Apr 22, 2019

Let’s Talk About Climate and Health

Photo credit: iStock/leonard_c


With skyrocketing drug prices, people being dropped from insurance rolls, and working conditions that can lead to burnout, why should nurses care about climate change? The answer is simple: because they see climate’s impact on health every day.

Whether it’s a heat wave that brings people into their clinics struggling to breathe, insects carrying diseases that communities have rarely seen before, or extreme weather events that leave people coping with severe stress, the health risks posed by climate change are well documented. Nurses and other clinicians are realizing that in order to keep their patients healthy, they need to deal with the environmental causes of illness just as they have begun addressing the social determinants of health. To start, nurses can take a leading role in talking about climate and health.

In 2017, ecoAmerica and Lake Research Partners surveyed 802 adults to gauge their receptiveness to hearing messages about climate change from health professionals. Sixty-two percent of respondents indicated that they trusted health professionals as climate change messengers, but only twenty percent reported having heard health professionals address the topic. This gap suggests a major opportunity for nurses and other clinicians to lead the discussion on climate change and health, yet having those discussions can be challenging.

A new resource from Climate for Health provides detailed guidance to aid health professionals in discussing the impacts of climate change on health. The advice is grounded in several key principles:

  • Keep the message focused on people
  • Connect on common values such as family and health
  • Emphasize solutions (avoid doom and gloom)
  • Describe rather than label

As the largest, most dispersed, and most trusted segment of the health care workforce, nurses can play a leading role in this effort. Last year, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) launched the Nurses Climate Challenge to leverage public trust in nurses’ voices. So far, the effort has enlisted more than 550 Nurse Climate Champions in the United States alone. They have committed to promoting more sustainable practices within health facilities and institutions and to educating other health professionals on the impact climate change is having on human health.

In the words of former Climate for Health senior director Jennifer Tabola, MEd, health professionals are “uniquely positioned to advance the message that climate solutions are a health priority and will provide enormous health benefits.” This Earth Day consider taking a moment to explore what you can do to get people talking about climate and health.

Learn more:

Download Let’s Talk Health and Climate: Communication Guidance for Health Professionals and check out other resources on the Climate for Health website.

Visit the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments website, read Getting Started: A Guide for Nurses, and sign up for EnviRN News.

View Making the Connection: Climate Changes and Health, a series of webinars from ecoAmerica and the American Public Health Association.

Take action:

Take the Nurses Climate Challenge and register to become a Nurse Climate Champion.

Join one of ANHE’s four work groups and take part in their monthly calls.

Attend the ANHE Nursing Summit on Environmental Health, May 6-7 in Nashville, Tenn., which will feature talks by Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing, and Anabell Castro-Thompson, MSN, RN, ANP-C, immediate past president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. Nurses with a current license receive reduced pricing of $149.

Reach out to your colleagues who care about climate change. The following organizations are members of the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health. If you already belong to one of these groups, ask how you can get involved.

Become part of the global effort to safeguard health and the environment by joining Clinicians for Planetary Health.