Dark Rhymes for Dark Times: New Storybook Illustrates Threats to Children’s Health

February 11, 2020 | 10:11 am
Anthony Eyring/UCS
Gretchen Goldman
Former Contributor

Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists releases a storybook for people who care about kids. With colorful illustrations and amusing rhymes, it illustrates how science keeps our children protected—and how the current administration is working to dismantle that. You’ll see from the storybook passages used as headers below, it is both entertaining and disturbing to be confronted with the reality of new threats to our children’s health.

My child’s story began in the spotlight. When he was just a month old, he came with me to the US Environmental Protection Agency as I delivered comments pleading with the government agency not to move forward with a decision I knew would affect his right to breathe clean air in the future. I was still on maternity leave, but I knew I had to be there. It was for him and his entire generation. It is our children who will face the consequences of our leaders’ decisions today. The EPA rule I gave public comment on is only one of many actions that the Trump Administration has taken that threaten our children’s health and safety.

“We’ve made the world safer for kids through the years;

Science and data have gotten us here!”

Anyone who has been through childbirth knows the value of science for keeping kids safe and healthy. In the mere minutes after a child’s birth, science makes sure they have a better shot at life—vaccines, vitamin K shots, vital signs assessment. As a new mom, I would do anything to protect him, and I trusted the nurses and doctors around me to make those decisions based on science.

Now, as he grows up, there are others I must trust to keep him safe. In addition to his caregivers and doctors, I must trust our political leaders to make decisions in his interest. Indeed, this is what’s happened for decades. There are car seats and bicycle helmets and lead-free toys because we’ve learned what keeps kids safe and healthy. And by and large, our decisionmakers have rightfully put kids first. At least until now…

What happens to kids when some not-so-nice men,

work in cahoots with their not-so-nice friends,

making bad choices for you and for me,

really bad choices in Washington, DC.

As outlined in the storybook (and an accompanying report), current government officials are neglecting our children’s future, undoing the life-saving protections that have ensured each generation has a safer world than the previous. Now, the health of my child and yours is threatened in new ways—ways that scientists know are harmful, but that decision makers don’t have the moral courage to stop.

As any parent knows, my brain is constantly consumed with worries about threats to my child’s life and ways to protect him from them. This is normal. But our decisionmakers are adding to that list of worries. I must now worry about my child’s exposure to a brain-damaging pesticide that the EPA failed to ban after ignoring its own scientists. I must now worry about harm to his tiny lungs from increases in toxic air pollution from the weakening of air quality protections. I must worry about whether his crib, stroller, and other baby products are dangerous because decisionmakers chose not to inconvenience companies with product recalls. I must worry about asbestos in his schools and libraries that decisionmakers have failed to protect him against. And I must worry about foodborne illness risks that increase profits but might not protect our food from contaminants. Parents have enough to worry about. We don’t need our own decisionmakers making it even harder to safely guide our little ones through the challenges of childhood.

Me giving public comment at the US Environmental Protection Agency with my 4-week-old infant. I spoke out against an EPA rule that would restrict the agency’s use of science that helps protect kids.

Can science recover its true, rightful place?

Informing the rules that keep children safe?

We’ve all heard the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. But it also takes leaders. Leaders who will listen to science. Leaders who will put the health and well-being of children before the profits of companies. Leaders who will do everything they can to ensure our most vulnerable community members can thrive.

My child will never know the names of Trump administration officials now making the terrible decisions that will affect his future; they’ll only be footnotes in his history book. But he’ll live with the impact of their decisions every day of his life.

When he’s older, I’ll read him this storybook. But I’ll also tell him what happened next. How we fought for his future, how we held decisionmakers accountable, and how we insisted on having leaders that prioritized his future. Importantly, I’ll remind him that the rest of his story is unwritten, and that the power to ensure he has a safe and healthy childhood belongs with all of us.