GUEST POST: ‘Small Steps go a Long Way’

The January 4, 2023 PediaBlog by Ned Ketyer, M.D. addressed an important issue: Prospective parents today are hesitant about starting and expanding their families due to climate change.

A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll of young Americans highlighted yesterday on The PediaBlog showed nearly a quarter (23%) having reservations about having children in the future because of concerns about climate change. Consistent with results from other research, the survey indicates that prospective parents today are hesitant about starting and expanding their families. Among the findings showing the level of concern about climate change among American adults of child-bearing age (18-45 years old):

• Roughly three-quarters of people surveyed are very or somewhat concerned about the impact of climate change will have on their own children and their children’s children.

• About 6 in 10 worry about the impact of climate change on their communities (61%) and on themselves as individuals (55%).

• 42% report being very or somewhat worried about bringing a child into the world because of climate change; 23% say climate change has impacted their decisions about having children.

• Younger people (18-35 years old) of child-bearing age are more reluctant to have children due to climate concerns compared to those who are a bit older (35-45).

Rapid, global, system-wide transitions — spurred by the actions of governments and industries — are necessary in order to slow global warming and avoid climate chaos in our children’s lifetimes. But individual actions can make a difference too.

Bridget Shirvell cites a study showing that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by as much as 27 percent by making six major shifts in our behavior:

• Eat a primarily plant-based diet and minimize food waste.

• Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year.

• Keep electrical products for at least seven years.

• Keep flying to a minimum.

• Ditch your car. Or keep your existing vehicle for as long as possible.

• Make at least one shift to nudge the system, like switching to green energy, voting with the climate in mind or talking to others about the climate crisis.

“Once we become aware, we can begin to take steps to reduce the risks from the problems we face, shielding ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren from harm.”

Ned Ketyer, M.D.

Let’s be clear: Shirvell isn’t saying to stop eating burgers, buying consumer products, or taking an airplane to your next destination. By the same token, no one is saying that transitioning away from fossil fuels requires you to flip the switch and turn off your lights and heating systems immediately (although adjusting thermostats a bit and turning off lights and appliances when they’re not in use would be helpful.) But once we become aware, we can begin to take steps to reduce the risks from the problems we face, shielding ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren from harm.

Aside from being impossible, being perfect is not necessary in order to solve the climate crisis. Small steps go a long way. Shirvell has five small and easy ideas for mothers and fathers who are parenting in a time of climate crisis:

1. Get Outside. Children and adults that spend time outdoors are more joyful, content and less anxious. And according to a multitude of studies, children and adults who feel connected to nature feel a greater responsibility to protect the environment.

2. Garden. You can grow herbs on a windowsill even if you don’t have a yard. Put your kids in charge of it in some way, and then, depending on their age, you can use the garden to talk about the environment and the climate crisis.

3. Talk. We can’t hide global warming from our kids, but talking about the climate crisis isn’t a formal, sit-down conversation, and it’s definitely not a one-and-done discussion. With little kids talk about how the things we do affect the environment, such as why you turn off lights when you leave a room. As kids grow, answer their questions, for example, about why it doesn’t snow in July, slowly explaining weather, climate and the carbon cycle. NASA’s Climate Kids is a good resource for answering questions. As kids become teenagers, let them lead, answer their questions and help them take the initiative to find resolutions to the things they can change independently.

4. Reduce carbon footprint. There are plenty of free, easy-to-use carbon footprint calculators available online. Do one with your kids and then work to determine areas you can reduce your carbon footprint.

5. Act. Pick one thing you or your kids are passionate about, such as food, the ocean or even a specific animal and figure out what you can do to protect that one thing and reduce your carbon footprint.

Read more about the impact of climate change on health on The PediaBlog here.

Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. Note: The information included in these [PediaBlog] posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.