Working together to take on the climate crisis

DR. GABRIEL CISNEROS & DR. MAYA RAGAVAN

 

by Dr. Gabriel Cisneros & Dr. Maya Ragavan

Climate change is here and everyone is suffering from the results.

In Pittsburgh, we feel it in hotter-than-average temperatures and more deadly heat waves.

We cope with it as heavy rain and snow, that leads to frequent and severe flooding and landslides. These conditions make it harder to get to work, stores, or school.

We notice it in spring when weekly temperatures may rise from 19 degrees on a Tuesday morning to 75 degrees on a Thursday afternoon. 

Black communities suffer more from climate change

In Pittsburgh and throughout the U.S., Black communities are suffering from climate change more than white communities. That’s due to systemic racism that determines where Black people live, work, go to school, and have (or don’t have) easy and affordable access to health care.

This climate injustice is the result of redlining. Redlining is the 1930s policy that made sure Black communities were located near highways, industrial sights, and landfills. Redlining continues to contribute to a cycle of poverty.

These communities have fewer trees, grassy areas, and parks and more concrete. They’re located next to factories, manufacturing and power plants, and mills.

The result is Black neighborhoods that are hotter and more polluted than white neighborhoods.

Black children suffer most of all

While everyone suffers from climate change, Black children are especially in danger.

More than 88% of climate change disease occurs in children younger than 5 years (World Health Organization).

Half the world’s children are at an extremely high risk of climate change impact (UNICEF).

What does that look like for Black youth in Pittsburgh? As pediatricians, we see the health effects of climate change on children. As a result, we’re dedicated to working with parents, families, and communities to advocate for policy and practice changes that address the climate crisis.

During heat waves, for example, there’s an increased risk of death among babies and high school athletes. Both groups can become dehydrated quickly, and often don’t show signs of heat stroke until their conditions become dangerous.

Another effect of climate change is asthma. As temperatures rise, the pollen season lasts longer. Air quality gets worse, which makes it harder to breath and often triggers an asthma attack.

According to the EPA, Black children, regardless of family income, report higher rates of asthma. These children are 2x as likely to be hospitalized with asthma and 4x as likely to die from asthma as white children.

As Pittsburgh pediatricians, we’re also treating more Lyme disease. Deer ticks, which thrive in warmer temperatures, aren’t just found in the woods anymore. They’re on the move and causing an increase in serious childhood health problems, such as infections of the brain or joints, and inflammation of the heart.

Another concern is climate-related mental health. The effect of climate change on the emotional health of Black children is stressful. Along with systemic racism in all its forms, they experience direct trauma from extreme weather events and natural disasters — and deal with anxiety about their future.

What do we want our communities to look like?

Our climate’s health and our human health are linked, especially for our children.

Environmentally, we want for them what every parent, grandparent, or caregiver wants: A safe, beautiful neighborhood full of trees, flowers, and green spaces. A place where they can play and dream and create.

How can we make that happen for them? By advocating for climate justice.

Climate justice happens when everyone shares the responsibility of climate change equally, including equal protection from its effects.

How do we do work for climate justice? First, we admit that climate change is another unequal problem Black people face. Climate change joins a long list of inequities, including excessive police force, education, unemployment, healthcare, and transportation. Climate change is related to these inequities. Dismantling each of them will help to dismantle them all.

The big changes that will reduce the effects of climate change must happen on a government scale at the policy level, which can make people who live in underserved neighborhoods feel as if they don’t have a stake in the game.

However, they do — we all do — locally at the community level and personally in our outlook and actions.

What can you do as a member of the Black community and as a Black citizen concerned about the state of the environment?

Vote —Your vote is your voice for climate justice, especially as it impacts children.

Public officials at every level of government must be held accountable for their ability to create and maintain policy that fights climate change, improves people’s health, and creates clean energy jobs.

Communicate — Contact your Pittsburgh district and Allegheny county representatives and demand they support clean energy.

Visit the City of Pittsburgh website at www.pittsburghpa.gov. On the home page in the top bar, click on “City Hall” then “City Council.”

To find your House and Senate representatives visit www.legis.state.pa.us. In the left-hand column of the homepage, choose “Find My Legislator.” There, you can search by typing in your address.

Join — Find a local group that inspires you to create beautiful neighborhood spaces through art (murals, for example) or trees and green spaces.

One local nature organization is Tree Pittsburgh, an environmental non-profit group that restores and protects the urban forest (think street trees) through tree planting and care, education, advocacy, and land conservation. Use your smart phone to visit www.treepittsburgh.org.

Also check out our spotlight on UrbanKind Institute.

Demand — Insist that people in power create plans to reduce carbon emissions for corporations, cities, states, and other institutions and systems. Your voice matters!

Dr. Cisneros & Dr. Ragavan are co-chairs of the PA AAP Climate and Environmental Health Committee. Dr. Cisneros serves as co-chair of PA AAP Advocacy Committee

 

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