Climate Change, Climate Justice, and a Call for Action

Jasmine L. Travers, PhD, AGPCNP-BC, RN; Elizabeth C. Schenk, PhD, MHI, RN-BC, FAAN; William E. Rosa, MS, RN, AGPCNP-BC, FCCM, FAAN; Patrice K. Nicholas, DNSc, DHL (Hon.), MPH, RN, NP-C, FAAN


Nurs Econ. 2019;37(1):9-12. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


It is time for nurses to step up and see themselves as a part of the solution to climate change. Propelling our efforts in policy, research, scholarship, clinical practice, and service as nurses and engaging our interprofessional colleagues are critical efforts as we move ahead in our call to action.


Climate change is happening (Crimmins et al., 2016; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014; U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2017). Last year, thousands of lives were lost to climate change-related events, such as hurricanes, floods, fires, storms, and droughts, the severity of which are considered to be made worse by climate change. Costs of these events in 2017 were estimated at more than $300 billion, the largest annual total to date (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Office for Coastal Management, 2018).

Climate change has consequences: devastating weather events, reduced air quality, unsafe drinking water, increased food insecurity, insufficient shelter, heat-related morbidity and mortality (heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory arrests), increased violence, and decreased worker productivity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014; Crimmins et al., 2016; George, Bruzzese, & Matura, 2017; Mac & McCauley, 2017; Nicholas & Breakey, 2017; Veenema et al., 2017).

The financial and human costs of climate change-related events further encompass many downstream impacts that can undermine health. These impacts include post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, magnification of acute food insecurity, malnutrition, undernutrition, disruption of agricultural production, eruption of communicable diseases, and insufficient housing (Crimmins, 2016).

As Lemery, Williams, and Farmer (2014) suggest: "The people who will suffer most are those who [are] most vulnerable to begin with, living in regions of the world with perilous human security, pervasive poverty, little fulfillment of human rights, geographic disadvantage, and contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions" (p. 2). Thus, it is the least prepared and least likely to contribute to the deleterious climate effects on our environment who will be most affected by climate health consequences: our children, elderly, homeless, minorities, the impoverished, indigenous, unemployed, immunocompromised, and those living with chronic diseases and disabilities (CDC, 2015; Leyva, Beaman, & Davidson, 2017; Nicholas & Breakey, 2017). Insufficient resources, underdeveloped infrastructure, and increased vulnerability place these groups at odds to respond to threats posed by climate change. It is the same story but with a different name: climate injustice.