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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Nurses Rally For Climate Change

World leaders are meeting in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference, and nurses are calling for action here in L.A. 

Over 150 world leaders are meeting in Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference to negotiate an agreement to slow the pace of global warming. Although California has no negotiating power, Governor Brown and Mayor Garcetti are both in Paris to discuss California’s greenhouse emissions reduction plan. 

While Governor Jerry Brown prepared to speak at the UN Climate Summit this morning, hundreds of nurses and environmental activists rallied in downtown Los Angeles to raise awareness about the importance of slowing temperatures globally and in California, as well as holding politicians and officials accountable for reduction goals.

National Nurses United (NNU), activists, scientists and doctors spoke at Pershing Square to push for an end to fossil fuel burning, elimination of greenhouse gas pollution and a need for a sustainable energy future globally and in California.

“In the past several years we have seen more extreme heat in our region coupled with unprecedented droughts, which has led to worse air quality, exposing our precious lungs to damaging pollutants,” Dr. Paul Song, Board Certified Radiation Oncologist says. “These warmer temperatures have allowed insects previously stopped by cold weather to flourish and spread more diseases.”

Activists rally to bring awareness to climate change  (Maria Cavassuto / Annenberg Media)
Activists rally to bring awareness to climate change (Maria Cavassuto / Annenberg Media)
Song believes the increase in infectious and vector-born diseases such as malaria, the bubonic plague, lyme disease, and dengue and yellow fever is attributed to global temperature increases. He believes global warming and continuous climate change will have catastrophic health impacts.

Rachael Hernandez has been a nurse at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in the pediatric department for five years and sees the health repercussions of global warming daily. Bakersfield does 85 percent of the fracking in California and has the second worst air quality in the nation according to the American Lung Association.

“We have a lot of kids. They can’t go outside and play. Our air quality is terrible; we actually have what’s called hazardous air days where kids can’t go outside and play,” Hernandez says.

“They’re having uncontrollable asthma attacks and we’re doing what you would do in a normal city that has clean air and it’s not even helping some of these kids, so we’re seeing longer, more complicated hospital stays.”

Lack of access to clean energy and exposure to air pollution, primarily from fossil fuels, are directly connected to eight million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Nurses and activists are hoping to bring awareness to the detrimental effects of air pollution and are calling for a push to transition into renewable power on both a global and local level.

Hundreds of nurses call attention to health repercussions from global warming (Maria Cavassuto / Annenberg Media)
Hundreds of nurses call attention to health repercussions from global warming (Maria Cavassuto / Annenberg Media)

Arnie Saiki, an environmental activist and coordinator for Moana Nui, attended the rally in solidarity with NNU. He attends multiple climate change events year-round and said that this rally was the largest he’s seen in the Southern California area in over a year.

“To see this many people come out for the California nurses is beautiful and it’s inspiring,” Saiki says.

Saiki, who works with cross-oceanic solidarity groups through the Asia-Pacific region, says that information is one of the most important aspects to bring about change.

“Social media is an amazing platform to do that. It’s a good way to get information on local environmental issues,” he says.

Martha Kuhl, a registered nurse, is the secretary treasurer of NNU. Kuhl considers the effects of climate change and the effect on the environment as a public health emergency.  

“We see the effect of climate change daily in our patients,” Kuhl says. “There is also an uptick in infectious diseases we see as nurses around the world as the climate changes, as drought happens and as the temperatures get hotter.”

The rally is part of the NNU’s effort to alert and draw attention to the UN Climate Conference in Paris. But it is also a call to action for both local and world governments.  

“If we don’t change our behavior and take this seriously we are going to destroy our health along with our planet,” she says.  

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