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Advocating for Health and Justice in Climate Change

“We all need to have a planetary health lens that includes justice to have a future where everyone can thrive.” -- Dr. Ruth McDermott-Levy, speaker at COP26  

“It is critically important that health care providers learn about the health impacts of climate change, the co-benefits of climate change mitigation and engage with their health systems and communities to address climate change mitigation and adaptation,” explains Ruth McDermott-Levy, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, professor and co-director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment (MACCHE)/Region 3 PEHSU. 

The link between the environment and health has been an interest of Dr. McDermott-Levy’s since she was a nursing student in upstate Pennsylvania and saw coal miners with black lung disease. That interest has gone global as she researches and advocates on health issues related to climate change. In that spirit, she is headed to Glasgow, Scotland for COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, being held October 31-November 12. She  is attending with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is part of a team “that is addressing climate justice, nursing practice centered on it, and the impact of climate injustice that nurses are observing globally,” she says. Two Villanova Nursing alumni - Sister Jackline Mayaka, FSJ, '15 BSN, '17 MSN, ‘20 PhD, RN, from Kenya and Najeem Al Baluchi ’11 BSN, RN, MPH from the Sultanate of Oman - participated in podcasts related to climate justice in their respective countries and those podcasts are to be highlighted during the interactive session.

Dr. McDermott-Levy attended COP24 in Katowice, Poland in December 2018 and spoke at the Global Climate and Health Summit, sponsored by WHO, Global Climate & Health Alliance, European Committee of the Regions, and Pro Silesia on the weekend between the two-week meeting. She traveled there from Finland after receiving a Fulbright-Saastamoinen Foundation Health and Environmental Sciences Award. With the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Nurses Association, Dr. McDermott-Levy conducted a study to understand Finnish nurses’ perception of the health impacts of climate change in their country.   

While headed to an international event, she sees a clear tie between COP26 and MACCHE, stressing that “Pregnant people and children are among the most vulnerable to climate change, and this is especially true for low-income people and people of color.  The deep dive into climate justice for the COP26 presentation expands my thinking on the efforts for children and pregnant people locally for EPA Region 3.”

Dr. McDermott-Levy reiterates that climate change “is our greatest public health threat. We are experiencing the impacts of climate change locally and we see global impacts as well.” Nurses play a key role in shaping health beyond the horizon. She stresses, “It is important for nurses to be involved with high-level climate change meetings to observe, advocate, and witness for the individuals, families, and communities that are experiencing or will experience the health impacts of climate change. We all need to have a planetary health lens that includes justice to have a future where everyone can thrive.”