Moving the Conversation on Climate Change

Dr. Kasey Jordan

I could feel the breeze from eyes rolling through the classroom. It was about 2010, and I was facilitating a discussion about the mental health impacts of climate change with my pre-licensure nursing students. I knew my students well, and the class was full of compassionate, intelligent people. Teaching about this particular topic was a special challenge though; it was rare to find evidence that students felt climate change was a true risk to human health. Fast forward a decade, and teaching about climate change remains a challenge. The challenge, however, has totally transformed. Now, I find most of my students fully accept that climate change represents a serious risk to human health before they even show up in my class. My task is to help them understand what they, as registered nurses, can do to help.

It is no secret that climate change can cause distress, and evidence indicates that the mental health impacts of climate change may disproportionately impact younger people (Ma, Moore, & Cleary, 2022). Teaching nurses have always required skill in facilitating tough conversations, and teaching about climate change requires “leaning in” to information that can be scary and overwhelming. I’ve found that stopping the conversation at the health impacts of climate change is not enough. Today, my classroom conversations about climate change also include how we might identify people most at risk, how we might assess and intervene with social determinants of health to promote positive outcomes, and how nurses can foster unexpected collaborations that lead to unpredictable but positive community changes. Luckily we have found enormous support in this last endeavor, with representatives from the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and the United States Army Corps of Engineers partnering with us to develop innovative clinical experiences that include community risk assessments.

Teaching about climate change, as with all teaching, requires continuous learning and growth. Moving the conversation about climate change and past health risks to a place of action and empowerment is still a challenge, but one I am happy to embrace. How are you addressing climate change in your practice? I’d love to hear from you!

Ma, T., Moore, J., & Cleary, A. (2022). Climate change impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of young people: A scoping review of risk and protective factors. Social Science & Medicine, 301, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.114888 

Kasey Jordan is an Assistant Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her work focuses on public health innovation management, particularly related to community disaster resilience. She can be contacted at jordakas@musc.edu.

Photo taken in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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