Martins, Diane Ph.D., R.N.
Nursing, College of
Nursing; climate change; public health effects; environmental health
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“Climate change is a term that refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Both human-made and natural factors contribute to climate change” (EPA, p. 1, 2011). Some examples of human-made causes of global warming include burning fossil fuels (e.g., petroleum, coal, diesel), cutting down forests, and developing land for farms, cities, and roads, because these activities all release green house gases into the atmosphere. Green house gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. There are some greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that occur naturally and are emitted into the atmosphere both through natural processes and human activities. Other greenhouse gases are created solely by anthropogenic causes and emitted into the atmosphere solely through human activities. (EPA, 2011) Some examples of natural causes of climate change include shifts in the Earth’s orbit, the sun’s intensity, the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, and volcanic activity. (EPA, 2011) Greenhouse gases are necessary for life to exist on Earth because they trap heat in the atmosphere, which warms our planet and in a state of equilibrium. (EPA, 2011)
Significant changes are occurring on Earth due to global warming such as increasing ocean and air temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising sea levels. Human beings are being exposed to climate change directly through shifting weather patterns such as more frequent and intense storms. Human beings are also being exposed to climate change indirectly through changes in water, air, food quality and quantity, ecosystems, agriculture, and economy. Climate change is not only affecting our environment but it is also expected to affect human health.
Social justice refers to the “fair distribution of society’s benefits, responsibilities and their consequences” (CNA, p.7, 2006). Developed countries benefit from the use of carbon-intensive technologies, while developing countries experience their consequences. It has been estimated that per capita emission of green house gases in the United States are seven times higher than in China, and 19 times higher than in Africa. (CNA, 2006) “Yet it is Africans and others in developing countries who bare the greatest burden of the reduced precipitation, diminished crop yields and flooding of low-lying areas that result from the changes in climate caused by these emissions” (CNA, 2006).
Nurses and other health care providers are qualified to bring information on climate change to the public because they have both the necessary scientific background and the communication skills to get the message across in an understandable way. (CNA, 2006) Their expertise in health promotion and behavior change also allows them to promote lifestyle choices that will decrease greenhouse gas emissions by individuals, families, and communities. My research paper will present the effects of climate change on public health globally, and the role nurses have to play in the adaptation and mitigation to climate change. By advocating for action to reduce societal inequities, strengthening public health infrastructure, and promoting behavioral strategies, nurses can proactively foster adaptations and mitigations to climate change.