Dr. Tener Goodwin Veenema, Senior Advisor to the American Red Cross and former Senior Consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, believes that global climate change is the greatest impending threat to public health. Her new book, Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness for Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Terrorism and Other Hazards, the third edition of the gold standard, award-winning text in the disaster nursing field, explores climate change and its health consequences.
The book is the first disaster nursing work to directly address climate change and its impact on human health and help better educate nurses on the potential dangers of this next great challenge. After the particular devastation of the tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes in the last few years, and in the wake of the 2012 extended heatwaves, the hottest July on record, severe drought, and outbreaks of West Nile virus, this coverage is particularly timely.
Part of the danger of these climate change-related events is their unique potential for large-scale disasters, Dr. Veenema explains. She elaborates, “Climate change-related disasters are not easy cause and effect scenarios, but multi-faceted, complex events whose greatest threat lies in their potential to trigger a domino effect of subsequent disasters.” As one example, she offers Hurricane Katrina, which actually involved three different disasters including the actual hurricane, the resulting levee breakage, and the subsequent flood spreading contamination from the release of underground chemicals and sewage.
The health consequences of climate change and these climate-related disasters are significant and far-reaching, says Dr. Veenema. In addition to the emergence and reemergence of deadly infectious diseases in increasingly warmer geographic regions, climate change could also result in heat-related morbidity, respiratory ailments and allergies, food and water-born diseases, and cancer, among other illnesses. She adds, “These potential perils call for nurses and nurse educators to play a critical role by participating in raising awareness and advocating for policies that will mitigate the health impacts of climate change.”