Kathy Reiner is a Colorado school nurse who champions climate justice. She is clear that the science is irrefutable and what is needed is immediate action. I learned of her passion for saving our planet through her tweets. Kathy showed me why climate change is an issue for school nurses. Follow Kathy Reiner on Twitter and you will learn to view the issue of climate justice through a nursing lens. One example is Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, an organization I learned about through her Twitter feed. While I have always believed in recycling, minimizing waste, and limiting my carbon footprint, I never connected it to my nursing practice, until now!
Kathy curates her Twitter content skillfully with the intention of educating the public about climate change. Kathy has written a compelling blog post that inspires all of us to take action in support of climate justice. It is our duty, as we care for our students and families, we must also care for our planet.
My school nurse career spans 22 years, all of them spent in the Aurora Public School District in Aurora, Colorado. But my education, work, and interests revolved around the natural world and public health prior to finding my way to school nursing. These interests pointed to and paved the way to what I do and love now. Believe me, a passionate advocate for the natural world can find their place in school nursing!
Now to the subject of this blog: Why should climate change be a priority for school nurses and what can school nurses do to get involved and make a difference? It is not my purpose to argue whether climate change exists, the scientific evidence is overwhelming and most would say, irrefutable. The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, and the mounds of data that precede it, finds that climate change is worsening social inequities, and threatening the natural environment, food production, air, and water quality, and perhaps most compelling to school nurses, human health and welfare. It is my purpose to declare that school nurses must get involved in this fight for the future. This fight for climate justice.
School nurses work to ensure clean, safe places for our students to live, learn, work and play and the vision of the National Association of School Nurses, All students will be healthy, safe, and ready to learn, is a call to action. While all of us are vulnerable to climate change health threats, children and youth have the most at stake. They will live with the direct consequences of climate change and they are not waiting for us to lead them. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish school student, rocked the attendees at the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference and is the inspiration for the March 15, 2019, Youth Climate Strike, in which youth from all over the world took part in the biggest day of global climate action ever. No, they are not waiting for us to lead them, but we can join them and use our position as the most trusted profession to build awareness of the climate change threat to health, and build support and action for solutions. To do this we must educate ourselves about this threat, get involved and promote action in our schools and communities. Begin by reaching out to your school district leadership and identify teachers who are or may be interested in working on the issue of climate change or adding content on climate change to the curriculum if it is not already included.
The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is a leading force in the effort to increase climate literacy and build collective action among nurses. They have developed the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health to provide education and resources to nurses so we can provide evidence-based health and climate information to our communities. As nurses, we must also “walk the walk” and lead by example by reducing our impact on the environment. As the “host affiliate” for NASN 2019, the Colorado Association of School Nurses is seeking ways to “green” the conference. Watch for ideas and suggestions to further this effort.
Many experts are calling climate change an existential threat. But we cannot let this threat immobilize us. School nurses are change agents and we must join with our students, schools, and communities to fight for a solution and ensure a healthy future.
Finally, if you want a deeper understanding and connection to what climate change means to the world, I recommend listening to season 2 of the Podcast, Threshold, at www.thresholdpodcast.org. Threshold uses story-telling to provide perspective and meaning to the subject of environmental change.
Kathy L. Reiner, MPH, BSN, RN