COVID-19 and Climate Change
As I write this, we remain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although new cases are declining in parts of the United States, we seem to be entering an endemic phase of COVID-19. After more than 2 years of the pandemic, it is hard for health care professionals to focus on anything but COVID-19 and its long-term impact on the lives of everyone, especially patients and health care professionals. In spite of this, there are other challenges facing health care and the global society. For instance, climate change, which is approaching a crisis level. Why would I be writing to acute and critical care nurses about climate change?
Climate change is intricately linked to individual health. It contributes to both the risk for and occurrence of mortality in pandemics. Deforestation changes animal habitats, resulting in animal migration, increased interaction with other animals and people, and increased potential for zoonosis.1 Farms with large numbers of livestock can promote infectious disease transmission between animals and humans. With climate change, there have been increasing cases of Lyme disease, malaria, dengue fever, Zika, and Ebola.1,2 In addition, it has been shown that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people who live in areas with air pollution and low air quality are more likely to die from the disease.1
Infectious diseases are only one facet of climate change. The increasing number of devastating weather events as a result of climate change also impacts the health and lives of individuals. Heat waves; devastating tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires; and flooding from torrential rains affect the health of all, although they have disproportionate impact on those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Increasing cases of malnutrition resulting from more frequent droughts and severe storm surges have consequences for our children through compromised child development.3 These catastrophic events increase risk for traumatic injuries and can result in acute illness as well as exacerbate underlying chronic diseases and result in increased mortality.
In addition, the health care system contributes to the crisis by its generation of avoidable medical waste. Through improved recycling and implementation of green practices, health care organizations can actively do their part in addressing climate change.
Nurses have an obligation, professionally and ethically, to consider the link between health care and climate change3 and how they as professionals can participate in ways to curb and potentially reverse climate change. Exploring the organization website of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments2 is a good place to begin in becoming more informed on ways we as nurses can be a part of the solution. Action now is imperative; planetary health is human health.
Mary Fran Tracy, PhD, RN, APRN, CCNS, FCNS, FAAN
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Coronavirus and climate change: coronavirus, climate change, and the environment. A conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change
- Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. Nurses caring for climate and health: Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, in partnership with Climate for Health, release new video. November 1, 2017. Accessed June 24, 2022. https://envirn.org/nurses-caring-for-climate-and-health-alliance-of-nurses-for-healthy-environments-in-partnership-with-climate-for-health-release-new-video
- Kalogirou MR, Dahlke S, Davidson S, Yamamoto S. Nurses' perspectives on climate change, health and nursing practice. J Clin Nurs. 2020;29(23-24):4759-4768. doi:10.1111/jocn.15519