On this Earth Day, we celebrate the health of our planet and people | by the Washington State Department of Health | Public Health Connection | April 2022
Our Climate and Health Division invests every day for our planet
Today, Friday, April 22, is Earth Day, the annual celebration where one billion people work to help our one planet. This year’s theme is “Investing in our planet”.
What motivates us
How does Washington State invest in the planet?
- During wildfires, we work with schools and governments to help ensure clean air.
- Our team is focused on increasing health equity through carbon reduction and climate adaptation.
- We help our communities be Smoke Ready and protect their health from wildfire smoke.
- We help farmers ensure that waste does not pollute shell beds.
- We track where animals spread disease, which changes with the climate.
- We help spread the word about floods and other threats related to climate change.
- We advise local governments on infrastructure planning that mitigates the impacts of climate change.
- We educate people on the best ways to build climate resilience.
- We work with academic partners to project the impacts of climate change to support planning and decision-making
- We partner with community groups to promote resilience and climate justice
All of these actions (and many more) are made possible through the Climate and Health Division of the Department of Health (DOH).
Fighting forest fires and air quality
Due to climate change, Washington is experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, a longer wildfire season, and more days when wildfire smoke affects our health.
A study of deaths during and immediately after the Washington wildfires found that among the population, deaths increased by 2% the day after the smoke – with a 5% increase in people with underlying respiratory illnesses.
The Climate and Health team provides information on the health effects of wildfire smoke on the public and recommendations for reducing exposure. We lead the Wildfire Smoke Impacts Advisory Group and collaborate as writers on the Washington Smoke Blog to keep the public and policy makers informed.
Cities resilient to climate change
We are working with the Department of Commerce and other state agencies on strategies to make our cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. This includes:
- Help a city become more resilient to wildfires and wildfire smoke, and adapt to climate change
- Addressing “heat islands,” areas with more structures like buildings and roads that absorb and re-radiate heat than trees and green spaces that keep spaces cooler
- Finding ways to get more people to walk, cycle and use public transport to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality
- Investigate how changing water patterns affect floods, droughts and water supply
Extreme weather, drought and sea level rise
Changes in northwest weather patterns will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rains, flooding, and heat domes (when warm air becomes trapped above a specific region), due to weather conditions.
For example, the June 2021 heat dome claimed more than 100 lives, making it the deadliest weather event since 1910. These events increase the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and are associated to harmful effects and even to the death of some people. In Washington, the frequency of very hot days (above 30°C) is expected to increase by 67% in the next thirty years, even in a scenario of low greenhouse gas emissions.
Changes to precipitation and snowfall patterns in Washington will cause changes to the state’s water supply systems, increasing the risk of flooding and drought in parts of the state. The health impacts of sea level rise will vary by location and community. They may include disruption of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion into underground sources of drinking water, high tide (“sunny day”) flooding, interruptions to access to services essentials and, in the longer term, the loss of home, land or sense of belonging. place.
We help people cope with these changes and prevent them.
Equity in the face of climate change
The DOH’s vision is “Equity and Optimal Health for All”. We contribute to understanding how climate change affects those who are also affected by racism and oppression. This work is informed by Cumulative Impact Analysis (CIA) which has identified vulnerable communities.
Some of our work on health equity includes:
- Integrate health equity, anti-racism, and environmental justice into the climate conversation at the federal, state, and local levels.
- Implement strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on the health of high-risk groups.
- Work with communities and state agencies to integrate community priorities and principles of climate and environmental justice into the state’s approach to implementing climate and environmental policies.
Building climate resilience
What does building climate resilience mean? As a team, we work to increase a community’s capacity to anticipate, plan for risks and seize opportunities associated with environmental and social changes induced by climate change.
Vulnerability and resilience can coexist in a community. For example, a city or neighborhood may experience high levels of air pollution, but also have a strong local food system and a high quality community clinic. Improving underlying health status and health determinants through community planning is one of the most effective strategies for building climate resilience.
We provide technical assistance to communities, such as mapping, data sharing, best practices, health impact assessments, equity assessments, research and facilitation to help cities and counties increase their climate resilience. We also work across agencies to support common language and identify common goals related to climate change, health and equity.
The specific work we do to expand climate resilience in communities across the state includes:
- Participate in local and regional climate planning processes.
- Bring local environmental health, planning and emergency management together into projects and programs.
- Development of climate guidance for cities and counties.
- Provide resources and information supporting climate resilience and health equity to communities and other partners through conferences, websites, meetings, research, position papers and other communications .
Other environmental risks
We are also active in informing you of the dangers where you live and play. We track animal diseases, including mosquitoes and which can be transmitted by ticks. We also help protect people and animals from harmful algal blooms, which can occur year-round in our state’s waters.
Join us as we continue to invest in our planet – and in the health of everyone in Washington State.