Public and environmental health professionals have recently given priority to addressing the human health impacts of air pollution and climate change. Air pollution from coal plant emissions contributes to four of the five top leading causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease. In addition, the creation of greenhouse gas by power plants contributes to climate change, which the evidence strongly suggests is contributing to disease and premature deaths worldwide. As an example, heat waves are currently the #1 weather-related cause of death, with the elderly being particularly vulnerable. The public health community recognizes that not only are air pollution and climate change major threats to human health, but addressing this issue will require the input and cooperation of multiple organizations including the health care sector, and local, state, and federal agencies (APHA, 2011). Nurses are going to be on the front lines of any climate-related disaster, responding to public health impacts.
In the field of environmental health, one of the greatest ways to positively impact health outcomes is to influence the creation of laws that are more protective of our environment. Health care providers have a major role to play as trusted advocates for more protective environmental health policies. This includes educating the public and policy makers about climate change and associated health impacts. Nurses can decrease their contributions to climate change on a personal level by using less energy, utilizing public transportation options, reducing waste, and making changes to their diet such as eating less meat and buying local food. We can also be strong advocates in our professional settings for practices that have a lower climate footprint.
- Climate Change and Health: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector (2012) Catholic Health Association, funded through a grant by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and in collaboration with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), offers this article, Climate Change and Health: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector?, as a tool for continuing discussions and information sharing about climate change. Authored by Laura Anderko, Ph.D., RN, Stephanie Chalupka, Ed.D., RN, PHCNS-BC, FAAOHN, and Brenda M. Afzal, MS, RN.
- Climate Change is a Public Health Issue. A fact sheet from the American Public Health Association
- Climate Change: Mastering the Public Health Role (American Public Health Association, 2011)
- Coal's Assault on Human Health (Physicians for Social Responsibility, 2009)
- The Costs of Inaction: The Health Impacts of Climate Change, Webinar (The Climate Reality Project, 2013)
- Global Warming: A Public Health Concern (Afzal, 2007)
- IPCC Special Report: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). (2012)
- Movie: An Inconvenient Truth (2010)
- Presentation: Communicating the Human Implications of Climate Change: A Climate Change Communication Primer for Health Professionals
- Public Health Nurses’ Knowledge and Attitudes Regarding Climate Change. (Polivka B.J., Chaudry R.V., Mac Crawford, J. 2012). Environmental Health Perspectives, 120:321-325.
- The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source (Clean Air Task Force, 2010)
- U.S. Climate Change: A Nurse’s Call to Action. (Knowlton, 2011) A webinar presented by Dr. Kim Knowlton, Natural Resources Defense Council
- Children, elderly, paying for Colstrip pollution. An Op-Ed by Wade Hill, PhD, RN, in The Missoulian, Montana.
- A video of Kelli Barber, Co-chair of the Health Care Without Harm Nurses Work Group, advocating for clean air with other concerned Montanans at the state capitol in Helena prior to the EPA’s release of the Regional Haze Plan.
- Survey: New EPA Rules Offer Breath of Fresh Air to PA
New standards for carbon pollution from coal power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency are getting strong public support, and health experts say those stricter rules may also offer key protections to unborn children in Pennsylvania. Judy Focareta, a maternal-child nurse in Pittsburgh, says expectant mothers and their unborn babies are especially susceptible to environmental factors which may be better kept in check under the new regulations. (April 2012)
- Nurse Leaders Advocate for a Health Protective Ozone Standard (August 2011)
- Nurses Take Action on Quality of the Air We Breathe (August 2011)