Nurses Unions, Climate Change and Health

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1939 ... November 24, 2019

Nurses’ Unions, Climate Change and Health:
Toward A Global Agenda for Action

Sean Sweeney, Irene Shen and John Treat

Energy and emissions trends provide a crucial backdrop for making use of the information on health impacts presented in this report. In the longer term, unless we collectively act to shift what is happening with energy production, distribution and use, then making meaningful inroads to tackling the health impacts of climate change will become increasingly difficult and costly. While the IPCC’s SR15 states that limiting overall warming to 1.5°C is still possible from a technical standpoint, doing so requires "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society," involving essentially all aspects of modern society: land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.

The necessity and urgency of making such profound systemic changes has implications for how nurses can make the best use of health-related information. In the context of that challenge, and complemented by the information on energy and emissions, nurses and their allies may find the health-specific information especially useful in educating their... members about the kinds of dangers that are on the horizon if we are not able to unite and rally the social forces that can bring about the "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" necessary for a change of course.

Any honest assessment of the current energy and emissions trends can only lead to one conclusion: the world is going to get warmer in the coming decades, and without decisive intervention "from below," this warming will alter the planet’s climate system even further, producing yet more warming, and even greater threats to human health. With aggressive action to reduce fossil fuel use, the levels of warming could be kept within relatively "safe" limits. But there is as yet no evidence that the currently dominant approach to climate policy from elite institutions and political leaders will deliver such action.

As a starting point, there is a clear need for the global health community -- including its key voices -- to recognize that the transition to a low-carbon future is not "well under way," nor in any sense "inevitable." Nurses’ unions have a key role to play in communicating this reality. The health of billions depends on it.

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