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Why you should care about climate change and how you can push the agenda

Nurses should highlight the need for a plant-based diet, promote exercise and enjoyment of our environment, and raise awareness of the detrimental effects of single-use plastics

Nurses should highlight the need for a plant-based diet, promote exercise and enjoyment of our environment, and raise awareness of the detrimental effects of single-use plastics

Our planet is at a turning point. COVID-19, which appears to have originated from a seafood market where wild animals were traded illegally, is a symptom of this.

Humankind is doing battle with a vicious pandemic, but as climate change continues to threaten human health and existence, I fear the real war is yet to come.

Our environmental practices are likely to cause more devastating events in the near future. The lack

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Nurses should highlight the need for a plant-based diet, promote exercise and enjoyment of our environment, and raise awareness of the detrimental effects of single-use plastics

Extinction Rebellion protest at Shell Tower, London: nurses hold a banner saying: 'Act now, stop Ecocide, save lives' which mimics the COVID-19 advice posters by the government
Extinction Rebellion protest at Shell Tower, London: nurses hold a banner saying: 'Act now, stop Ecocide, save lives' which mimics the COVID-19 advice posters by the government. Picture: Getty

Our planet is at a turning point. COVID-19, which appears to have originated from a seafood market where wild animals were traded illegally, is a symptom of this.

Humankind is doing battle with a vicious pandemic, but as climate change continues to threaten human health and existence, I fear the real war is yet to come.

Our environmental practices are likely to cause more devastating events in the near future. The lack of insight that has led the world to this point may be apportioned to greed and disinterest on the part of those in positions of power, governments and large business corporations.

Nurses have always supported good ethics – we don't judge, we have no hidden agendas

It is plain to see that business without ethics, morals and principles is detrimental to all forms of life on this planet.

Nurses are in a strong position to role model, help raise awareness about environmental issues and push for change. We have always supported good ethics – we don't judge, we have no hidden agendas, we practise advocacy and we support our patients with every good intention.

For years we have nursed without stigma and helped shine a light on issues that society is grappling with. We have played a key role in health promotion. There is no doubt we have the skills and position to push for change and help raise awareness about climate change.

With this in mind, let us begin to encourage a wave of compassion and gratitude for the planet and all forms of life. Society, and especially business, needs to understand that the world requires honesty in practice.

Healthy vegetables
Picture: iStock

Key issues that nurses can help to highlight

There are three key issues that nurses can help highlight:

First, there is a need to promote a more plant-based diet. There are many issues surrounding the use of land and resources to put meat on our plates, and at some point these will become unsustainable.

A United Nations report on climate change last year advocated dietary shifts away from emissions-intensive livestock products to help reduce the world’s carbon footprint – livestock accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

We should question the processes employed by the meat industry, which raise ethical and moral concerns related to the suffering and slaughter of differing species.

Facing the truth about these practices is painful and sad. To save our planet, we need to respect other forms of life. Choosing a more plant-based diet can substantially reduce the risk of bowel cancers and many other health concerns.

Exercise and enjoyment of the natural environment reduce stress

Second, nurses can promote exercise and enjoyment of the natural environment. These pursuits reduce stress and help people to foster gratitude for the natural world and understand its value.

The opportunity for exercise during the first UK lockdown was taken up by a large proportion of the public. Exercise offered people a form of observable community – while not breaching social distancing rules – and helped reduce feelings of isolation.

Third, we must help raise awareness of the environmental damage from single-use plastic and the implications of this getting into the food chain. With an already huge carbon footprint, the ongoing need for personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals creates a new issue for the NHS and other health services to grapple with.

We may not have all the answers yet, but as a profession and united our voice can push for change.

Let’s come together to share resources, projects and ideas on how to tackle climate change

Nurses can signpost various green projects and put our weight behind proactive practices as they become established throughout the UK, as well as link with our fellow nurses in other countries to build initiatives and foster change.

Our profession cares about truth, social justice and the population, while the world demands kindness and unity wherever possible between all people, animals and the environment.

It should be our mission to prompt these lifestyle changes through seeking truth, honesty and humane practice. As senior nurses, we can use our resources to combat societal fear and act as positive leaders through chaotic times.

Let’s come together as a profession to share resources, projects and ideas on how to tackle climate change.

How you can help tackle climate change

Recycle logoEncourage nurses to suggest improvements – The RCN says nurses can be ‘a driving force’ in reducing waste, recycling more and minimising the carbon footprint of their organisations

Procurement logoInfluence procurement decisions – RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control Rose Gallagher says directors of nursing have influence here: ‘Try to get the amount of waste reduced and help make decisions about products with excessive packaging.’

Sustainable development management plan logo

Have a sustainable development management plan in place or encourage boards to undertake assessments for this – These plans address air pollution, energy, waste and water efficiency, green spaces and carbon emissions within an organisation and encourage staff engagement in social and environmental activity

Waste manager logoEnsure waste managers are available – Ms Gallagher says: ‘It is important that directors of nursing have relationships with their waste managers, if trusts have them. Or if they don’t, they should actively influence the board to ensure a waste manager is available in the trust.’

(Pictures: Noun)


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Spire Wellesley Hospital senior staff nurse Jackie FranksJackie Franks is a senior staff nurse at Spire Wellesley Hospital in Southend-on-Sea, Essex

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