Social Issues and Climate Mitigation
The second of the seven Learning Sessions for the 80 Members of the WA Climate Assembly aired on YouTube Tuesday, January 19th, 2021 from 6-8 pm
Gretchen Mueller, facilitator, began with a Lands Acknowledgement. Mike Chang, facilitator, identified the presenters and provided an overview of last Saturday’s first Learning Session. Today’s learning objectives included the causes, impacts, and social considerations of climate change. The link between the science of climate change and specific actions in education and transportation were also part of the program.
“Climate Change and Impacts in WA State“, was presented by Dr. Amy Snover who is the Director of the twenty-five-year-old Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. This group translates the global science of climate change to its local impacts, using that information for planning and decision making.
Greenhouse gases and their causes were defined, noting the climate has warmed beyond natural causes, such as volcanoes, solar output and our planets’ orbit around the sun, due mainly to burning fossil fuels. The answers to the questions of how fast and how much the climate will change are ones that everyone can influence.
The expectations for Washington state’s climate future were identified with specifics affecting the snowpack, forests, fish, agriculture, recreation, and coastal areas. Northwest natural resources infrastructures are at risk from climate change. Also threatened are our health, and cultural heritage. Already existing inequities will worsen.
“Every single day, people are making decisions and investments that will either exacerbate or ameliorate the impacts of climate change for decades to come.”
—Dr. Amy Snover.
Dr. Kristie Ebi, from the University of Washington, spoke on “Climate Change Affects the Health of Washingtonians“. The global temperature change was compared to Washington State’s to show how significant fluctuations occurred locally over the years.
The rate of rapid change is very significant for health as we are on track to warm another half a degree within 20-30 years.
During the wildfires in Washington last year, the air quality index logged many days above 150 (unhealthy) and was over 300 (hazardous) in some areas.
Mental health is problems are exacerbated by disasters. Dr. Ebi noted a study from England of the mental health of those who had been in homes that had flooded and found many had experienced depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even after three years, they still had mental health issues.
Death from heatwaves is almost completely preventable. Housing discrimination increases the risk in low-income housing due to the lack of trees causing increased heat, and other issues. Heat Action plans which are being used in cities like Phoenix, AZ can help reduce this risk.
As the hot season gets longer, allergies and insect-borne diseases are getting worse. Weeds such as ragweed are causing more allergies and breathing problems. Increased risk from disease-carrying mosquitoes occurs with climate warming, by producing more mosquito days and increasing mosquito habitat.
Dr. Deb Morrison from the University of Washington spoke on “Climate Education and Climate Justice Education” beginning with an appreciation for tribal history with lands acknowledgments and a map showing pre-colonization tribal lands in Washington state. Understanding how racial oppression relates to climate justice is found in a number of resources on Black Lives Matter.
Dr. Morrison explained that carbon is found everywhere and is naturally sequestered in oceans, forests, and land or emitted into the atmosphere. As energy from the sun hits the earth it can be absorbed, or reflected back into the atmosphere to be bounced back to earth again or out to space. Humans adding more greenhouse gasses create a trapping effect. Pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere to offset this increase is needed to restore a healthy balance. Adding to this imbalance are complex factors of climate feedbacks which will take hundreds of years to restore a pre-industrial balance.
Clarifying mitigation and adaptation is necessary to avoid confusion. These words are used differently but sometimes overlap. Mitigation means actions that reduce emissions and adaptation is coping with the impacts.
Many resources exist in clearly understandable language to learn about climate change. “Climate toolkit: A Resource Manual for Science and Action” by Frank Granshaw is a free downloadable publication.
Many climate justice organizations have links to Washington state. Learning to accelerate just climate action involves a complex system that needs to cross all boundaries.
Designing good learning programs requires planning, policies, and supports for structural change and systemic coherence. The Washington State K-12 program, “ClimeTime has been a resource for some of this educational work (through ESDs) for the past three years. It’s the only state initiative in the nation to do this, although other states are working on proposals.
Looking at the intersection of education and training leads to the advancement of green and climate careers. All careers have some aspect of climate education. Today’s youth are pushing for more climate education and climate justice education.
The importance of educating citizens was identified with hopeful resources including Tackling Climate Change Through Rural Women’s Empowerment, Climate Justice and Community Renewal, and All We Can Save, Truth, Courage, And Solutions for the Climate Crisis.
Dr. Morrison closed with three important recommendations:
- Support systemic funding for transformative climate learning in schools.
- Foster life-wide, life-deep, and life-long climate justice learning, not only for youth but for all ages in all contexts.
- Support efforts to build educator capacity to teach climate science, climate justice, and engage in justice-centered curricula.
Dr. Claire Richards from Washington State University presented on “Health Impacts of Power Outages and Extreme Weather” explaining that it is a complex issue. She used a case study of an elderly woman living alone and using an oxygen concentrator, air purifier, and fan to help with her lung and heart disease symptoms. She had no backup generator in case her power fails nor trees to help shade her home. Extreme weather changes will affect her symptoms resulting in possible hospitalization or death.
Increases in wildfires lead to more air pollution and heat which increases morbidity and mortality. Power companies in other states are starting to turn off power when wildfire risk is high to “avoid causing dangerous sparks”. Washington has not been forced to do this yet.. Climate change is increasing the chances and frequency of wildfires. We are still learning about all of the impacts of wildfire smoke on health.
Power outages can disrupt many things including hospitals, home oxygen concentrators, c-pap machines, elevators or electric transportation, refrigerators, wells, or water pumped to multistoried buildings.
There are a variety of strategies to when faced with wildfires . Evacuation can be difficult and inconvenient. Some strategies will not work if power outages also occur. Updating building codes and landscaping laws to increase energy efficiency and safety will help. Heatwaves and power outages may prevent the use of air conditioners or being able to open windows if there is smoke from wildfires outside.
Suggestions for reducing these problems include transitioning to renewable energy, reducing exposure of vulnerable populations, and increasing the resilience of populations by addressing social and structural determinants of health.
Hester Serebrin is the Policy Director at Transportation Choices Coalition. She presented on “Clean and Just Transportation“. Transportation creates almost 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state. Equity must be addressed in order to address climate change.
Most conversations on transportation solutions have focused on the increased use of electric cars and electrification. While it is a partial solution, cars are expensive. Also, electricity is not completely clean as its generation produces 16 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Washington state.
Because the most vulnerable people may be hurt or not helped by some interventions it is important to reduce their hazards and give them resources to cope. Electric vehicle (EV) incentives were shown to often be used by people with incomes over $100K who were mostly buying Teslas which may increase gentrification. A better use of funds would be to increase public transportation and improve sidewalks benefiting those with lower incomes.
By taking a holistic approach we can focus on transportation investments that meet the most policy goals and at the same time improve mobility and access. In order to provide more sustainable choices, it is necessary to understand and address systemic racism where in history and transportation.
Over half of transportation funding is spent on highways. Policy goals are embedded in the state code but don’t address climate change, environmental justice, or equity very well. HB 2688 is known as the “Transportation for All” bill. Building equity into changing policy is the most important part of the process.
The Second Learning Session closed with questions and answers followed by breakout groups to gather “around the campfire” which will be done at the end of every meeting for informal reflections with the same groups and facilitator from earlier breakouts in an effort to foster online communities. The next Learning Session will be Saturday, January 23rd from 10 am to 1 pm. It will be available on YouTube.