Climate change affects us in many ways. From changing weather patterns to impacting the health of humans and wildlife alike, the climate crisis’ impacts are all-encompassing. But there’s one sector many of us have neglected when it comes to understanding climate change: childcare and education.
In this week’s episode of Good Together, Brightly’s CEO and founder Laura Wittig chats with Sara Mauskopf, CEO and co-founder of Winnie, a marketplace for childcare services and providers. Together, they discuss the intersection between climate and childcare—and how younger generations are directly impacted.
In a recent Twitter thread posted on Earth Day 2022, Mauskopf explains to her followers how climate change isn't a problem of the future. It's a problem right now, and it's changing the education system and childcare system as we know it.
And this topic is personal to Mauskopf. Not only is she the co-founder of a company that prioritizes childcare services, but she's also a mother to three children. Her family lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and she says they've experienced the impacts of climate change firsthand.
"I think there's just so much, as a parent, that I really worry about. Not just from an existential, 'What will it be like for my kids in the future and their kids?'" she says. "But actually, day to day, the impact that our changing climate has on how I can parent and the childcare I can receive. It ends up being this huge variable that I think is impacting a lot of families, especially in California, but now all across the United States."
Mauskopf detailed the problems climate change poses for parents, guardians, and younger generations in an article titled "Climate Change Won’t Just Harm our Kids in the Future, It’s Hurting Them Right Now" on Winnie's blog. And she tells us exactly why this problem matters.
How Climate Change Impacts Childcare
We know climate change can cause inclement weather—from severe storms to wildfires to poor air quality. And when this happens, society has to adapt. Or maybe, society has to shut down. Temporarily.
That means schools often close. So far, roughly 1.1 million students in California, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states have been impacted by school closures and climate change.
School Closures and Childcare
While many students love snow days and sleeping in, many parents struggle to find childcare for their children on those days. In other words, childcare is a privilege, and days off are an even greater privilege that not every parent or guardian has.
"A couple years ago, my daughter's preschool released a policy around air quality. When the air quality is at an unsafe level, they actually close the school for the day. So I don't have childcare that day," Mauskopf says. "This isn't a 'maybe one day the world will be uninhabitable.' This is, literally, 'I can't work when the air quality is bad.' And the past couple of years, the air quality has been bad for a lot of days."
School and daycare closures and poor air quality go hand-in-hand. And together, they present a new issue for parents, guardians, and children.
"You have to just be inside when this happens, and you have to have filters," she adds. "And this is really expensive for families. I mean, a lot of families don't have this choice to just keep their kids home, because they have to go work, or they don't have access to high-quality air filtration."
Physical and Mental Health
Plus, poor air quality and natural disasters can have an even greater impact—one that affects our children's health and wellbeing.
According to a Harvard report, warming temperatures and poor air quality can increase asthma attacks and allergies in children. These factors can also worsen pregnancy outcomes, create food insecurity, and increase mental health problems.
Specifically, natural disasters cause trauma in children of any age (and adults, too). So these disasters don't just impact the education system. They damage homes, schools, and neighborhoods. And according to Harvard, these events correspond to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
Mauskopf also says there's a problem with the infrastructure of most school buildings. She says some buildings come with poor air conditioning—and some are even "uninhabitable" during the summer months. Because of this, children cannot concentrate or learn. And it's not safe for their health.
"Most of these buildings are not equipped for the changing climate, and it impacts lower-income areas the most because they're the least able to respond with upgrading their buildings, or putting in air conditioning or having air filters for the bad air," Mauskopf adds. "It was actually something I looked at when choosing both a preschool and elementary school for my oldest. Do they have air filtration systems? Because that now really matters. And if your child is spending most of their day in a building where they're breathing in bad air, that could actually harm them for the rest of their lives."
So the question is: How are guardians tackling the climate issue while also balancing childcare and education on their shoulders?
How Do Guardians Balance Childcare and Climate Change?
Parents and guardians are often synonymous with superheroes. Somehow, they always find a way to make things work, and their children don't know their secret. So how does Mauskopf do it?
She says she incorporates more sustainable practices into her everyday life. Balancing childcare and climate change isn't easy. And change doesn't happen overnight. Even still, her family is putting sustainability at the forefront whenever they can.
For example, Mauskopf's family changed their minds about constantly needing new toys—and throwing away old ones. Instead, she and her kids are embracing the secondhand toy market. And they're passing their old toys to other kids who need them. They've become more "thoughtful" about the objects they own.
Additionally, she's teaching her kids about sustainability, especially when it comes to waste. That means teaching her kids about recycling and composting.
She says her neighborhood is limited in the amount of waste it can produce—each family only gets one small garbage bin and larger composting and recycling bins.
"We have a family of five and one of our kids is still in diapers and so there's so much garbage every week that we just can't get by unless we're seriously always thinking about how much garbage we're producing and what can be composted instead and what can be recycled instead," she says. "And the kids can't mess it up either. Because we will literally not be able to take out our trash."
All in all, parents and guardians are still figuring it all out, too. But implementing more sustainable habits within the home and setting a better example for younger generations might just be their secret superpower.
Kids of the Future
Climate change isn't a taboo subject—nor should it be. Mauskopf says her eldest child even learns about sustainability in school. It's part of the school curriculum!
She also says her younger children are growing up immersed in a world where climate change simply is a reality. And they're learning how to work around it. For example, her youngest children know that bad air quality days directly impact their lives.
However, Mauskopf is inspired by her children. She says her children are growing into proactive leaders.
"It's exciting to me that a lot of times my kids know more than me, and they'll bring this stuff up proactively," Mauskopf says. "I think that is just a huge step forward from how I was raised, or even just, kids not so long ago, and I think it's come out of necessity, but it's a good thing that our kids are taking the lead on this."
So, start conversations—whether those conversations are with your friends, family, or your children. After all, climate change impacts everyone—even youngsters.