Brian G. Henning, Ph.D .: City council votes on historic climate resolution

By Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.

By Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council is due to vote on the most momentous resolution to combat global warming in Spokane’s history. At stake is the adoption and implementation of the revised Sustainability Action Plan. Read the full plan at

For too long, Spokane’s attitude to climate change has been like that of a patient whose doctor tells them that if they don’t lose weight quickly, they will likely have a fatal heart attack. The patient is aware of the seriousness of the situation and undertakes to lose weight by a certain date, even buys a new scale and dutifully logs the results monthly.

However, the pounds do not go away. In fact, they keep rising. What is missing? Of course a plan! Without a plan with specific strategies for healthier diet and exercise, the promise to lose weight is an empty gesture.

Like this patient, Spokane has been steadfastly committed for years and with multiple doses to specific goals to reduce heat-lock pollution by deadlines. It has also taken the time to regularly measure its progress towards these goals. What has never been done before is a concrete plan with concrete strategies to achieve its climate pollution reduction goals. Until now.

Over the past two years, dozens of our neighbors, from all walks of life, have spent hundreds of hours researching and discussing strategies to help Spokane do its part to change the curve of our heat accumulating pollution. After all this hard work and despite a global pandemic, the group then sent the draft plan for six months of public engagement to the community, which included over 30 workshops with more than 1,600 people and a survey with over 1,400 comments.

The result is a new sustainability action plan with 47 strategies in seven sectors. Here is an example of 10 strategies: (1) Make sure the new build is as efficient as possible; (2) increase in the number of passengers in transit; (3) minimizing food waste; (4) Promote, support and incentivize a circular economy; (5) protect water quality; (6) expand access to sustainable business practices and resources; (7) Establish funding for education and outreach programs that promote the use of natural resources; (8) expand urban canopy; (9) Include climate impacts in disaster and emergency plans; (10) Modernization of existing buildings for highly efficient and renewable energy sources.

As exciting as these specific climate protection strategies are, perhaps just as important is the citizen-led process that produced them. As the Sustainability Action Plan itself notes, this is not a perfect plan set in stone. It is a living document that can and should be improved as technology changes, opportunities arise, and climate change continues to grow. What is gradually emerging is a democratic, citizen-led process for doing this.

While we are told that climate change is a politically divisive issue, the evidence does not support it.

Yale climate communications polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans (74%) are either “alarmed”, “concerned” or “cautious” about global warming, while less than a fifth are “doubtful” (Dec. %). ) or “repellent” (8%) (

While sensible people may of course disagree on this or that strategy, there is deep support in Spokane for responsible, sensible behavior that does two things (1) doing our part to reduce heat-retaining pollution (2) preparing our community for it to be resilient to a changing climate. This is exactly what the Sustainability Action Plan envisages.

With the particularly beautiful autumn weather of the last few weeks, it’s easy to forget how difficult last summer was.

Average daytime temperatures of 9.5 degrees above normal, combined with the lowest rainfall ever, put Spokane in an “extraordinary drought” for the first time in our history.

Another half a million acres of our beautiful forests were burning and our air was too often unhealthy to breathe. How quickly do we forget the heat dome that killed at least 20 of our Spokane neighbors and more than 100 people in our state.

According to the Spokane Climate Project (, mid-century summer 2021 might be more typical than extraordinary. That sounds far away, but my high school daughter will be 46 in 2050. The longer we wait to act, the more serious the consequences and the more disruptive the change.

The sustainability action plan under consideration by Spokane City Council is a common sense step to move our community on a healthier path so that we can continue to enjoy our beautiful Spokane area for generations to come.

As with losing weight and getting healthy, it turns out that the goals, measurements, and plans are the easy part.

The real test is whether we can muster the will to change our individual and collective habits, systems and policies for a just and green world.

Brian G. Henning, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at Gonzaga University, where he is Director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment.

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