Fighting climate change is our imperative

Environment and Health

Professor Wade Hill is an RN with a Ph.D. in Public Health. He teaches and researches at the College of Nursing at Montana State University. His specialties include the health effects of climate change and the leading role nurses should play in addressing the climate crisis. He and May Boeve, executive director and co-founder of 350.org, a global organization fighting climate change, will be leading a workshop on climate change, health, and nursing at the NYSNA convention. We spoke recently.

Professor Hill says he first understood the connection between nursing and the environment as a nursing student. As he puts it, “Florence Nightingale was the first environmental nurse.” The connection between nursing and the environment has largely been lost, contends Hill. He’s on a mission to change that: “We need to re-attach ourselves as nurses to the environment.” To that end, along with about 20 other nurses, he co-founded a national organization, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, which is bringing environmental concerns into nursing.

What we must know

Professor Hill says every nurse should know this about climate change:

  1. Climate change is real. Its consequences are serious. Human activity is the cause.
  2. Its health effects are important, and happening now.
  3. Taking action is our imperative as nurses. It’s a necessary part of our mission to promote health.

What we can do

  1. Support adaptive measures that help our communities respond when environmental disaster strikes.
  2. Fight for policies on clean air and clean energy to slow, stop, and reverse climate change.
  3. Spread the word. People trust us. This gives us a unique ability to educate the public and advocate for change.

The facts about climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a worldwide committee of hundreds of scientists, issued a major report in September on the physical science of climate change. Its conclusion: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” The reason for these changes? “Human influence.”

Health effects

  • Climate change kills. The World Health Organization estimated that in the year 2000 there were 160,000 excess deaths globally due to climate change alone.
  • Extreme weather and storm surges not only cause drowning and injuries; displaced populations create catastrophic public health threats.
  • Warming temperatures negatively affect air quality, exacerbating respiratory problems.
  • Spring pollen season is already starting earlier in the U.S. and may be lasting longer, making allergies worse.
  • Heat waves put people in danger. Annual heat-related deaths in Los Angeles are projected to increase up to 7 fold by the end of the 21st century.

“Any nurse who went through Hurricane Sandy should take an immediate interest in climate change. The nurses who cared for patients during and after the storm, those who went up and down the stairs in apartment buildings in the Rockaways and Red Hook helping stranded New Yorkers get care, who went home to devastation in Staten Island, saw all too closely the effects of climate change.”

“We are in a unique position to speak out against it. We can’t ignore this danger to our world.”

– Sean Petty, RN, Jacobi Hospital, NYSNA Director at Large

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