Climate Change Poses Unique Challenges03/01/2022 ● By Daniel Hiestand
Simply put: a person of color is far likelier to experience significant hardships than their white neighbors. However, another factor is often overlooked: Age. The youngest and the oldest will
face additional climate change adversity.
Recently, Emily Little, Ph.D. and Founder and Executive Director of Nurturely, a Eugene-based nonprofit that promotes equity in perinatal wellness - sat down to answer some questions about how we can help our youngest citizens cope with a changing world.
Q: Thanks for chatting today, Emily. Let’s start with this question: What is perinatal wellness, and why does it matter?
Perinatal refers to the time before and after birth, and wellness is the state of being in good health (physically and psychologically). Nurturely thinks about perinatal wellness as something that should be a human right. However, access to health equity for the birthing person and baby is determined by structural racism and other systemic barriers, which is why we see so many racial disparities in health outcomes. Equity starts at birth!
Q: How do you see the intersection of perinatal wellness, the environment, and climate change?
Climate action and perinatal health are often addressed as separate issues, yet we know this is false. Nurturely believes the most critical point of the interconnection between public health, racial equity, and climate change is during the pregnancy and postpartum periods, where parent and baby are most vulnerable to climate change effects. For example, the risk of preterm birth increases with each grade of temperature increase and with longer durations of heat exposure. Communities of color disproportionately feel these effects.
Q: How do you see waste prevention and management fitting into this discussion?
The same things that are good for the environment are also good for babies. Cloth diapering (or no diapering!), breast/chest feeding, and natural “toys” (e.g., wooden spoon, leaves, pots, and pans) rather than plastic or electronic toys all show research-based benefits for infant health and development. These are also the same choices that are important for waste prevention and management. For example, disposable diapers are the third-largest single consumer item in landfills and take at least 500 years to decompose! Many people don’t think of going “diaper-free” as an option (and indeed, there are many societal barriers), but this approach has many economic, environmental, and developmental advantages.
Q: What do you see as the most significant barriers for parents - particularly those from historically disenfranchised communities - regarding these environmental issues?
Because of environmental racism, parents from all communities of color are more likely to live, play, and work in places with higher exposures to pollution, extreme heat, and natural disasters. The environmental racism that leads to increased climate exposures adds to an already high risk for parent and baby.
Q: What advice do you have for parents with limited access to resources to respond to these challenges?
I invite parents and perinatal health advocates to connect directly with Nurturely. We offer workshops on moving away from disposal diapers, community organizing, and educational opportunities on climate resilience. However, the bulk of my advice would be directed to policymakers, employers, and fellow community members. For community members, if you have social and/or financial privilege, use that to decrease waste and environmental impacts. For employers, are your policies supporting the health of pregnant people and their babies? Are your work conditions centered on reducing waste and preventing unnecessary emissions? For policymakers, are you creating environmental strategies that center pregnant and postpartum people of color as the most impacted group?
Daniel Hiestand is the new Lane County Waste Reduction Outreach Coordinator. For more information on Nurturely, visit nurturely.org or call/text (541) 579-8941.