May 2023 Champion
Joan Widmer, MS, MSBA, RN
Joan Widmer, a member of the NH Healthcare Workers for Climate Action’s Board, seeks to share the impacts of climate change on health with the goal of fostering climate action. Widmer, a passionate nurse advocate for nearly ten years, lends her voice and experience to this team as the Interim Executive Director and Treasurer.
NH-HWCA’s mission is to educate and advocate on climate and health. While much of Widmer’s time is spent developing the infrastructure to support the organization’s educational and advocacy efforts, she also lends her voice to testify before the NH legislature regarding bills impacting climate change. She uses skills honed while serving as the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Nurses Association (NHNA) and more recently as a member of the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Board of Directors. Widmer explains to legislators the health impacts of climate change, as well as the financial burdens it generates; urging actions essential to mitigate these changes.
And action is needed. Climate scientists at the University of New Hampshire say the state will keep getting warmer unless something is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Winters will have less snow and more rain, which will be a gut punch to the winter sports industry. Summers are expected to be much hotter, with more days in the 90s, in a state largely unprepared for such heat. As a nurse leader, Widmer knows well the current and future dangers to health that climate change entails, including heat injury, asthma exacerbations, insect-borne infectious disease, and the exacerbation of cardiopulmonary diseases.
Many New Hampshire residents recognize climate change exists, but remain unaware it is affecting them personally, Widmer says. “Finding the appropriate motivation is crucial to facilitating action,” she says. “What you need to do is to make people realize climate change is already impacting them and their loved ones,” she claims. “People are not going to take action unless they believe they are impacted by inaction.”
In fiscally conservative New Hampshire, this involves taking the argument beyond physical health, into financial health. “I always try to relate to it doing things the smart way,” Widmer says, sharing examples of the financial cost of climate change.
Widmer works per diem as a home health nurse, but her background prepared her to talk finance, having previously served as a senior finance/accounting executive to manufacturing corporations. “While money is important, health as an issue is crucial to building allies for action against climate change.”