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Five Questions with Joan Widmer from NH Healthcare Workers for Climate Action

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

1) Please tell us a little bit about NH Healthcare Workers for Climate Action. How did you become interested in working with this organization? Over the past five years or so, I have been involved in a lot of healthcare related advocacy work. I worked with Bob Friedlander on the campaign to promote COVID vaccines and address vaccine hesitancy. I also worked with another founding member, Judy Joy, on a program to assist long term care facilities during the pandemic. Both Judy and Bob reached out to me to see if I wanted to participate in an initiative to use the voice of healthcare workers, a very trusted voice, to educate the public and policy makers on the impact of climate change on health. I thought this was a great concept and agreed to participate, albeit in a small way due to other commitments. Now, about 10 months later, I am serving as the organization’s Treasurer, Interim Executive Director, and Co-Chair of the Policy and Advocacy Working Group. The organization has a critical mission, a group of dedicated volunteers and a truly remarkable employee, all working to share the message that climate change is impacting each and everyone of us, here and now, and we must do something about it today.

In just 8 months of operation, NH HWCA has grown to a total of 2500 interdisciplinary healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, students, professors, and more. Our interdisciplinary working groups include Children's Health, Behavioral Health, Climate Justice, Communications & Education, and Policy & Advocacy. Each group meets monthly, and is working on their own respective projects. We also have an interactive webinar series with national experts on climate and health, that is free and open to all:

2) Climate change can and will affect our daily health. What are some of your concerns? Have you seen an increase in certain health conditions due to climate change? I am partially retired, but do work clinically a few days per week as a home health care RN. Many of the patients I care for have respiratory and cardiovascular disease that impacts their breathing. As temperature and humidity rise, respiratory conditions are exacerbated and these patients struggle to breathe, especially if they do not have air conditioning. In addition, vector borne illnesses are a major concern here in New Hampshire. Just this past week, my husband went to check on some American Chestnut trees he planted on Bragdon Hill land in Amherst. He came away with 17 ticks on his clothing and person from walking in the surrounding fields. He has been diagnosed with Lyme disease on at least two occasions over the past few years. I personally limit my outdoor time in early morning and late afternoon and evening because I frequently get mosquito bites and have concern about mosquito borne illnesses.

3) What are some easy and do-able ways the average person can improve their health and help ward off these problems? We all need to do what we can to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Use public transportation where available. Support public funding of mass transit systems, especially mass transit electric vehicles. Walk, bike and car pool when possible. Plan your errands so that you reduce the number of trips, thereby reducing your gas consumption. Keep your tires properly inflated. Buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. Stop using incandescent light bulbs and switch to LEDs. Turn off lights when leaving a room. Make sure your home is well insulated. Reduce your thermostat at night in during the heating season. Increase your thermostat during the cooling season. Eat more locally grown foods. Buy in bulk and reduce purchases of items packaged in plastic. Compost food waste, don’t throw it out.

4) Please tell us about your own zero-waste journey. What are some habits that you've successfully adopted and other areas where you're working to improve? This is still very much a journey for my husband and myself. We recently installed new windows throughout our home and selected windows that had a highly rated insulation factor. When we shop for appliances, we select those that use less energy. We use cold water for washing clothes and keep our showers brief. We set back our thermostat at night and when we are away. We are currently evaluating moving to geothermal energy to heat our home. I purchased a hybrid car at the end of 2020 (so happy now to get 55-56 mile/gallon at today’s gas prices). We buy many drinks in powdered form instead of in plastic bottles (like tea and sports drinks). I use a washing detergent that comes in a box of small strips instead of large plastic bottles. I’m sure there are more things we can and will do over the coming years. 5) Anything else you'd like to share with us? Most importantly, vote for candidates for office who support climate solutions. Contact your elected representative when they are considering legislation that addresses climate change and encourage them to vote in support of that legislation. Use your voice! Let your representatives know you care about our planet and you want action taken now to address global warming!


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