December 2021 Champion!

Ronda Seifert, RN

Ronda Seifert

Arizona doesn’t have the luxury of pretending there is no climate crisis. Searing heat, wildfires and smoke, parching drought – if we think about the crisis as the Ten Plagues of Arizona, those are only three. We can add a fourth – one that’s top of mind for Ronda Seifert: damage to health.

Seifert, a mom and public health nurse in Phoenix, had been watching since the 1990s as the crisis intensified. Back then, she says, she tried ignoring the issue because she thought she couldn’t make a difference: “I felt very helpless.”

But the impacts got worse. As Seifert traveled with her family on vacations, it started with seeing many dead trees, but as she learned more about the health impacts, she began to think, “This is not just a future problem; it is an urgent public health problem.” And she was thinking, “I want my children to have a livable planet.”

Seifert’s concerns as a mom motivated Seifert the public health nurse. Seifert was on a big team with multiple health agencies – a state government worker at that point in a career focused on family health, especially for mothers and children, including those with developmental disabilities, with limited English, and those living in poverty.

Several years ago, Seifert started bringing up the subject in meetings. Her organizations’ focuses were not on climate, of course; rather on their direct missions. Seifert wanted to talk about the unspoken public health crisis, climate change that was undermining important public health work, impacts that would only grow if left unaddressed. “The first time I brought it up, I was sweating,” she says. “I was shaky. But I had to do it for our kids.”

Seifert discovered she was not alone in her organizations and the state. She began to link up with allies. The US has political leaders that “skew a little higher in denial,” but she says their constituents want things like clean energy and water, and a healthy future for their kids.

Since then, Seifert left her state job to focus on the climate crisis. She’s leaning on her nursing training to tell the story clearly, and her public health training to help organize, including the startup of an Arizona chapter of Health Professionals for Climate Action, an affiliate of the Medical Society Consortium. Her goal: “telling people what they can do; helping to identify solutions that people can support.”