by Kirsten Minor
2023 is already proving to be a record-breaking year for the ongoing climate crisis.
Extreme heat warnings and advisories have impacted more than 100 million people in the United States this month alone. More than 98 million people have been affected by raging wildfires in Canada, which continue to shape daily air quality all the way here in North Carolina. Other extreme weather events, such as flooding caused by extreme precipitation and hurricanes, also significantly impact Carolina’s coastal communities, families, and livelihoods.
Given the clear links between climate change and public health, it is crucial that nurses and other health professionals learn how climate change impacts patient care.
On August 11, 2023, CleanAIRE NC will hold a special climate health workshop for school nurses from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district. The training aims to increase awareness of how climate change impacts student health, and will support school nurses in identifying ways to protect students and promote public health.
Climate-fueled extreme heat and poor air quality both pose significant threats to health. Extreme heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the United States, and is associated with increasing hospitalizations and treatment for heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and worsening symptoms of chronic conditions such as heart disease.
Meanwhile, global air pollution causes 8 million premature deaths annually. Within the United States, approximately 350,000 premature deaths (more than car crashes and murders combined) are attributed to fossil fuel air pollution. It’s no wonder the World Health Organization calls climate change and its associated air pollution “the greatest health risk of the 21st Century.”
Air Quality Action Alert days are becoming increasingly common both nationally and here in North Carolina, making it the new “abnormal.” In North Carolina, nine of the ten leading causes of death are caused or worsened by air pollution. A recent study found that air pollution from the U.S. oil and gas sector resulted in 410,000 asthma exacerbations and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma, totaling $77 billion in public health impacts.
Children and adolescents are among the most vulnerable groups to these health risks. Asthma is the leading chronic disease among children in the United States, with more than 5 million American children living with asthma. Research shows that burning fossil fuels significantly drives this asthma burden, while air pollution may spur cardiac arrhythmia in otherwise healthy teens and young adults.
Climate change also impacts mental health. Children’s and adolescents’ brains are still developing, making them more susceptible to experiencing decreased cognition and increased risks for ADHD, autistic traits, depression, and anxiety from air pollution.
Raising awareness and educating health professionals on the impacts of climate change is more critical than ever in our medical institutions and schools. Health professionals, including nurses, are among the most trusted voices on the health impacts of air pollution and climate change. They must be able to discuss these issues with their patients and communities clearly.
Next month’s school nurse training is just the start. Air and climate solutions will bring real health benefits. But we need trusted messengers to lead the call for climate health. By engaging school nurses and other health professionals, we can collectively increase education and advocacy efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Will you add your voice?