It seems quite amazing to me that the health of the environment has become a contentious political issue in the United States and much of the developed world. Certain norms where health and protection are concerned are relegated to a purely personal level, but environmental health involves matters that are political and that directly affect the social and interpersonal aspects of living and in turn are shaped by social and interpersonal dynamics of the culture.
The earth, our physical environment, is in fact our fundamental home. It is a home we all share with one another and with a vast assortment of other living creatures. I wonder why it is that as a society, as a culture, we do not assume that taking care of this home is a given and why social and cultural norms of respect and protection fail to prevail. Instead, people who are concerned about the health of the environment or who have a vision of what is required to restore and protect the health of the environment carry the burden of entering the public arena of debate and action that is called politics.
Nurses, like any other people who claim a social role of "health care provider," can and do enter this public arena of debate and action. Nurses do not need to be, nor should we be, uniquely involved in political action to protect the environment. This is a challenge that requires a broad spectrum of attention, moving outside the boundaries of professional lines. What we can offer to the debates because of our perspective as nurses could, however, bring about some noticeable changes. The authors of the collection of articles in this issue of ANS (18:4) provide important suggestions. A central theme in the work of these authors is an issue that I see as primary, which is to conceptualize and reconceptualize the scope of phenomena we are addressing and how we view the phenomena of environment. The perspective that nurses tend to bring to the conceptualization of environment is a broad, inclusive, and holistic perspective. Nursing's concept of environment includes the physical environment as well as the interrelated social and psychological environment. It is the world we live in, how it is constituted, and how it constitutes us.
Another contribution that nursing can develop is to the research and knowledge that grow from inquiry grounded in a comprehensive, holistic stance. As a discipline, we have made some important moves toward developing the methods and the designs, as well as creative modes of inquiry, to bring to light that which is hidden from view within a particularistic stance. The insights that we are capable of bringing to light could make significant differences in the direction of future political debates and public discourses.
Nursing's concept of environment is not the environment currently in vogue on the political football field. Consistent with the dominant view of the modern world, the current political debates center around an isolated body of water, or a selected endangered species, or a planned project to dam a river. These are all worthy issues and deserve their constituents' attention. However, the failure of this approach is inherent in the individualistic, cellular, particularistic view that brings the issues to the table. If the primary discourse assumed a grasp of the essential interrelatedness of our earth and life, I believe the debates could evolve to a level of discourse concerning broad and sweeping shifts that would lead to true caring for earth and life. I challenge each reader of this issue of ANS to consider the views and perspectives of these authors as they relate to your own work and life. Consider what next steps we can all take to more fully bring these perspectives to the public discourse tables and to the political debate arenas.
Peggy L. Chinn, RN, PhD, FAAN