We can no longer turn away from the truth; climate change is having a major health impact on our world. All you need to do is look at the news and step outside. People are dying due to extreme heat, dehydration, flooding, fires, smoke, and pollution exposure. It doesn’t stop there; we’re seeing issues with vector-borne, water, and food related illnesses, and even violence and overall poor mental health (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2023). Some areas of the world are experiencing the hottest days on record while in other geographic areas they are experiencing torrential downpours, tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding. Climate change is not a national issue; it’s a global one.
Climate change is the biggest health threat facing humanity.
Climate change has a direct impact on the social determinants of health leaving people with food, economic, housing, and healthcare insecurities. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that climate change is the biggest health threat facing humanity (WHO, 2023). The WHO estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths from 2030 to 2050 due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, heat stress and other illnesses and injury (WHO, 2023). The direct impact to healthcare costs is estimated to be two to four billion dollars per year – about 0.044% of the total global expenditure on healthcare (based on an estimated nine trillion-dollar total global expenditure on healthcare) by 2030 (WHO, 2022; WHO, 2023).
Let’s teach people how to stay healthy.
Nurses care for people, and climate change provides the perfect opportunity for nurses to step up and volunteer in their communities. Nurses are known for their ability to educate people and gain trust. This is our chance to educate and prepare others for the impact of climate change. Nurses can support their community climate change initiatives and emergency response network by offering to educate people on how to decrease their carbon footprint and decrease greenhouse gases. Nurses can also assist with setting up shelters and relief centers where people can go to escape extreme heat, cold weather, or flooding. Nurses can identify those who are vulnerable in the community due to exposure, sensitivity, or lack of adaptive capacity in an event and initiate action to assist those individuals.
The economic burden to reduce our carbon footprint should not supersede our duty to protect our planet for future generations to come.
-Myrna Schnur, MSN, RN
It's up to each of us to make a difference.
No matter how hard we may try, we can’t escape it. Global warming is impacting the health of everyone across the globe. Most, if not all, nurses have taken care of patients impacted by a climate change-related issue. The role of nurses will include becoming leaders and climate advocates. Here’s our chance to help prioritize climate change interventions, recognize those most vulnerable, and intervene to keep them safe. Every nurse can decrease their own impact on the environment and motivate others to change.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, June 30). Climate Change. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/climate-change
World Health Organization. (2022). Global expenditure on health: Rising to the pandemic’s challenges. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240064911
World Health Organization. (2023). Climate Change. https://www.who.int/health-topics/climate-change