Public dialogue has also begun to converge on the role of hospitals and clinicians in protecting public health from global warming. Just in the past few months, Time magazine, Forbes and the San Francisco Chronicle all highlighted the unique position and ethical imperative of health care to steer this work. This momentum follows recognition earlier this summer when the Obama Administration named Health Care Without Harm president and co-founder Gary Cohen and fellow nurse colleague Dr. Laura Anderko as “Champions of Change” for their work to adapt health care and protect public health from the hazards of a changing climate.

Time and again we hear that nurses are considered the most trusted profession in the United States, yet few of us regularly contemplate how nursing influences and health promotion infiltrates our everyday lives well beyond bedside patient teaching. Approximately 3,000,000 Americans are nurses. Not only are we in the emergency rooms responding to heat-related asthma and heart disease, we are hospital executives implementing massive lean energy initiatives and creating positions for ourselves as sustainability coordinators. We are in colleges and universities, conducting research and teaching nursing and public health students.

The healthy lives of people depend ultimately on the health of Planet Earth — its soil, its water, its oceans, its atmosphere, its biological diversity — all of the elements which constitute people’s natural environment. By extension, therefore, nurses need to be concerned with the promotion, maintenance and restoration of health of the natural environment, particularly with the pollution, degradation and destruction of that environment being caused by human activities.

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