Climate Justice Is Reproductive Justice

From high temps to asthma from air pollution, climate change affects everyone’s health. These risks are even worse for pregnant people — making climate change a public health crisis for generations.

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Climate and Energy

by Yonit Friedman

More than ever, people of childbearing age are choosing not to have children. There are a variety of factors that go into this choice — wage stagnation, the housing market, civil unrest, COVID-19. But a common denominator heard among many in their 20s and beyond is grave concern over our climate trajectory. They’re not wrong to be worried about what kind of climate and resources would be available for their potential kids. Climate justice is a crucial part of reproductive justice.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective includes in its definition* of reproductive justice “the human right to … parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” That is a key connection with climate change. A safe environment in which to have and raise children is a basic human right — violated by the climate crisis. From pregnancy to childhood, climate change threatens people’s reproductive health. 

“…the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

*SisterSong’s Full Definition of Reproductive Justice

Climate Change Puts Pregnant People At Risk

Higher temperatures are an immediate symptom of the climate crisis. Hot weather is obviously uncomfortable for pregnant people, and it can shift quickly from discomfort to danger. Researchers in California found that for every increase of ten degrees, the risk of premature birth goes up by 8%. Air pollution has also been linked to premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Extreme climate events also have a negative effect on pregnant people’s health. After Hurricane Sandy in New York, emergency room visits for pregnancy complications increased by nearly 17%

The U.S. already has a horrific racist parental health crisis. Black and Indigenous birthing parents and babies die during birth, or soon after, at much higher rates than white parents. The climate crisis compounds this, and pregnant Black and Indigenous people face disproportionately high reproductive threats from climate change. Redlining is reflected in higher temperatures, lower air and water quality, and fewer trees in predominantly Black neighborhoods. This translates to poor health outcomes in pregnancy and birth. These examples of environmental racism also harm children of color after they are born, like high asthma rates among Black children. 

Climate Change is a Danger to Reproductive Health and Justice

It stands to reason that the option to raise children in a safe and sustainable environment is a human right. Therefore, climate change and the threat it poses to pregnant people, babies, children, and families constitute a human rights violation. As is so often the case, the individuals who face these threats are not the people who caused them. Careless and greedy fossil fuel CEOs have caused a public health crisis, and it’s long past time for their destruction to be stopped. The well-being of current and future generations requires nothing less. 

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