It was an evening like any other. While relaxing on the couch with my husband, feeling my 33-week-old son bumping around in my belly, I absent-mindedly tapped on a new message in my inbox and read “Climate Change Can Pose Pregnancy Risks, Study Finds.”
As if pregnancy isn’t already fraught with enough anxiety.
Despite the media’s constant drumbeat of apocalyptic climate forecasts based on questionable models, the facts reveal that this is the best time in human history to be pregnant. Just like annual pool drownings don’t really have anything to do with the number of Nicolas Cage movies in theaters (even though there is a statistical correlation), claims that climate change is causing more preterm births or stillbirths have no basis in reality.
The study, so tenderly delivered to my inbox, is positioned as an exhaustive review of the impacts of climate change on pregnancy, but it’s better described as “statistical noise,” drawing dubious correlations based on a patchwork quilt of statistical studies and weather data, not actual medical science. There are numerous confounding variables that have a much clearer impact on pregnancy: preexisting conditions, pregnancy complications, and what the healthcare industry calls “social determinants of health,” which include poverty, nutrition, lifestyle habits, hospital quality, and a lack of regular medical care.
The study claims to address “heat exposure related to climate change,” but it covers a period of just 12 years, during which average temperatures did not increase significantly.
Fortunately, heat-related deaths in the United States have declined in recent decades by some 75%, as have deaths due to climate-related natural disasters. Humanity is incredibly adaptable to environmental change, suggesting that even if temperatures continue to rise gradually, the effect on human health will be mild and manageable. People in the U.S. actually prefer warmer climates, as evidenced by population growth and migration trends in southern and western states.
The study also addresses air pollution, a separate but more relevant issue. There are red flags here as well. Though long-term exposure to high levels of pollution can present serious health risks, such cases are extremely rare in the U.S. In the vast majority of the country, our ambient air pollution levels are so low as to be near natural levels.
The recent coronavirus shutdowns showed us just how safe our air is. Despite vehicle traffic and economic activity falling dramatically, air quality metrics barely changed — metrics in a few cities actually got worse rather than better — suggesting natural weather patterns such as storms, pollen, and wind-blown Saharan dust plumes crossing the oceans have a much greater effect than U.S. emissions.
The authors of this study are either ignorant of or purposefully sidestep the fact that our air is getting cleaner and safer as technology and efficiency improve. The largest potential increase in ozone due to climate change predicted by the National Climate Assessment, hardly an unbiased estimate, is less than 10% by 2100. Meanwhile, in the real world, ozone levels in the U.S. have declined 35% since 1980.
Similar to climate change, the chilling headlines claiming that outdoor air pollution is killing or harming unborn children are based on statistical gymnastics, not actual epidemiology or medically verified causes of death. In the U.S., ambient air pollution doesn’t present a serious threat to any sector of the population, including pregnant women.
The facts say that this is the best time in human history to be pregnant. Global maternal mortality is at its lowest rate in recorded history and extremely rare in the U.S. Infant mortality is declining at an even faster rate. Average life expectancy for a child born today in the U.S. is 79 years with a level of health and prosperity unimaginable to previous generations — or to babies born right now in sub-Saharan Africa, where 50 is considered ripe old age.
By essentially every measurement, from poverty to literacy to economic liberty, humanity is better off than ever before. And with prenatal care more widespread and advanced than ever, with thorough screenings for serious complications part of routine doctor visits, the chances of truly life-threatening situations for mother or baby arising unexpectedly are extremely low.
Foisting the emotional burden of climate alarmism onto pregnant women (who already face a long list of legitimate worries) based on faulty data is careless at best and politically manipulative at worst.
To my fellow expecting mothers, especially first-timers: Take heart. The future facing your family is bright indeed, and it’s not because the planet is burning up.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on July 3, 2020.