"Everything is Connected": Why Nursing is Concerned about the Environment

~ The difference between animals and humans is that animals
change themselves for the environment, but humans change
the environment for themselves. ~

Ayn Rand

True Northern Beauty

For Starters.....

Deep ecology is an environmental movement initiated by a Norwegian philosopher, Arnie Naess, in 1972. He wasn't the first to dream up the idea of a radical change in humanity's relationship to nature, but he coined the term "deep ecology" and helped to give it a theoretical foundation.

Deep ecology is founded on two basic principles: one is a scientific insight into the interrelatedness of all systems of life on Earth, together with the idea that anthropocentrism - human-centeredness - is a misguided way of seeing things. Deep ecologists say that an ecocentric attitude is more consistent with the truth about the nature of life on Earth. Instead of regarding humans as something completely unique or chosen by God, they see us as integral threads in the fabric of life. They believe we need to develop a less dominating and aggressive posture towards the Earth if we and the planet are to survive.

The second component of deep ecology is what Arnie Naess calls the need for human self-realization. Instead of identifying with our egos or our immediate families, we would learn to identify with trees and animals and plants, indeed the whole ecosphere. This would involve a pretty radical change of consciousness, but it would make our behavior more consistent with what science tells us is necessary for the well-being of life on Earth. We just wouldn't do certain things that damage the planet, just as you wouldn't cut off your own finger.

(from Introduction To Deep Ecology) Deep ecology is a new way to think about our relationship to the Earth - and thinking is a prelude to action. An Interview with Michael E. Zimmerman, by Alan AtKisson

The Canadian Nurses Association is active in promoting health and preventing environmental harm. CNA, like you, understands that everything is connected. That "Human health depends on the health of the environment, and CNA values actions that prevent or reduce harm to the environment." As a nurse, we are called forth to "become more aware of environmental health issues, ... focus on reducing the environmental impact of the health setting in which [we] work and of [our] personal activities, and thus promote environmental sustainability. "

CNA endorses the use of the precautionary principle as a fundamental tenet of practices that affect the environment. The precautionary principle proposes that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
(CNA Position Statement - Nursing and Environmental Health)

In other words, don't wait. Act.

The Eleventh Hour

The 11th Hour: A Call to Action

By Shelly Archibald, RN BScN © November, 2010
Communications Officer, Canadian Nurses for Health and the Environment

We are creatures of Earth, created out of stardust, energized by the sun, carrying with us fragments of the first life-forms – evidence of our kinship with every other creature on the planet
(David Suzuki & Amanda McConnell, 1999, p.145).

Nurses understand that all life is precious. But this term should not be restricted to human life, as it so often is, since by definition the word actually refers to all living things. Does this mean that we have an obligation to care for the earth and all its creatures? Unequivocally, yes. In fact, nurses recognized years ago that our species is shaped by the environment in which we live, work and play. We already understand that human beings are deeply and intricately connected to the land we tread, the air we breathe, the wind we feel, the sun's rays we absorb and the water we drink. We are borne from and evolve with our planet. Each grain of sand and earth, every droplet of water and blade of grass, each leaf and snowflake, suffuses our being. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves, since our survival, and the survival of all things, is tied to the fate of the earth. And it is up to each of us to advocate for its protection and preservation.

Here in the West we have exorcised the spirits and
cut ourselves loose from the living web of the world

(David Suzuki & Amanda McConnell, 1999, p.191).

Unfortunately, those of us who live in the industrialised nations of the West are completely disconnected from the natural world. Although science and technology have inspired us to new heights, we have found little satisfaction in its achievements. How can we live in such affluence and yet still be so unhappy, so unhealthy? It is because our modern society has brought us up to believe that money, growth and progress define happiness. But we grow up and realize that these things provide us with only fleeting pleasure; it does not give meaning to our lives. In order to reconstruct our belief in what makes us happy, we need to get back in touch with the natural world, a world of wonder, enchantment and mystery that is deeply imbedded in our collective psyche. It is through nature that we discover ourselves, learning of the richness and diversity of our world which is inhabited by innumerable species that are as connected to us as we are to them. We would learn to value, respect and care for all beings not for the purpose of meeting human needs, but for their intrinsic value to the planet we share. Ultimately, the health and survival of all inhabitants of earth depends upon a human awakening to an alternative, global consciousness.

We are Earth beings, sharing genes with all other life forms through our common evolutionary history.... We are made up of those sacred elements that flow through and around us in a world of interconnections and interdependencies that expose the notion of isolation, separation, and independence as an illusion...
(David Suzuki, Amanda McConnell and Maria DeCambra, 2002, p. 8-9).

A transformed worldview among humans would involve an appreciation and guardianship of the planet. Trees, rivers, plants, animals, indeed everything that shares the earth would be recognized as priceless, irreplaceable treasures that are fundamental to the web of life. If not for the majestic tree, how could there be clean air? If not for the bountiful ocean, how could there be such bio-diversity? The earth requires all things, from the smallest microbe to the highest mountain, to nurture and sustain life. One needs only to consider the impact of the death of the worlds honeybees. That the loss of just a single creature can affect flowering plants, seed dispersal, pollination and ultimately, the food chain, demonstrates the intricate and delicate balance that exists between all living things. The fact that human beings did not appreciate these interrelationships, while polluting and destroying the range and habitat of the honeybee and thereby endangering their very survival, exposes the limits of our modern knowledge. In truth, we are in and of the world, dependent upon it despite millennia of evolution and progress. We must re-examine our place and purpose in nature, radically altering our worldview and our actions to become guardians of this shared earth that has but a single destiny.

I am a citizen, not of Athens, nor of Greece, but of the whole world

If we are to adopt a transformative global consciousness, our time to do so is short. The earth is suffering; its inhabitants are dying, and the land, water and air are polluted. Our bodies are as toxic as the world around us. As nurses and as global citizens, how shall we respond? Can we allow the destruction of the earth to continue? We must act. We must seek to protect the health and well being of the planet, upon which the survival of all things depend. We are fast approaching the 11th hour, the last chance to make significant changes to our worldview and very way of life. Already, global climate patterns are shifting, the polar ice caps are melting and extinctions are at record levels. Human beings remain one species among many, but ultimately responsible for altering our shared destiny. Can we save the honeybee? Can we stop global warming? We have no choice: it must be done if the earth is to heal, recover and survive. Nurses are uniquely positioned to educate, enlighten and empower people to change. We must work collectively with our fellow beings to return the earth to its natural rhythms and cycles. We must demand change and enforce it, no matter the cost or sacrifice. We must do this for all the generations of life, from plants to trees, animals to humans, yet to come. For the fate of the entire world now depends upon us.

It is far easier to accept and stand on the past, than to fight for the answers of the future
Robert F. Kennedy


Chivian, E. & Bernstein, A. (Eds.). (2008). Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kennedy, M. T. (1998). Make gentle the life of this world: The vision of Robert F. Kennedy. New York: Broadway Books.

Suzuki, D & McConnell, A. (1999). The sacred balance: Rediscovering our place in nature. Vancouver, B.C.: Mountaineers Books.

Suzuki, D., McConnell, A. & DeCambra, M. (2002). The sacred balance: A visual celebration of our place in nature. Vancouver, B.C.: Greystone Books.


So, are you interested in getting more information or more involved ?

Canadian Nurses for Health and The Environment

The Canadian Nurses for Health and the Environment - Infirmieres et Infirmiers pour la Sante et l'Environnement (CNHE/IISE) represents Registered Nurses dedicated to the improvement of environmental health across all domains of nursing practice, policy, research and education. An emerging group of the Canadian Nurses Association, CNHE works to:

  • - Facilitate knowledge sharing and transfer based on environmental health principles and nursing best practices;
  • - Support evidence-based environmental health practice;
  • - Influence policy development and legislation to support environmental nursing practice;
  • - Promote educational and research opportunities for nurses.

The Environment and Health: An Introduction for Nurses (PDF document)
The Role of Nurses in Greening the Health System (PDF document)
Video: Health Environment and Nursing
Video: The Role of Nurses in Greening the Health System
Video: Nursing and Climate Change
The Role of Nurses in Addressing Climate Change(PDF document)

CJGHC NEW!! The Canadian Journal of Green Health Care

The very first issue of this important journal from the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care is now available to read online.