5 ways to protect your health during a climate crisis

November 12, 2021 Christine Cox

Trees forming the shape of a heartbear

[4 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • Taking small actions now will help you better protect your health during an extreme weather event driven by climate change. 
  • Preparation is key to staying well and protecting your communities.
  • Providence caregivers, Dr. Brian Chesebro and Beth Schenk, share insights on climate change and health. 

 

Resiliency starts at home.

Preparing for a climate crisis can seem overwhelming but taking small steps can help us feel more prepared. Given the ever-growing nature of the climate crisis, it’s important to be informed about the types of changes happening in your region. Whether it’s droughts, wildfires, air pollution or excessive heat, there are ways you can prepare for and protect your health and that of your community during these uncertain times.

Climate change affects every corner of the globe in different ways. If you live closer to the mountains, you may need to consider increased mudslides from snow melt. If you live near the ocean, rising sea levels, heat or wildfires may pose a greater risk. Home in the plains? Then extreme heat and floods might be the top-of-mind climate threats.

Wherever you call home, there are ways you can prepare to protect your health during a climate crisis.

5 ways to protect your health during a climate crisis

#1. Anticipate impacts and be prepared

The most important step you can take is to prepare. 

As Brian Chesebro, M.D. and Medical Director of Environmental Stewardship in Providence’s Oregon Region, explains “We have to think about climate change implications ahead of time. Ask yourself: How does the environment affect my health?  Will a major weather event affect my chronic conditions? For instance, if someone has asthma, they need to recognize that wildfires will be a serious issue for their health and consider what they need to do to prepare.”

You can start preparing by knowing your region and how climate change drives weather events. There are many resources available, all divided by regions and anticipated climate concerns. Do your research to know how climate change affects your region, develop a plan and invest in the resources you may need in case of emergency. Different climate events will require different preparations. For instance:

  • Wildfires – Purchase high quality air filters for your A/C and fans ahead of time. These filters should be rated MERV 13 or higher. N95 face masks are also needed if you need to go outside during intense smoke. Weatherproof your windows and seal any cracks so smoke can’t enter your home.
  • Extreme heat – Get your air conditioner or heat pump serviced regularly and make sure it’s working before an extreme heat event occurs. Freeze water in bottles to use to cool off your family and pets. Purchase blackout curtains or reflective material to put in windows.
  • Droughts – Conserve water by handwashing clothes and dishes. Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth and take shorter showers. For those with landscaped yards, consider switching out plants and flowers that need less water.
  • Floods – Store important documents and keepsakes in a waterproof container ideally in the highest point in your home. Familiarize yourself with streets that don’t flood during storms. Set up a warning system (bells or anything that will make noise when disturbed) in case flood waters come into your home while you’re sleeping.

#2. Make an evacuation plan and pack

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s hard to think clearly. Fear, stress and panic can all set in and cloud your judgment. That’s why it’s important to make an evacuation plan before you need it.

Consider multiple routes out of your neighborhood and city and know where you’ll go. Coordinating with friends and family to create a shared evacuation plan is recommended —you can pick a rendezvous point or have a plan on how to check in with each other.

Pro tip: Don’t plan to rely on wireless connectivity as the network could go down or be inaccessible due to extremely high usage volumes.

Creating an evacuation pack is also a smart strategy. Collect emergency supplies, healthy snacks and other must-have items into a backpack or waterproof container that you can easily grab as you head out the door. Items to consider adding to your evacuation packs should include:

  • Copies of important documents
  • Food and water
  • Medicine/first aid kit
  • Blankets
  • Spare clothes

Having your evacuation plan and pack ready to go will help ease anxiety and ensure that you and your family are prepared.

#3. Store some water and food

Whether your region faces extreme heat, floods or wildfires it’s important to store enough water and food for you and your family for a couple of days. No need to stockpile—just have enough gallons of water and shelf stable food should you lose power or be unable to get to a store for a few days.

Having clean water is especially important given how climate change affects our utilities and often our water processing plants. Many communities are required to boil water during climate crises to prevent the spread of diseases such as E.coli, giardia and noroviruses.

#4. Fill prescriptions

Fill your prescriptions ahead of time and make sure you have an emergency stock of important medications. You may not be able to get to a pharmacy during an extreme weather event so be sure you have enough to cover you for a couple of weeks.

When storing emergency medications, check the expiration date and replace when expired. Talk to your primary care physician about the best medications you should keep on hand for your specific health needs.

#5. Manage stress

We already know that stress can worsen health complications. And facing extreme weather events driven by climate change causes our anxiety to increase and our nervous systems to go into overdrive.

That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage your stress and improve your mental health now.

You can manage your stress by:

  • Practicing meditation – research shows that daily meditation improves your overall well-being and lowers stress levels.
  • Connect with your community – reaching out to your community will help you understand you are not alone and we are all facing the climate change crisis together.
  • Make time to exercise – exercise reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol. Regular exercise will help you regulate your stress levels and improve your overall health.
  • Listen to your body – you know your body best and it’s important to listen to what it needs. Be sure you are drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthfully. Taking care of our bodies is the first step to managing stress.

Strong communities protect everyone’s health

Addressing climate change is both an individual and team task. We can make impacts as individuals, but we must also come together at the community level to not only be prepared when disaster strikes, but also to protect the health of our families and neighbors. Resiliency and adaptation are how our communities will weather climate change together.

Help those who are vulnerable

Fighting climate change as a community can look different depending on where you live. Perhaps you have an elderly neighbor? The elderly are more vulnerable to extreme heat and may need assistance. Or perhaps a neighbor is recovering from surgery during a wildfire or heat event, making them even more susceptible to dehydration or other complications. Check in on your vulnerable neighbors to make sure they are prepared.

Does your city have a climate action plan? City communities have a lot of power to enact change. As Beth Schenk, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship at Providence, explains: “Cities are a place where people can come together and really affect change to address the climate crisis. Get to know your city council, consider running for an election and get to know your community neighborhood structures.”

Getting involved in your community, whether that’s helping with a recycling drive or caring for your vulnerable neighbors, is a simple but effective way to protect the health and wellness of those you love in the event of a climate crisis. “We all want the communities that we love to feel like home,” explains Schenk. “We want to raise our kids in healthy communities, and we are all looking for clean air and water in a sustainable economy.”

Learn more about Providence’s sustainability efforts.

You can also read more about how climate change impacts your health, why we need to address eco-anxiety in our children and why the climate crisis is a public health emergency

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Find a doctor

Providence caregivers work to improve our planet and can improve your health. You can find a Providence provider in your area by searching in our online provider directory

Related resources

Our climate crisis is a public health emergency 

Eco-anxiety is real and it’s impacting our children 

Earth day can’t wait: We need to act now on climate change 

How climate change impacts your health 

Providence's Climate Action Plan

 

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