Op-Ed: March Sunday because healthy communities need climate action

As nurses, we care for our communities. We are there for the boy with the broken arm, the lady from the bank with heart problems, or the retiree with the flu. We are there when our friends and neighbors are hurting, and we do our best to get them better. We are there to help after disaster strikes, but we also work to protect our communities from harm. As nurses know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Many of these preventable threats are widely known—most people know that it’s good for your health to eat vegetables, drink responsibly, and avoid cigarettes. The threat that we’re worried about, though, can seem much more out of our hands.

Op-ed submit bugThis threat, acknowledged as a critical public health issue by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and the American Nurses Association, is our changing climate.

As companies and businesses around the world continue pumping greenhouse gases into the air, nurses and the communities they love and serve are left to clean up messes made worse by warming.

Communities throughout Connecticut have been devastated by extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Winter Storm Nemo in 2013, or the Halloween nor’easter of 2011. Nurses see the aftermath—death, damage to homes and towns, uprooted families—and fear that these extreme storms are already the new norm.

As climate change continues, extreme rain, winds, flooding, and storms will become more frequent and intense. We want to be there to save our communities from disasters.

It’s not just the extreme storms that we’re worried about. Climate change will cause Connecticut to heat up.

According to a report by Climate Central, summers in Hartford in 2100 will feel like today’s summers in Orlando, with an expected average increase of 10˚F. So while you may be able to sweat out the summer without air conditioning, that won’t be an option for much longer.

Hotter temperatures and higher humidity cause heatstroke and heat exhaustion, and can make cardiovascular disease or kidney problems even worse. A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 150,000 Americans could die from excessive heat from climate change by the end of the century. We want to be there to save our communities from this heat.

Hotter weather also causes air quality to get worse, triggering asthma and other lung problems. With over one in ten children afflicted, Connecticut has higher-than-average asthma rates. Children in hot, smog-filled cities and low-income households are more likely to have this respiratory disease, which is a disparity that will keep increasing as the climate changes. We want to be there to save our communities from asthma.

Climate change is a big problem with big effects. We try to do our part where we can by being conscientious about our own carbon footprint, but it can be harder to figure out what to do about factories, power plants, and other carbon sources around the world.

That’s why, on Sept. 21, nurses from around the country are coming to New York to join the People’s Climate March. We will be there to save our communities from global warming.

As nurses, we are everywhere. One out of every one hundred Americans is a nurse. We’re in homes, churches, hospitals, and schools. We’ve fought against other environmental poisons like lead and toxic chemicals because we know that’s just common-sense good nursing. Now, it’s time for us to join the fight against greenhouse gases and do what we do best: help.

Climate change does the most damage to people who are the most vulnerable, people who we’ve dedicated our lives to healing and keeping safe. On Sept. 21, we invite you to join with nurses and thousands of other marchers. Let’s protect and care for the people—and the planet—we love. That’s the spirit of nursing.

Kathy Murphy and Anne Hulick, both Connecticut nurses, are members of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.

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