1. Section Editor(s): Newland, Jamesetta A. PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN

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Henry David Thoreau is credited with stating, "Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. Why, nature is but another name for health." The earth and surrounding space provide oxygen, water, food, and shelter-elements necessary to sustain human existence. If we take Thoreau's words literally, we cannot achieve health unless we permit nature to keep us well. Over the decades, man has misinterpreted and manipulated nature's intent with bold disregard, and the results are devastating, as evidenced by the changes in the environment and climate driven by human activities.

Jamesetta A. Newland... - Click to enlarge in new windowJamesetta A. Newland. Jamesetta A. Newland

The growing numbers of natural disasters experienced across the globe cause one to ask whether more events are occurring today or whether it is our capability to record and report these events that is responsible for their increased visibility. Whichever is true, natural events change lives and impact the health and well-being of populations everywhere. Just this year, we have seen catastrophic events of nature, including persistent drought and raging wildfires in the West, tornadoes across the US-not just in the usual midwestern states, more hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, unfamiliar blizzards across the South, torrential rains and flooding in Europe and Japan as well as another destructive earthquake in Haiti. In late August, Hurricane Ida caused extensive destruction all the way from the Gulf Coast to the Northeastern US. Predicting weather events has become more precise, giving people time to prepare, while some catastrophic events still take us by surprise. Clearly, Mother Nature is a force that man cannot control or abuse without consequence.


Climate change and health

The World Health Organization broadly states that climate change has a profound impact on social and environmental determinants of health, including clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter. This also impacts science's ability to combat the transmission of infectious diseases-a major challenge in developing countries.1 A national climate assessment report from the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) notes, "Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable."2 One example of the effect of climate change on health is the increased incidence of asthma and allergies; winters are shorter now, making the pollen-generating seasons of spring and summer longer. Asthma already disproportionately affects people living in inner cities where the air quality is usually poorer. Climate change can also trigger mental health concerns for those at risk or cause people to experience normal reactions to traumatic events.


Emotions after a traumatic natural event might include loss, grief, depression, despair, anxiety, and many other feelings. Two groups that seem particularly concerned and anxious about the impact of climate change on future generations are older adolescents, young adults, and indigenous people.3 Younger generations are not yet in control of important upper-level decisions and may feel powerless. Indigenous people live close to the land and rely on its natural resources to sustain their way of life. They all worry about the future of planet Earth.


Our responsibility

The USGCRP report outlines observations and recommendations in a number of specific areas across the human experience. Living with nature is integral to our existence, and climate change presents a real threat to our environment and health. Nursing attends to human responses; you can make a difference.


Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN

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1. World Health Organization. Climate Change and Health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author; 2018. [Context Link]


2. Reidmiller DR, Avery CW, Easterling DR, et al Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II. Washington, DC: U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP); 2018. [Context Link]


3. Clayton S. Climate anxiety: psychological responses to climate change. J Anxiety Disord. 2020;74:102263. [Context Link]