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A Call to Action: Nurses' Inspiring Leadership on Climate and Health

By Mark Oswald
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On June 12th and 13th, almost 100 nursing professionals from around the country came to Washington, D.C. to attend the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments’ Climate Change, Health, and Nursing: A Call to Action conference. As an intern with ecoAmerica, I was lucky enough to witness the wonderful passion that many people put into making the conference a huge success. From start to finish, the event was full of an infectious energy and determination to empower nurses to advocate effectively for climate action.

The first day featured a powerful and engaging lineup of speakers who covered topics ranging from the health impacts of climate change to nursing success stories. It started off with former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy giving a rousing speech that emphasized the need for everyone to work to build political will for climate solutions. She highlighted how nurses, as the most trusted profession in America, are well-suited to engaging with others on climate change. And due to its disproportionate impacts on minorities and low-income communities, it is even more important for public health professionals to understand the best ways to talk about climate with patients and vulnerable populations.

Following McCarthy’s address to the nurses, Dr. John Balbus, a Senior Advisor for Public Health and Director of the NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences, presented on the science of climate change and its links to health. His talk was chock full of important information about the connections between greenhouse gas emissions and their various health-related climate impacts, like the spread of tropical diseases. The morning ended with a panel of speakers who discussed various communication and leadership skills nurses can develop and practice to engage others in effective climate action. They talked about how nurses can improve their own education, advocacy, research, and practice to be strong leaders in improving the public health dialogue on climate change and its solutions.

After a delicious lunch at Georgetown’s Faculty Club, the attending nurses were treated to some of the best speakers on climate communications and public health, including the Climate Reality Project’s Doug Glancy and ecoAmerica’s own Bob Perkowitz. There were also presentations covering current climate policies in the U.S. and their connections to health, as well as a delightful panel of nurses who shared some of their own success stories for building momentum and action on climate. With all these thoughtful and inspiring people coming together to share so many important insights on climate and health, it was great to see how everyone was able to broaden and build on each other’s collective potential.

And after witnessing all their positive energy firsthand, it was easy to see why the public’s trust in nurses remains so high - their kindness and passion for healthy people was on display everywhere. The climate movement is all the more empowered to have their warm hearts and minds to bring to bear.