6 months in…

I have now been a fully fledged fully qualified health visitor out in the world for 6 months. It has FLOWN by. Today I have been reflecting, and I have been so caught up with the day to day running of things, fire-fighting and safeguarding (fellow health visitors I’m sure you know this feeling well!), that I have lost sight of my aims. I wanted to raise awareness of climate change and its potential impacts on health, and to promote sustainability in health care. Upon reflection, I haven’t done much towards my own aims! I suppose being a newly qualified health visitor, I have had priorities of learning to be good at my job and trying to survive in a very challenging role! So now I’ve been here 6 months, how can I move forward?

1. Have the conversations with people. Raise awareness. This sounds simpler than it is! In practice, everyone is so busy that they may not see the importance of discussing climate change.

2. Have a look to see if my new NHS trust has a sustainability policy. I’m sure many of you work in organisations which have such policies, but do you know what they are? Do you even know where to find them? I don’t.

3. Try to cut down my car use. Try to plan my visits a little more effectively where possible. Outside of work, try walking whenever I can.

4. Try to use as little paper as I can! Stop photocopying and printing when I don’t need to!

5. Do they have sustainability champions at work? They may do! I should find out!

What practical steps could we all take to try and make a difference? You don’t have to change the big policies. You just have to do your bit!

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Glorious English weather: The Rain vs Active Transport!!

We all know that using the car for short journeys is unnecessary. It would keep us healthier if we walked or cycled more. According to Sustrans, private motor emissions account for 13% of this country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, so active transport for short journeys would benefit all round. Some more key facts from Sustrans to get us thinking:

– 11% of British car journeys are less than 1 mile

– If each UK car driver made 4 out of 5 short journeys on foot, by bicycle or public transport, it would save an average of £279 per year per driver

– Most importantly for us nurses, 15,000 lives could be saved if more short journeys were made without the car.

But here’s the problem. It’s cold and it’s raining! My local Zumba class is about a mile from my house. On a lovely summer’s evening I wouldn’t hesitate to head out for a brisk walk to get to my class. However the evenings are darker and this week it has rained. Constantly.

I used my car.

I felt INSTANTLY guilty. What happened to walking the talk? So this week I have made a decision. I am walking to Zumba come rain or shine! I have dusted off the wellies and my rain mac. Will I slip up again? Probably. But isn’t the point that it’s not easy to achieve? Or we wouldn’t have a problem would we? It’s not easy to stick to these changes. But I (we) have to remind ourselves that it is worth it.

If you slip up, just try again next time.

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“There’s an activist in all of us and you don’t have to shout to be heard”

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a book while waiting for a train last week, wandering around the bookshop with an hour to pass. The book was Small World, Big Ideas edited by Satish Kumar, and it gave me the inspiration I have been looking for. For those that don’t know, Satish Kumar is a former Jain monk and long-term peace and environmental activist (For information about his life’s work and more visit http://www.resurgence.org/satish-kumar/ the magazine for which he works as Editor-in-Chief). The book was published in 2012, and I am so glad to have come across it.

While I was intrigued by the title I was somewhat nervous about the term ‘activist’ which drums up the most awful and violent images in most of our minds. What I in fact got from this book was a reimagining of the term activist – in the most positive and inspiring way possible. The book is a collection of mini biographies, with people such as Caroline Lucas, Deepak Chopra and filmmaker Franny Armstrong discussing their ‘big ideas’ – how they are trying to change the world for the better. The most beautiful part of the book is how peaceful their stories are. The integrity of the people in the book shone through in their words and the achievements of these individuals is astonishing.

I am generally an optimist. I am one of ‘those people’ who believe anyone can make a difference, which is why I fight to change things. As a public health nurse, if I didn’t believe in people’s inherent capacity for change I would be in the wrong job. The book came to me at a time when my usually unwavering optimism was taking a bit of a hit. Work stresses and depressing world news items got on top of me, as they inevitably do for all of us at some point. Thank goodness that’s over! Can’t try and tackle a problem as big climate change or try to motivate others with that sort of attitude! So it’s back to optimism and motivation for me.

The book was beautifully written, inspiring to the core. I would highly recommend it to anyone feeling in need of a little boost. Especially those of us who embrace the notion of peaceful activism. It can be a hard, lonely road! And for those people that you know who are maybe in need of a little gentle persuasion to begin to act on their ‘big ideas’, this would make a perfect gift.

A website based on the ideas within the book can be found here http://www.smallworldbigideas.org/

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Transition Networks

For those of you who havent seen it already, I have been interviewed by Rob Hopkins for the Transition Network’s website. Check it out here. The Transition movement are interested in community led action. The idea being that small local actions can make big impacts and change the world, an idea which strikes a chord with me. It is an exciting, optimistic approach which all of us could implement. It is sometimes difficult to see how you could actually help, but the inspiring people involved in this movement show how its done! Check out their website for loads of info and hopefully some of you might decide that you want to start a local movement yourselves.

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10 Keys to Happier and Greener Living

As nurses we believe health is more than just bodily symptoms. Happiness and a sense of wellbing is as much a part of health as the physical. The Action for Happiness movement looks at what they believe are the 10 keys to happier living and I wondered if I could look at how these might link to addressing climate change. If helping the environment and becoming happier as an individual were linked, this can only be a good thing right? If I told you that helping to save the planet would also make you happier, you might be more inclined to join in I reckon. So these are my first thoughts on the subject.

Do things for others – Generosity helps connect us to other people and makes us feel good. I like to work to reduce my carbon emissions and raise awareness of climate change as I believe this benefits everyone. There are other practical ways of getting involved at a local level which will benefit other people. How about volunteering with a local wildlife trust / conservation group or campaigning on an issue which drives you?

Connect with people – taking time to strengthen relationships and our social networks is essential for happiness. So how about going for a walk with friends and family? Turning off the electronic devices won’t only reduce our electricity usage but might help strengthen our relationships and lead to happier lives.

Take care of your body – Being more active is a vital part of happier living. Methods of active travel such as walking or cycling are both beneficial to the environment and our health.

Notice the world around – Being more mindful and noticing the world around us can increase our wellbeing. Instead of eating in front of the TV, or listening to an mp3 player while walking to work why not focus on the task at hand. Notice the world – the sights, the smells, the sounds, again reducing our use of technology and therefore carbon emissions, and improving our wellbeing.

Keep learning new things – gardening? Cycling? There are a number of new skills we could learn which would also benefit the environment.

Have goals to look forward to – Choosing realistic goals can improve our sense of accomplishment if we manage to achieve them. How about setting up a local walking group? Or working towards a low carbon environment at work? Recycling your waste? Large or small, these will all help the environment and improve your happiness.

Find ways to bounce back – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger so they say. And a key ingredient in resilience is optimism. Feeling positive and optimistic about making changes to help reduce our carbon emissions may also help foster a sense of resilience in us. If at first we don’t succeed…..

Take a positive approach – again, optimism. Look for ways to approach each day with the sense that you can make a difference. Recycle that plastic bottle with the attitude that you are indeed helping and that your contribution is vital.

Be comfortable with who you are – Don’t focus on your flaws. If you drove to the shops yesterday and you are feeling guilty as you could have walked, don’t. You can start again today. Be comfortable with the contribution you are making. No-one is perfect. Self esteem is vital for wellbeing. If we can feel good about who we are, maybe we can have more confidence to fight the bigger issues.

Be part of something bigger – What’s bigger than the fight to save the health of the world? Join a group. Connect with other people who want to make a difference. Working towards something which is bigger gives us meaning and purpose. And is key to a happier life.


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What can I do?

When engaging people in discussions on climate change I always get asked ‘yes ok, but what do you want me to do about it?’. They look at me as if the things I suggest aren’t going to make the slightest difference. Most people seem to fail to recognise the difference that any one individual can make. 

* “What difference can I make when governments and big companies wont make changes?”

* “Does it matter what we do in the UK if other bigger countries won’t do anything to change things?”

* “As if turning off my lights is going to make any difference!”

* “Who are you kidding? If I use my car less it wont help because everyone else will still be using their car!”

* “No-one will care what I think. I’m not important enough to make a difference”

I’ve heard them all. It’s difficult for people to envisage making a difference. But it can be done. Many social movements in the past have started with individuals and produced tremendous change. It is our job as public health professionals to empower patients into making changes to lead healthier lifestyles to enhance their overall well-being. Motivational interviewing, health belief models, stages of change theory… any health promotion models or tools you use in your professional lives can be used in this same scenario. We are asking people to make small changes in their own lives – walk and cycle more, eat more organic or locally produced foods, use less electricity in the home, use the car less – which will as a result begin to have an effect on carbon emissions. 

When patients feel they cant make a difference to their own health, we are the ones who have the skills and resources to help them through this. Lets use the skills we already have to try and make a difference to the climate change problem. And if fellow health professionals want to know “what can I do to help?” there are plenty of resources we can direct them to. The Climate and Health Council have Ten Practical Actions for Doctors which are just as applicable for us nurses. See how many you already do, and how many you think you can take action on today.


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Florence and the Environment

Good ol’ Florence Nightingale. Widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in nursing history. What surprised me in my reading about her was just how inspiring she was for those of us in public health. She helped shape public awareness of socially unjust policies and campaigned against policies affecting human health.

Though science has moved on considerably since the time of Nightingale, it is interesting to note that she championed the causes of:

– adequate housing

– clean air

– clean water

– cleanliness

– sunlight

For anyone who wants to read more, there was an article published in 2013 in Nursing Science Quarterly by Professor S. Bunkers of South Dakota University.  


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My Carbon Footprint


I checked out my personal carbon footprint on wwf website. I recycle, I turn my lights and plug sockets off, I’m a strict vegetarian, I walk as much as I can… and yet we would still need over 3 planets if everyone lived as I do! Its my drive to work and my commute to university that’s the problem. Beyond giving up work that’s a very difficult problem for me to tackle. We nurses need our cars when we work in the community. I guess my next step would be to consider a hybrid or low emission car, but the CO2 emissions from producing a new car are so high we are advised to only buy second hand vehicles. How very confusing. More research to do on this matter I believe. I would love the ‘no work’ option but my landlord probably won’t appreciate the lack of rent being paid each month…

Apparently I need to turn the heating down in my home a bit. I love it toasty warm! As summer is approaching that should be a bit easier, and in winter I can get some lovely big jumpers and fluffy socks!! I also need to start composting my food waste.

The WWF carbon footprint calculator is short and simple and gives you an idea of what you need to change in your personal life to tackle carbon emissions. You can sign up for emails with daily suggestions too. Some top tips include:

Cut down on meat and dairy products
Reduce your car journeys for short trips, especially those under 2 miles
Eat more seasonal foods

Check it out. You might do better than you think!

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Greatest Opportunity

As a ‘glass half full’ sort of person I think that’s why I got involved in public health nursing in the first place. If I didn’t think people could change, or that things would never get any better, then I would definitely be in the wrong career! I absolutely echo the thoughts of the Global Climate and Health Alliance that by working together, we can turn climate change into this century’s greatest opportunity for public health. They have produced some excellent resources which were released this week to help us understand climate change and its implications for our health. If we all start to work together, we could start to make a real difference.

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Fossil Free Health

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report this week, which has highlighted the unavoidable conclusion that climate change is a global health issue with massive implications.

“This report really emphasises that climate change is the biggest threat to public health and that without urgent action to curb emissions, both by individuals and organisations, the impact on the health of many will continue to increase. The good thing is that there are co-benefits between action to reduce emissions and action to improve health – for example, walking and cycling instead of driving is both good for the planet and good for your health”
Sue Atkinson, Co-Chair, Climate and Health Council

1 in 8 deaths last year were due to air pollution. The recent smog in the UK put us all at risk, particularly asthma sufferers. 400,000 deaths last year were due to climate change. This isn’t something that will affect us in the distant future, its happening right now! In 2003 the heatwaves killed over 70,000 people across Europe. Summers like these will become more frequent and more severe. Recent UK flooding left some UK residents vulnerable and their homes destroyed. Current estimates are that by 2080 100 million people worldwide will be at risk of displacement due to sea level rises and increased floods. Elderly people and young children are the most vulnerable to these extremes of weather. As nurses we see the effects of these extremes of weather- hospitalisations and tragic deaths every year. As climate change affect us more and more each year these will become an ever increasing problem. The health of the children that we go to great lengths to protect every day will be at risk as they grow older in this environment.

This is not some regrettable but inevitable cost of economic and development progress; the truth is, we don’t need fossil fuels. As a recent report from Stanford University demonstrates, even the USA could achieve technologically and economically feasible 100% renewable energy generation by 2050 – saving the average American consumer £3,400 per year by 2050, relative to the current energy regime. As the researchers put it: “the greatest barriers to a conversion are neither technical nor economic. They are social and political.”

The operations of the fossil fuel industry are incompatible with global health worldwide – but health organisations materially support the industry by investing in it. That’s why today we’re asking health and healthcare organisations – Colleges, professional bodies, funding Trusts – to break the carbon addiction, and divest from fossil fuels.

Please support Fossil Free Health, a Medact and Healthy Planet UK campaign. If you are a doctor, nurse, student, or other health professional your help could be invaluable. Check out the campaign website. It is so important that we act sooner rather than later.

#fossilfree #climatehealth

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