Energy, Climate, & Children’s Health

In the U.S. the majority of energy used goes toward generating electricity and heat, and to fueling our planes, trains, ships, and automobiles. Most of the energy consumed for these purposes comes from fossil fuels (oil or petroleum, natural gas, and coal).

By Sophie Shao, Age 15

Fossil fuels pose significant dangers to children’s health due to their harmful emissions and pollutants. Burning fossil fuels releases toxic air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the air, which can trigger respiratory issues in children. Additionally, fossil fuel combustion releases greenhouse gasses (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide and methane that contribute to climate change.

The use of these energy sources also creates air and water pollution at every step of the process, which harms the health of children living near these energy production facilities—the majority of whom are children of color or children from low wealth families.

These families tend to pay a higher percentage of their income towards energy, but are more likely to lack heat and air conditioning (AC). Children are more vulnerable to temperature extremes than adults, making the availability of heat and AC even more crucial. Power outages can lead to food spoilage, foodborne illness, or food insecurity. They can also have an effect on refrigerated medications or frozen breast milk supplies. Lack of power limits technology use and widens the education gap. Furthermore, the consumption of predominantly wealthy white communities drives a disproportionate amount of GHGs and co-pollutants, yet people of color disproportionately suffer from the impacts of these emissions.

These gasses trap heat, warm the earth, and cause climate change. Climate change presents serious threats to children’s health and safety. These include physical injury and mental health issues from climate events, respiratory illness from smog, an increase in infectious diseases as a result of rising temperatures, food insecurity, displacement, and the disruption of valuable services, treatment, and education.

By Bri'kiae Morton, Age 10.

Transitioning to cleaner, renewable energy sources is essential to safeguarding the well-being of our children and ensuring a healthier future for them. Luckily, there has been a recent influx of funding from the IRA to the Zero Emission Technologies Grant Program which funds work being done to reduce GHG emissions and create equitable energy solutions. It is crucial that energy and climate solutions be equitable so as not to put any community at risk over another. There is still quite a lot of work to be done, however. Making our world safer and healthier for children is as important as ever. We all deserve access to energy and to live in a healthy, breathable world.

What you can do:

We can all take actions to reduce our energy consumption and to promote clean and renewable energy. Often it starts with learning and sharing! Some simple steps you can take include:

  1. Take what you learn from these resources and talk with your neighbors about clean energy.
  2. Ask your electricity provider about clean energy sources.
  3. Seek an energy audit and have your home weatherized to reduce energy consumption and save money.
  4. Turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use.
  5. Walk, bike, or take public transportation as often as possible, rather than driving.
  6. Become a community advocate for clean and renewable energy solutions.
  7. Ask your congressional leaders to prioritize clean and renewable energy solutions.
  8. Share your clean energy advocacy story with us.

To learn more about energy, energy sources, energy justice, and how our over-reliance on fossil fuels harm children’s health, check out our new infographics (click each image to download):

Fossil Fuels

Using fossil fuels as energy sources causes pollution every step of the way. Pollutants get released into the air we breathe and the water we drink. Greenhouse gasses also get emitted into the air, contributing to climate change. This pollution impacts everyone around the world and puts children at risk for dangerous health issues later in life. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected due to environmental injustice. To learn more about how fossil fuels harm children's health, click the infographic to the right.


Coal Energy

The use of coal energy can be harmful to children in many different ways. For example, mining coal can contribute to smog pollution, and burning coal causes particulate pollution. The pollution created from the use of coal energy can be potentially damaging to children's health. Improperly-stored coal slurry can pollute water sources with toxic substances that cause cancer or could harm children's brains. To learn more about how coal energy impacts children's health and life cycles, click the infographic to the right.


Oil & Natural Gas Energy

The use of oil and natural gas as energy sources is also harmful to children's health. Oil spills can contaminate drinking water, and toxic chemicals such as benzene can be released into the air during extraction. Refineries processing oil give off air pollution that can harm children's lungs. Methane can leak from pipes and into drinking water, and oil burning plants release pollutants like mercury as well as smog into the air. To learn more about how oil and natural gas energy impacts children's health and life cycles, click the infographic to the right.


Understanding Energy Sources

There are three types of energy sources: renewable, nonrenewable, and clean. Renewable energy comes from energy sources that can be restored. Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will run out or not be restored for a long time. Clean energy is energy that comes from renewable sources that produce no direct pollution and greenhouse gases. The U.S. predominantly uses nonrenewable energy sources, which pollute the environment, contribute to climate change, and negatively impact children's health. To learn more about different types of energy sources and how they are used, click the infographic to the right.


Energy Justice & Equity

Energy should be accessible, affordable, clean, and democratically managed for all communities. However, Black and Brown people and people with low incomes tend to pay a higher percentage of their income towards their energy bills compared to White people, are more likely to face energy insecurity, and are most likely to be exposed to pollution from the fossil fuel industry.To learn more about how energy justice and equity impact children's health and life cycles, click the infographic to the right.


By Darryl Scott, Age 8.

References and Resources
  • American Lung Association. Policy Principle on Energy.
  • American Public Health Association. The Public Health Impact of Energy Policy in the United States. (2018). Policy Statement Number 20183.
  • American Public Health Association. Protecting Children's Environmental Health: A Comprehensive Framework. (2017). Policy Statement Number 201710.
  • Baker, S. H. (2022, April 19). Energy Justice and Justice40: Tools for an Equitable Transition.
  • EarthJustice. Coal Mines Clouding America’s Air.
  • Energy Justice Network. Factsheets.
  • FracTracker. The growing web of oil and gas pipelines. 28 February 2019.
  • Gorski I. and B. S. Schwartz. (2019). Environmental Health Concerns From Unconventional Natural Gas Development. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190632366.013.44
  • Jackson R. B. et al. (2020). Increasing anthropogenic methane emissions arise equally from agricultural and fossil fuel sources. Environ. Res. Lett. 15(07), 1002.
  • Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health. Health Effects by Region.
  • New Scientist. Fracking wells in the US are leaking loads of planet-warming methane. 22 April 2020.
  • Nicholas School of the Environment. Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Duke University. Coming from an ash pile near you.
  • Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (n.d.). Energy Equity and Environmental justice.
  • Perera F. P. (2017). Multiple Threats to Child Health from Fossil Fuel Combustion: Impacts of Air Pollution and Climate Change. Environmental health perspectives, 125(2), 141–148.
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility. Clean renewable energy solutions to protect health.
  • Sen, B., Bird, G., & Bottger, C. (2018, August 9). Report: Energy Efficiency with Justice. Institute for Policy Studies.
  • Shea E., F.Perera, D.Mills. (2019). Towards a fuller assessment of the economic benefits of reducing air pollution from fossil fuel combustion: Per-case monetary estimates for children's health outcomes. Environmental Research, 182.
  • Sheffield, P.E. and P.J. Landrigan. (2011). Global climate change and children's health: threats and strategies for prevention. Environ Health Perspect, 119(3):291-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002233
  • Smith K.R., et al. (2013). Energy and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health, 34(1), 159-188.
  • SouthWings. Coal Slurry and Coal Ash.
  • T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard University. Climate, Kids, and Health.
  • T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard University. Energy and Health.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists. Energy.
  • Watts, N. et al. (2019). The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate. The Lancet, 394(10211), 1836 – 1878. DOI:
  • Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). (n.d.). What is energy insecurity versus energy burden? Retrieved from
  • Auffhammer, M., Baylis, P., & Hausman, C. H. (2016). Climate change is projected to have severe impacts on the frequency and intensity of peak electricity demand across the United States. Retrieved from
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