By: Mary Caldwell for the AJC
Part of a nurse’s job is to learn about issues that can affect patients’ health, and the importance of climate change has gained increased attention in recent years. With 18 of the 19 warmest years on record occurring since 2001, according to the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, this emphasis on climate change is expected to continue.
Nurses can play important roles in reducing and responding to the health effects brought about by climate change, according to Nursing Outlook. Nurses are a trusted source of health information, play an essential part in disaster response efforts, provide clinical care to patients affected by climate change and conduct research related to the issue.
Lisa M. Thompson, associate professor at Emory University’s School of Nursing, suggested three actions that nurses can take regarding climate change:
1. First, Thompson wrote in an email, nurses can address the issue of hospitals’ emissions, which account for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“Joining green teams and working on carbon neutrality in the hospital are ways that nurses can engage in mitigating climate change.”
2. Second, nurses can learn how climate change affects patient health.
This can be done in several ways, such as being aware that disasters such as floods and wildfires often have a greater effect on the poor and elderly than on more affluent and younger people.
“This is an issue of climate justice,” Thompson explained, noting that air pollution killed approximately 3,000 people in Georgia in 2017, mostly through chronic cardiovascular and respiratory disease. The Atlanta-Athens-Clarke County-Sandy Springs area has been ranked on the American Lung Association’s list of most polluted cities and the area was ranked 25th in the nation for ozone pollution and 19th for year-round particle pollution.
3. Finally, Thompson explained that nurses can take personal action to reduce climate change.
Eating a plant-based diet is one way they can have a big impact, along with driving a hybrid or electric car or going car-free and using clean energy such as solar panels.
For more information about how they can have an impact on climate change as well as respond to its effects, nurses can visit the Nurses Climate Challenge. This national campaign encourages nurses to become climate champions and help educate their colleagues about the impact of climate change on health.
The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is another resource that encourages nurses to help promote healthy environments and people in a variety of ways, including education, research and policy influence.
In addition, nurse.com suggests taking online courses related to climate change, especially ones on excessive heat-related conditions and Lyme disease.