My journey for Climate and Environmental Justice

Board Member Nella Pineda-Marcon, RN, observing offshore winds in Rhode Island.

I have always loved nature because I grew up in a rainforest and natural resource region. This upbringing was in so many ways a source of inspiration — to embrace the comforting peace, subtle beauty and stable tranquility!

But never in my wildest dreams have I imagined or thought that I would find my pampered self in the middle of a fight to keep our environment sustainable and protected for future generations.

I have been a nurse in New York for the past 30 years. For the most part, I was very much content with receiving a pay check, taking days off and enjoying vacation benefits.

But since I became active in one of NYSNA’s professional organizations, I now appreciate the essential value and critical importance of advocacy work for our members, lobbying for patient rights, and advancing our community’s health (and therefore strengthening the people). This advocacy, along with protecting my family, has become my top priority.

Climate change is a public health crisis

When I was elected to the NYSNA Board of Directors in 2016, I became more aware of the nurse’s role in promoting health by educating our patients and community about the direct impact of climate change on healthcare.

Climate change is a public health crisis and we have to fight the current system and re-direct its course!

Our emergency rooms are swamped with asthma and respiratory illnesses, the systemic effects of the dirty air that we breathe.

There are so many natural calamities and weather-related disasters the world over, bringing unseasonably heavy rains and strong winds, fierce storm surges, uncontrollable forest fires, frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions— almost every month. Extreme weather conditions and airborne pyroclastic elements affect mostly the young and the elderly.

Fracking for fossil fuels further threatens public health, safety and welfare. The affected communities’ water table and potable quality is degraded. It also destabilizes their property’s bedrock and house foundations. The unsafe practice in underground disturbances has to stop!

Comprehensive climate legislation

For the past few years NYSNA has worked in coalition with city and state organizations, as well as with national environmental groups, to campaign against Climate Change.

I was one of the nurses who testified before the New York State Senate committees that led to enactment of the historic Climate Leadership and Climate Protection Act (CLCPA), which adopts the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed a bill for the nation›s largest offshore wind agreement and the single largest renewable energy procurement by any state in U.S. history— nearly 1,700 megawatts. With the installation of two offshore wind projects there will be enough energy to power over one million homes, create more than 1,600 jobs, and result in $3.2 billion in economic activity, to commence in 2021.

It is during these decisive moments that the nurses› advocacy and experience are heard and acknowledged, because we are on the frontlines of the public health system, specifically now in climate-related emergencies.

We are the first responders who take care of patients during climate disasters and emergencies. People love and trust their nurses. Naturally, nurses are among the most respected professionals according to the World Health Organization.

In December 2019, I was a delegate at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP25) held in Madrid, Spain. I represented NYSNA with the Trans Union Confederation (TUC).

After a week’s round of conferences and consultations, the Climate Summit delegates marched in the streets of Madrid along with workers and union leaders from all over the world— concerned families, parents and students from the school strike group “Fridays for Future” inspired by Greta Thunberg. An estimated 500,000 participants rallied that Friday evening.

Since 2014, after sending a first responders medical team in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (November 2013), disaster relief operations in Leyte and Samar provinces, central Philippines, our union has created a Committee on Climate and Environmental Justice that I currently chair.

It is composed of regular members that includes board members, our union President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, and some support staff.

Signing up more for Climate Justice

This year we are working on participating in the Climate March (NYC) which will be in April 2020. We also coordinate relief work with the New York Recovery Network (NYRN). The team conducts medical missions in countries affected by Climate Disasters. We are looking forward to signing up more members who will join our efforts to promote Climate Justice. With rising seas and warming temperatures, the Paris Agreement (2015) governing emission reductions from the year 2020 states that future global warming should limit its target to 1.5°C, relative to pre-industrial level. It is an imperative.

We have to act TODAY, if not NOW, then WHEN the time comes it may be too late!

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