Nurses Request Discussion on Health Effects of Climate, Environment Crisis

Leaders of unions representing leading nurses and other healthcare workers in 18 countries from every major continent requested a meeting with Pope Francis during his upcoming visit to the U.S. to discuss ways to work together to combat the alarming health effects of the climate crisis and other environmental degradation.

In an online petition posted today, Global Nurses United, including the U.S. based National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, is requesting an audience with Pope Francis to discuss:

  • How nurses and the Vatican can work together to confront the adverse health effects of the climate crisis, environmental degradation, and austerity.
  • Building an international alliance of nurses and faith leaders to work for more just societies, including recognition that health is a universal human right.

View the petition at:

The impetus for the request derives from both the Pope's recent encyclical on the climate crisis, and the activism of nurses across the globe calling for action to confront the harmful effects, especially on public health, of climate change and a wide range of environmental ills.

"Together the moral authority of the Vatican as evidenced already by Pope Francis' groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, and the high public regard for nurses offers an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate international efforts to redress these health emergencies," said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, a leader in the GNU.

In the encyclical, Pope Francis warned, "some forms of pollution are part of people's daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general."

Additionally, the encyclical notes, "Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."

"I urgently appeal," wrote the Pope, "for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."

Nurses, "who are on front line in taking care of people whose health is directly compromised by these trends should be a part of that dialogue," said DeMoro.

A central premise for nurses, said DeMoro, is the intrinsic view that "healthcare is a human right, that everyone should have an equal right to health care, not based on ability to pay, socio-economic status, gender, health behavior or country or area of residence. In the U.S. alone, studies have reported a 40 percent increased risk of death for those without health coverage. Lack of health coverage, or excessive cost for care result in numerous adverse health outcomes, delays in needed care, and higher societal costs."

"Climate disruption has been linked to a wide range of health problems associated with the unexpected spread of contagious disease including Ebola, cholera, bird flu, dengue fever, yellow fever, and other epidemics, malnutrition linked to drought and deforestation, bacteria-related food poisoning, and the escalating occurrence of super storms," DeMoro noted.

"Fossil fuel pollution, and other environmentally associated contaminants that infect air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply, have been directly linked to dangerous increases in heart and respiratory disorders, cancer, birth defects, skin and gastro-intestinal illness, and other health factors leading to premature death."

"In every country where GNU members live and work, they have been outspoken in addressing environmental pollution, and the effects of climate change. By working in cooperation with Pope Francis and the Vatican, there is no limit to what we can accomplish to protect patients and all humanity," DeMoro said.

GNU includes nurse and healthcare workers unions from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Greece,Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Uruguay, and the United States


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