Children constantly hear about it, but what is climate change and why is it important to consider the effect of climate change with children? Climate change describes a change in the average conditions, temperature and rainfall for example, in a region over a long period of time.

NASA scientists at climatekids.nasa.gov have observed Earth’s surface is warming, and many of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 20 years.

Global climate change is the long-term changes over the entire Earth, which include changes in temperature and rainfall. The effects of Earth’s warming is seen in rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; ice melting at a faster rate than usual in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and changes in flower and plant blooming times. Droughts and heat waves are occurring and expected to become more intense as the whole Earth’s temperature changes by one degree.

Scientists agree Earth has been getting warmer in the past 50 to 100 years because of human activity. Certain gases in the Earth’s atmosphere block heat from escaping. These gases, the greenhouse effect, keep the Earth warm like the glass in a greenhouse keeps plants warm. Human activities, such as burning fuel to power factories, air-conditioning, cars and buses are changing the natural greenhouse and trapping more heat.

Climate change is a threat to human health, and children are more at risk. Climate change affects everyone, but growing children have a higher exposure to air, food and water based on their body weight.

Infants less than one year of age are uniquely vulnerable to heat-related death, with one study projecting that by the end of the 21st century 5.5 percent of female and 7.8 percent of male infants will die from the heat.

The number of deaths in American high school and college football from heat stroke has doubled from 2000 to 2010. Climate influences the number of infectious diseases that affect children across the world. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics projects that by 2030 an additional 48,000 deaths in children younger than 15 years will occur secondary to diarrheal disease.

Not only is the changing rainfall amount and increasing temperature affecting crops, there’s concern that the increase in carbon dioxide is impacting the quality of grain, lowering the protein content in the edible parts of wheat, rice and barley. This will happen in a world already struggling with hunger.

The climate crisis can feel overwhelming, but helping children understand the issues and how it affects their health can empower them for the future. The family can calculate its carbon footprint (www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator) and then the family can make decisions on how to lower its footprint. These choices might be turning off lights when leaving the room, biking or walking when possible or taking public transit or carpooling.

When discussing climate change, stay hopeful and focus on solutions. Even if the climate crisis is accelerating, we can clean up our air and water and reduce our carbon footprint. Your children can be a powerful force.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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