Our Brave New World: will our babies thrive on rocket fuel in formula and life on the screen?

BlogHer Original Post

One of the hardest things about being a new parent is the urgent and intense sense that the world you're bringing your child into is a mess, it's partially your fault, and you can't do anything about it. Put aside the deficit for a second. How will my baby cope with the seemingly limitless amount of toxins he passively ingests every day? Thinking about coping has profound impacts for parents of young children. As I read the results of the latest CDC study on the toxin perchlorate in baby formula, I felt momentarily smug about my decision to breastfeed. But wait, there’s even more perchlorate in breast milk, without the handy addition of iodine most formula companies put into formula to counteract negative effects.

As
I freaked out about my poor poisoned baby, my mother said, “Well, it’s
his world. He may have to adapt to rocket fuel in his bloodstream.”

Will
he? Can he? I'm not a scientist, I have no idea. But I think about
adaptation too when my three month old stares, transfixed, at the many
screens in our house. From laptop to TV, he’s loving it. And I love
watching TV series while breastfeeding; it’s a perk of the otherwise
tedious exercise in sitting still for many hours a day. But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under two
not be exposed at all to TV, or screen media. I have never seen
recommendations about exposure to computer screens! A mother I know,
who sends her child to the tech-doubting Waldorf School, insisted to me
that exposing an infant to TV will interfere with the natural pace of
brain development, throwing off kilter some natural processes and
possibly setting my precious one back. But my digital native
will likely live in front of the screen and experience much of life
through it. If he’s going to succeed, he’ll need to thrive from a life
on the screen, to paraphrase Sherry Turkle (and I’ll need to make sure
he gets outside sometimes, away from the screen!) But surely his brain
will learn to process flickers and flashes in a way previous
generations could never imagine?

Adaptation is a big word in climate change circles. I had coffee with my friend Letha Tawney, an expert on how to create good public policy to deal with the real life impacts of climate change. I’ve been enjoying reading her blog about how communities and NGO’s are dealing with adapting to the realities of climate change and reducing vulnerabilities. For example, Letha notes an example how municipalities are needing to deal with human migration as a result of climate change-- “what happens when local risk pools are overwhelmed by climate change impacts.  (Think of residents of the New Orleans Lower 9th Ward who haven’t been able to return and rebuild lives in their original community.)”

This resonates for me in a way the fervor around “Green Energy” doesn’t. Climate change is a reality. While we would all love to rebuild our industrial sectors from scratch to create efficient machines, reduce emissions, and make things better, we also need to think about how we’re going to simply cope with this new world. It seems wishful thinking to hope that, even under a more environmentally enlightened administration, the harsh impacts of climate change and environmental toxins will disappear.

I don’t diminish the terrifying implications of the world we’ve wrought unto our children (hitting puberty at eight because of hormones in meat and milk?). But like the Canada Geese teeming the sides of our highways and shopping mall greens, will our little ones adapt?

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