Linking Climate Change and Early Childhood Development

I was greatly honored when I heard I would receive the Vermont Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD). But I was surprised when I realized I would be accepting this award during the organization’s second Summit on Vermont’s Climate Economy. What would someone from an organization that has made high-quality early childhood education its mission say to a group of climate change advocates? After learning the Summit’s theme was “Ideas to Action,” I understood the parallels between the Permanent Fund’s work and the climate summit. The two are more closely related than one might think.

children at play on beach

Climate science and brain science: Neither is rocket science

Climate science is credible, reliable and offers a clear picture of what contributes to our changing climate and how we can reverse the trend. The brain science is equally compelling, irrefutable and offers a clear blueprint for a child’s healthy brain development and what contributes to unhealthy development. Amazingly, the brain science shows us that 80% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of three—telling us that we must act in the very early years to get it right.

Inaction or missteps will lead to serious consequences

There are serious consequences for Vermont if we don’t reverse the effects of climate change. More extreme weather events (think, Tropical Storm Irene) are an example. In early childhood, our extreme weather event is represented by the dramatic increase in special education costs, which have increased by $137 million, a doubling in the last 15 years, while enrollment has decreased by 20,000 students. Early identification of developmental delays and improved nutrition can help. We must work to identify at-risk children earlier—from birth to five—so we can start services earlier when the developing brain and body are most receptive to these interventions. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, starting services earlier can in some cases reduce the need for costly services during the school years or eliminate the need for them altogether.

We’re on an unsustainable path

With climate change, melting glaciers and rising waters tell us that we are not on a sustainable path. With early childhood development, nearly 50% of our kids are showing up at kindergarten “not ready to learn” and it’s likely that same 50% are not going on to college. Like other rural states, Vermont has one of the highest rates in the nation of kids not going to college! This is not sustainable. With an aging demographic in Vermont, we cannot afford to give up on any of our children. We need all of them in a trained workforce contributing to a healthy economy.

Time is of the essence: Act now or pay (much more) later

With climate change, we cannot afford to wait—we have to act now. The same is true of early childhood development in Vermont—it is no longer a case of whether or not we can afford to make these strategic investments in the early years….we cannot afford not to make them. We must act now or we will pay dearly later. We know that the investment we make during the earliest years of life (from birth to age five) will provide a much greater return than any dollars we invest later.

One difference between climate change and early childhood

While the work Vermont is doing on climate change is extremely important and we SHOULD be a leader in addressing this issue, the effects of climate change are largely influenced by the actions of other states and other countries. The environmental and economic impacts of climate change pose global challenges. With early childhood development in Vermont, we have full control of our destiny. By following the science, making smart, strategic investments in the early years and acting swiftly, we will improve outcomes for all our children and create a healthier Vermont.

Building stronger communities

While on the surface we may seem like different organizations, both the VCRD and the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children are working toward the same end: building stronger, more sustainable, Vermont communities. The success of both organizations relies on bringing great ideas to the table, pulling together the right people and organizations and developing collaborations and partnerships to turn “Ideas to Action.”

 

Comparison Table between Climate Change and Child Care

Click on the image to download a PDF file.