The inland northwest is facing new challenges from climate change. In a forum at the Gonzaga Climate Center this week, regional health and policy leaders said the region needs to adapt.
The historic heat wave that summer resulted in the deaths of 112 people in Washington, including about 15 in Spokane County. The region has also seen health effects from forest fire smoke and has exceeded 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Former Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said all of these problems were related to climate change.
“This again reflects the fact that so-called newly emerging infectious diseases, many of which are born by animals, are becoming more common,” said Lutz. “When you think of this coronavirus, when you think of other coronaviruses, like SARS, like MURS, were re-emerging infectious diseases, which means they may have been or weren’t there before, but because of changes, people are now interacting more with animals that carry them.
Lutz says problems like heat waves and illness disproportionately affect people who have already been at risk, such as those who live without support systems, whose health has been made worse by historical inequalities, or who are not housed. He says what the region should focus on is adaptation to climate change.
Amber Lenhart is a health policy advisor and most recently worked in the health district. She says community members can make Spokane more resilient by selecting leaders who make climate change directives, helping with community projects like planting greenery in areas of the city with fewer trees, and proactively helping people who are most at risk from a climate catastrophe.
“Communities that work together, help one another, love their neighbors, and act in the best interests of the entire community recover from disasters and are more resilient to threats,” she said. “So say hello to someone, wave to your neighbor, climate change affects us all and we all have a role to play.”
The full presentation is available on the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment’s Youtube page.