This is a guest post from Gernot Wagner:
My wife and I have no car, no TV, and a no-screens policy around our 8-month-old. We carry him around in an organic cotton wrap. His favorite toys are wood, his baby soap is plant-based, his only pacifier is his left thumb. He has yet to taste baby formula, food from a jar, or anything heated in a microwave. His bottles are BPA-free, and any plastic or chemical around him is also sold in Europe with its much stricter toxics policy. In short, we do everything in our power to keep our firstborn happy and healthy.
Yet none of that matters once we open our doors or windows and let in deceptively clean-looking but polluted air.
We can attempt to build a protective cocoon around our child and do so with fervor, but national policy—or the lack thereof—nixes all attempts to making a difference as parents. As soon as we breathe, or drink water, or do most anything else for that matter, we are connected to the planet and everyone else around us.
It’s one thing to put your child in the safest possible car seat. It’s quite another to learn that infant mortality goes up near highways. Cities streets aren’t much better, with all the idling cars. The gunk and soot from tailpipes and smokestacks alike cause allergies, asthma, hypertension, and all sorts of other ills.
It even starts before birth. Call me a crazed environmentalist, but I draw a line when it comes to pollutants in my kid’s amniotic fluid. I don’t like my son to be born pre-polluted. Yet there is little I can do individually, as long as coal plants are spewing mercury into the air.
That goes for local air and water pollution as much as for an even bigger problem with potentially much more severe consequences for any of our children. A ton of carbon dioxide pollution emitted today causes at least $20 worth of damage in our lifetime. The average American emits 20 of these tons a year. That’s quite a debt burden we are leaving our children. Sadly, much of it is virtually irreversible. We can bail out banks and entire countries. Bailing out the planet is a much scarier proposition.
The only way to tackle almost any kind of pollution is to become an engaged citizen and demand that polluters pay for the damage they cause.
It’s policy, not individual action, that makes all the difference here. Buy organic, buy local, do all the right things. But the best way to protect your child is first and foremost to VOTE.
Thank you, Gernot!
Gernot Wagner is an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund and author of But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World (Hill & Wang/Farrar Strauss & Giroux 2011). He teaches at Columbia, graduated from both Harvard and Stanford, and blogs at maketheplanetnotice.com. His wife is an obstetrician, which made the birth of his son in March 2011 a rather intimate affair.