According to the US Census Bureau, 50.8 percent of Americans are female. They’re mothers, caregivers, and heads of family – and they’re also feeling the effects of climate change, particularly on their health.
Climate Reality Leaders and health professionals Bruce Bekkar and Susan Pacheco know that climate change hits women particularly hard. “As an obstetrician, I want people to see how much climate change is already affecting girls and women right here in the US. Susan Pacheco, a pediatrician, and I share the concern that these effects are both cumulative and increasing,” Bruce told Climate Reality.
Bruce and Susan are working on an academic article discussing how climate change uniquely impacts women’s health in the US. We sat down with them to discuss why the climate crisis is a women’s issue, here’s what we learned.
Climate and Women’s Health
Everyone knows about the financial costs of the climate crisis as heatwaves, wildfires, and storms become more powerful and more frequent. For example, in 2017, weather and climate disasters caused more than $300 billion in damage according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
But the costs of our changing climate aren’t just financial. As temperatures rise, everyone, including children playing outside are increasingly at risk from heat-related illnesses and the expanding tropical diseases. Plus, burning fossil fuels releases toxic pollutants into the air we breathe, which can cause more frequent asthma flare ups and higher rates of illnesses like lung and heart disease.
And women feel these health issues more acutely. According to Bruce and Susan, “There is evidence of how climate change is associated with an increase in asthma in adolescent girls, a higher risk of acquiring lung cancer and heart disease in mid-life, and heart attacks, strokes, and dementia in older women.”
The research is especially concerning for pregnant women. “Adverse pregnancy outcomes, specifically premature birth and low birth weight, both of which often have life-long consequences, as well as stillbirth, have been associated with increasing heat and air pollution,” they said.
A Global Women’s Issue
And these issues are not unique to American women. Studies show that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change around the globe are women. Not to mention women are more likely than men to experience poverty and have less socioeconomic power than men, making recovery from extreme weather events more difficult.
But Bruce and Susan believe that women can and should play a unique role in the fight against the climate crisis by speaking out to demand climate action from our leaders. As mothers, caregivers, and heads of family, they know how seriously climate impacts the health and wellbeing of our children.
“Given women’s vital role as mothers, in families and throughout society, we cannot afford to let climate change affect their health without risking great harm to us all…In the vital family roles that women traditionally perform in our society, they may bear additional impacts due to the climate’s effects on others that rely on them. If her children or spouse are suffering physically or mentally, additional duties may fall on her – taking time and energy away from a career and/or needed self-care.”
But there is some good news – women in the US have the opportunity to use their voice to demand climate action right now. The Obama Administration designed America’s historic Clean Power Plan to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being released into the air we breathe from dirty power plants. Because these emissions frequently come with other dangerous air pollutants from burning fossil fuels, it turns out that reducing them is just as good for our body as it is for our planet.
Now, with a new administration in the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency is working to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with an alternative much friendlier to fossil fuel interests. But with EPA accepting comments on its intentions to repeal the Clean Power Plan until April, 26, 2018, Americans have the chance to speak up for the health of their families and the health of our planet – and tell the administration to cut greenhouse gas emissions from dirty power plants. Just like the Clean Power Plan intended.
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