In New York City, at the United Nations, leaders from around the globe discussed the world’s most pressing problems last week. At the top of the list was the climate crisis and the threat to future generations.
The UN has already recognized that climate disruption disproportionately takes a toll on women. They have called for looking at the problem through a “gender analysis” to facilitate and guarantee that concerns are pinpointed and then engaged.
Yet women are at the leading edge of the environmental movement and always have been. In the anthology All We Can Save, editors Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson underscored that. The dedication reads: “For our mothers, our sisters, and Earth.”
And then there are the children, who are the most threatened by climate change. In August of this year, UNICEF released a Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI). It breaks down environmental threats into five categories, from low to extremely high. The US comes in at 5 (Medium-High); Canada is assessed at 3.7 (Low-Medium); Mexico is high (5.9).
Why are children so vulnerable to climate change?
Children are less physically able to withstand and survive severe weather occurrences. Ironically, they contribute the least to factors creating the climate crisis while suffering the most significant impacts.
The 33 countries categorized as “high-risk” countries emit only 9% of global C02 emissions. Yet the 10 highest emitters contribute 70% of global emissions. Many children in high-risk countries also suffer from the overlapping devastation of deficient health services, water shortages, sanitation and hygiene, and education deficits. Survival is a daily struggle.
Globally, almost 90% of children (2 billion) are currently exposed to air pollution higher than the World Health Organization standard. For these children, the toxic elements that make up pollution have a more intense impact, even at lower exposure rates.
Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, has stated: “Every child deserves a livable planet.”
Most women get it and look at the problems holistically, whether they are in New Jersey or Nigeria.
In tandem with the activities of the UN, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) hosted a Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice. The list of speakers was extensive. Youth activists, scientists, politicians, lawyers, and Indigenous leaders will be present. Moms Clean Air Force is a partner. Its Make Your Voice Heard campaign to impact Congress was highlighted. One of the underlying premises of the event was “System change, not climate change.”
Osprey Orielle Lake, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WECAN, stated during a September 21 press conference:
“Women are vital to solutions. we are at a choice point for humanity. It’s Code Red. No more sacrifice zones.”
Understanding the larger collective of concerns is essential to any success. Women must lead others out of their comfort zones and old mindsets, still enmeshed with established systems that have created social and environmental injustices. Hierarchical structures have elevated profits over people and the planet, while shutting down the voices of women and people of color.
Women in the US need to be part of the larger struggle and highlight how inequities overseas are mirrored in our own country. A specific example is the intersection of environmental factors and the impact on American pregnant women of color, who are particularly at risk.
This past year has given rise to intensifying hurricanes, more wildfires, and deadly heat extremes throughout the nation. (In my neck of the woods, that meant flooded roadways, subways, and basement apartments.) A lack of planning has left citizens unprepared and unable to cope with these weather emergencies.
Women can be proactive in ensuring that children and other underserved populations are protected. That means learning which elected representatives support robust infrastructure legislation that codifies the need for environmental funding. Find out where your senators stand on S.423—the Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).
Our children need climate action now.