Be a climate change champion in your workplace

Two nurses who attended the recent NSWNMA seminar – “Sydney Climate Health Champions Workshop” – spoke to The Lamp about the importance of increasing awareness among healthcare workers of the consequences of climate change.

Health professionals need to know more about climate change

Sarah Ellyard says health professionals need to know more about the impact of climate change on the health system.

She says nurses and midwives are more aware than before “but we still have some way to go”. 

“I think that lack of awareness stems from a lack of focus in education starting at university, but also in continuing education. I don’t see hospitals running in-services about it. We have to increase awareness among health professionals about climate change and its impacts.

She says the negative health impacts are not something that will occur in the future – they are in the here and now.

“We are already seeing an increase in presentations from climate change impacts. Heatwaves are one of the biggest killers in Australia compared to other extreme weather events. They are already having an impact on people 
who have chronic illnesses.”

“The increase in emergency presentations during heatwaves flows into increased admissions to other non-emergency wards. Chronic illness from climate change impacts on the mental health system. It impacts on nurses working out in the community as well. It’s a huge thing. There will need to be an increase in the number of staff.

“There is also the social impact of climate change like displacement and the increase in conflict that will come and that is already happening. Climate change is seen as one of the biggest health threats by the World Health Organization.”

Sarah says the health system has plenty to do to reduce its own contributions to global warming.

“I think the health system needs to do a lot more to reduce its own impact, to reduce its own emissions. That’s a huge thing to start with. There needs to be more funding and resources go into preparing the system.”

Of course, she says, there needs to be responses to climate change beyond the health system if people’s health is to be protected.

“We need to get our political leaders to do everything they can to transition to renewables – to invest in renewables and to make renewables more affordable for people. We need strong legislation to phase out fossil fuels. We need to prevent any new fossil fuel projects.

“We need to be doing more than we are now.”

Sarah says: “I had a long-standing interest in the environment before I became a nurse. I’ve always had a strong connection to nature and the environment. My dad is involved in environmental activism and conservation. I’ve always been 
a passionate bush walker.

“There has always been something there. It gradually evolved with global warming and how important it was to our future and the health impacts.

“Now I want to focus on the health impacts and work with other health professionals who are already doing work in this area – to have more conversations about climate change and health.

‘We need to be doing more than we are now.’

Mark Quealy says his interest in climate change “just sort of crept up. It happened over many years”. He says it is important to him “because it directly relates to a person’s health”.

This eventually led to him participating in a recent NSWNMA workshop for “climate health champions”.

He says the workshop of concerned health professionals – including nurses and doctors – was valuable “as there needs to be more discussion among health professionals about how climate change will impact on patients and the health system’s ability to deliver care”.

“There needs to be more awareness – more meetings and updates with staff about the issue. More examples of how it is affecting people. Staff need to know more about that.”

Mark says he heard some interesting examples of how climate change was impacting on other Australians at the workshop.

“One of the doctors talked about Torres Strait Islanders and how climate change has affected their agriculture and what they can 
grow now.

“They’ve had to import more food and they are losing agricultural land through rising sea waters. That’s pretty in-the-face for those communities. That is not so obvious to me when I live in a temperate climate.

“It’s also clearly having an impact in Western Sydney according to one of the participants at the seminar. She is seeing more deaths related to higher temperatures.”

Mark says the lack of action and the disinformation around climate change is frustrating.

“I think there needs to be more emphasis on the science around climate change. There hasn’t been enough publicity about how it is actually impacting on us. The media is not taking up the examples of how it is directly affecting people now.

“I certainly want to get the conversation going in my workplace amongst my colleagues and get some awareness about what’s happening and they might make some personal decisions about how they react to that.

“I don’t think a lot of my colleagues are terribly interested. I’d like to bring them around. I’ll keep working on it.”