Nurses for Planetary Health: A Call to Action
Barb Astle, PhD, RN; Lisa Bourque-Bearskin, PhD, RN; Dzifa Dordunoo, PhD, RN; Amanda Egert BSN, RN, MSN student; Rebecca Houweling, BScN, RN MSN student; Nicole Moen MSc, RN; Katrina Plamondon PhD, RN; Raluca Radu, BSN, RN, MSN student; Darlene Sanderson, PhD, RN; Catherine Smith, MSc, RN
Indigenous populations have inhabited the lands across the globe for tens of thousands of years. From this experience, human health and civilizations have learned to depend upon natural systems of traditional laws. According to the World Health Organization, (WHO) (2007), Indigenous Peoples globally have retained social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics distinct from the dominant societies in which they live. Over 370 million Indigenous peoples are acknowledged as the original descendants, inheritors, practitioners, and holders of unique cultural ways of relating to other people and their environment yet remain among the poorest and most marginalized populations.
Despite experiencing such hardships, Indigenous people in Canada remain steadfast in their resurgence and desire to reclaim traditional lands and protecting resources to support the restoration of community wellness through Indigenous sovereignty. When biological and cultural systems are degraded, biodiversity, fresh water, food production, and human health are all threatened.2-4 We do not need to look far to see how extreme changes in the environment impact health locally and globally. Whether we consider the wildfires displacing thousands of people in western Canada, Brazil and Angola; or look at salmon suffering the consequences of riverbed drought in Canada or mud slides in Sierra Leone, it is clear that the climate crisis carries dire consequences for global health. Coping with the impacts on human, animal, and plant health can compound the problem, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and water and energy use.
Embracing principles of planetary health3 remind us of the local, global, and planetary connections between our actions and impacts beyond our borders, and beyond our species. Because Indigenous peoples’ laws have always been in harmony with the natural world and are based on the laws of nature, traditional knowledge carries solutions to the crises of water (droughts and floods), food insecurity and climate change. By recognizing and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 5 and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth6, we will collectively improve the health and well-being of all people, and all plants and animals upon which we depend for food and medicine. When humanity understands the critical role that Indigenous peoples carry in our responsibility to protect the sacred nature of water, which carries life’s potential, we will also protect the life of Mother Earth. And, we will regain balance.
Nurses have a professional and personal responsibility to ensure that the health of the global citizen is not prioritized at the expense of our planet. Canadian and International nursing organizations recognize the human health impacts of climate change7-9 The Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment provides eco-literacy information on climate change to support best nursing practice in environmental health.10 The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) position statements on “Nurses and environmental Health” (2017) and Climate Change (2017)11 also emphasize the importance of taking action to support the health of the environment as it impacts human health. We affirm the CNA’s (2017) declaration that "nurses have a role in supporting adaptation and mitigation with respect to climate change through nursing practice, research, administration, education, and policy” (para. 1).
Correspondingly, the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia [NNPBC] recent position statement on “Engaging BC Nurses with Climate Change Issues” (2019) reiterated the importance for nurses to act locally and think globally. NNPBC emphasizes nurses are ‘well-positioned’ to act in unity and use both their expertise and voice to address the health of our environment and its inhabitants. Equally, NNPBC reminds nurses to practice in ways that uphold principles of social justice and health equity, especially when accounting for people who ‘experience marginalization’, regardless of where they are positioned (NNPBC, 2019) 12. Accordingly, meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities and their efforts to protect the land and way of living is thus a vital mission to planetary health.
This is a “call for action” for all of us. Nurses have a mandate to contribute to global efforts for health equity.7-11 As Nurses attending the British Columbia Coalition Institute (BCCI-2) in August 2019, we call for the uptake and integration of Planetary Health into our nursing practice. We challenge nurses to enact this mandate by becoming strong planetary health “advocates” inside and outside of their workplace. We can do so through by leveraging our nursing voice to bring attention to the importance of planetary health, speaking to ways we can personally and professionally reduce carbon footprints, and integrating planetary health content in our teaching, practice, research, and leadership. Global Green and Healthy Hospitals and BC Greencare are global and local communities where nurses can find out more on how their workplaces can create sustainability in health care. Nurses in all spheres of practice, clinical, education, administration, and research, should take up the call as global citizens by exploring innovative ways to enact the nursing profession such that care for the environment is held in as high a regard as our care for clients. All plants and animals have a purpose. The Earth does not need us, we need the Earth. We are a part of the web of life. Respect and compassion is needed for the Earth, who gives us life as we think of future generations.
- Manuel, R. & Derrickson, R. (2017). The reconciliation manifesto: Recovering the land and rebuilding the economy. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company Ltd
- Whitmee, S., Sainers, A., Beyrer, C., et al. (2015). Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of the Rockefeller The Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health. Lancet, 386, No. 10007, (1973-2018).
- Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) (2019). Planetary health. Retrieved from https://planetaryhealthalliance.org
- Government of Canada. (2019). Canada’s changing climate report: Advancing our knowledge for action. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved from https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/maps-tools-and-publications/publications/climate-change-publications/canada-changing-climate-reports/canadas-changing-climate-report/21177.
- United Nations. (2007). United nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
- World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. (2010). Cochabamba, Bolivia. Retrieved from: https://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/
- Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE) https://cnhe-iise.ca/
- Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) (2017). Nurses and Environmental Health Position Statement.
- International Council of Nurses (ICN). (2018). Climate change and health position statement.
- CNA-CANE Ecoliteracy Webinar https://cnhe-iise.ca/members.html
- Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) (2017). Climate Change and Health Position Statement.
- Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia (NNPBC). (2019). Engaging BC Nurses with Climate Change Issues Position Statement. Retrieved from: https://www.nnpbc.com/pdfs/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/PS-NNPBC-Climate-Change-Issues.pdf
Nurses for Planetary Health is a community of practice nurses that formed at the British Columbia Coalition Institute (BCCI) workshop in Victoria in August 2019. The group represents nurses from various universities and colleges in BC with the aim to leverage its platform to educate nurses about planetary health, create awareness of the impacts of healthcare industries’ carbon footprint on the planet, and formulate actions nurses can take in practice, research, and education for a more sustainable future for all.