Climate change and our health
As the climate begins to shift and we encounter more extreme heat days and extended heat waves, the incidence of heat-related illnesses, and even deaths, will increase. People who work outside in agriculture, utilities, construction, gas/oil, and many other fields will be at higher risk for hyperthermia (extreme temperature elevation).
Extreme weather events, such as wildfires, flooding and storms have been taking an enormous toll on human and ecological health. Changes to the earth’s climate can have irreversible effects on plants, including our agricultural food crops. Rising ocean temperatures are affecting plankton, which is the foundation of the food chain for fish and sea mammals. (An estimated one billion people are dependent on fish as their main source of protein!)
In addition to interrupting the world’s food supply, there are a great many other health threats that are associated with the changes we are seeing. For an extensive list of how climate change affects human health, see GlobalChange.gov.
There's no question: climate change is a health issue, and as nurses we have a responsibility to do something about it.
"Action is the antidote to despair."
- Joan Baez
TEST YOUR CLIMATE SAVVY
Take the Project Drawdown climate change solutions quiz to see how much you know about climate action.
WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE?
Historically, the earth’s temperature has been modulated by the sun’s rays beating down, warming the land and water, and then radiating heat back out beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This process has kept the earth at a livable temperature for humans and other lifeforms to flourish.
However, we now have a “blanket” of gases that are surrounding the earth – gases created substantially by human activities such as transportation, energy production, industry, cooking/heating, and agriculture. These gases are called "greenhouse gases" because they create the same warming effect as a greenhouse and are slowly warming the earth – both the land and the oceans. And in the process, they are changing our climate. Climate is distinguished from weather in that weather is what occurs from day to day or week to week, but climate is what occurs over longer periods of time, month to month and year to year.
The process is similar to what happens to your car when you leave it outside in the sun with the windows up. The sun’s rays heat the inside of the car and that heat cannot adequately escape, so the car heats up.
While there are some natural sources of greenhouse gases, the ones that we have the most capacity to reduce are those that are humanmade.
As individuals, we can assess our household’s contribution to greenhouse gases by using a “carbon footprint calculator”, such as this one from Carbonzero, and participate in fun challenges like the Drawdown EcoChallenge.
As nurses, CVNHE can help promote climate-healthy purchasing and practices in our health care facilities, K – 12 schools, faith-based organizations, universities, and any other settings in which we have influence.
The new International Council of Nurses announced its new position statement on climate change in September 2018 and calls on all nurses to help address climate change. It calls for us to heed the scientific evidence which, in the case of climate change, is abundantly clear.
Credit to the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.