Reconciliation (“Build Back Better Plan”). If passed, the Budget Reconciliation Bill would be the most significant climate change legislation in decades! Rally hosted by MontPIRG, all are welcome.

October 9. The Work that Reconnects Workshop, 3:00 – 9:00 pm. Join Families for a Livable Climate in a half-day, outdoor gathering to engage in a widespread set of practices which can enliven our depleted spirits in this time of climate change, rekindle our awareness of how we are interconnected, and remember why it is worthwhile to step up and take any action. More here.

October 12. Climate Change and Your Child’s Health: What every Montana parent should know,12:00 – 1:00 PM. What are the threats to Montana’s children from climate change and how can we keep them safe? Join Families for a Livable Climate and Montana Health Professionals for Healthy Climate for a special event with Dr. Lori Byron and Dr. Robert Byron. More here.

October 14. Climate Parent Social, and Action Meetup. Imagine Nation Brewing, 5 -6:30 PM. Meet other parents and caregivers who take action on climate change. Hear about upcoming actions, and more.

Trees for Missoula has MANY fall volunteer Tree Planting opportunities this fall.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hollow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Bike to Barns tour – Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month breakdown of world day campaigns.