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Climate Change Will Harm Children, Says Ohio Environmental Council

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Climate Change Will Harm Children, Says Ohio Environmental Council
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“Climate change is hazardous to children’s health.”

That is the blunt assessment of a report issued August 22 by the Ohio Environmental Council and Policy Matters Ohio. In the same week that the world learned the full extent of the fires burning down the Amazon rainforest and releasing tons of climate-shifting carbon into the atmosphere, the report highlights that our generation’s top environmental crisis is coming for our kids as much as our icecaps.

“Climate change is already affecting the health of Ohio’s children, through extreme heat and precipitation, impacts on air quality, and changing patterns of infectious disease,” said Dr. Aparna Bole, a Cleveland pediatrician, in a press release.

Children face unique risks associated with climate change.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to respiratory harm caused by poor air quality,” says the report. “They breathe more air than adults do, when adjusting for body weight, so they take in a higher proportion of pollutants relative to their size.”

That includes pollutants like methane and carbon, which are as bad for children as they are for the atmosphere, but also ground-level ozone, which will increase with warming temperatures. Ozone exacerbates asthma, a condition that the report points out nearly 1 in 12 children have, according to the American Lung Association.

“Six Ohio cities are among the 20 ‘most challenging places to live with asthma’ identified in a 2018 report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation,” says the report. “Ohio cities make up more than a quarter of that list — no other state comes close.”

Climate change will also extend and intensify the annual allergy season.

But that’s just the atmosphere. The temperature will pose its own dangers.

“Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States,” says the report. “Children are at greater risk of getting sick or even dying due to extreme heat for a few reasons. Their bodies aren’t as good as adults’ at regulating their internal temperature; they typically spend more time outside than adults; and the youngest rely completely on others to keep them safe.”

As CU reported in July, by the year 2050, Columbus and Central Ohio could experience an average of 25 days a year with a heat index above 100°F, including 11 days with a heat index above 105°F, if the climate crisis is not adequately addressed.

“Kids who live in cities are in double jeopardy,” says the report. “Heatwaves will be even more intense in urban areas, where asphalt, pavement and buildings radiate heat, and where cooling greenspace is limited. The result is a ‘heat island,’ where air temperatures can be as much as 22 degrees higher than in surrounding rural areas.”

The heat island problem is addressed by the Columbus Climate Action Plan, released in 2018, which recommends increasing vegetation and tree cover throughout the city. This will have the beneficial effect of cooling urban areas with shade and by evapotranspiration — the process by which plants transfer moisture into the air during photosynthesis. Planting more trees would also go a tiny way toward replacing some of the trees lost in the Amazon, which, it cannot be stressed enough, is burning. City planners can also fight the heat island effect by building with more reflective surfaces, which would literally reflect the Sun’s rays back into space.

The report also details how climate change will affect water quality in Ohio, noting that heavy rains of the sort the state’s farmers suffered this Spring could “overwhelm sewer systems,” thereby “flushing bacteria and other pathogens into local waterways.” Heavy, climate-driven rains will also explode harmful algae blooms in Ohio’s lakes, including Lake Erie.

“In 2014, a bloom of toxic cyanobacteria in Lake Erie made tap water too dangerous to use for nearly half a million people in and around the city of Toledo,” notes the report. “Children are especially susceptible to illness caused by harmful algal blooms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, pneumonia and liver damage.”

There is also the impact that climate change will have on infectious diseases and the vectors that carry them. The OEC report points out that warmer winters have been linked to increasing numbers of blacklegged deer ticks; a primary vector for Lyme disease.

“Their existence in Ohio had not even been confirmed until 2010,” says the report. “Every year since, the Ohio Department of Health has tracked increasing numbers of Lyme disease cases. About one in five Ohioans infected were between the ages of five and 14.”

Warmer temperatures will also bring more mosquitoes, potentially spreading diseases like West Nile Virus. The OEC report says the Ohio Department of Health has tracked 1,044 cases of West Nile since 2001. Eighty-one such cases have been fatal.

While the report outlined several serious issues, there were some positive notes.

“The good news,” said Dr. Bole, “is climate solutions that accelerate our transition to clean energy and transportation options all have immediate health benefits for Ohio’s kids. Our time to act on climate is now, for the sake of our kids’ current and future well-being.”

“This is about our health and economic future of our kids,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director for OEC, in the same press release. “Ohio is well-positioned to lead and we must take steps to decarbonize our electric grid and strengthen regulations to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations.” 

“Common-sense policy solutions at all levels of government can slow climate change and deal with its effects,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, in the same press release. “We can plant trees and preserve greenspace in urban areas to provide shade, absorb pollution and capture carbon. We should better fund transit and preserve greenfields to make our cities more vibrant and reduce reliance on cars… we need to do everything possible to increase conservation and use of wind and solar power.”

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