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Health leaders call for adaptation to climate change during forum

Courtesy of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment

The Inland Northwest is facing new challenges created by climate change. In a forum at the Gonzaga Climate Center this week, regional health and policy leaders said the region needs to adapt.

This summer’s historic heatwave lead to the deaths of 112 people in Washington, about 15 of which were in Spokane County. The region also saw health impacts from wildfire smoke, and has surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Spokane County’s former health officer, Dr. Bob Lutz, said all of those issues are linked to climate change.

"This is again a reflection of the fact of what are called emerging infectious diseases, many of which are born by animals are becoming much more common,” Lutz said. “If you think about this coronavirus, if you think other coronaviruses, such as SARS, such as MURS, they were again emerging infectious diseases, meaning that they may have been present, or maybe they were not present before, but because of changes, now humans are interacting more with animals that are carrying these"

Lutz says problems such as heatwaves and disease disproportionately affect people who were already vulnerable, such as those living without support systems, have health conditions made worse by historic inequities, or who are unhoused. He says what the region should focus is adapting to climate change.

Amber Lenhart is a health policy consultant who most recently worked at the Health District. She says community members can make Spokane more resilient by choosing leaders who will enact climate polices, assisting with community projects such as planting greenery in areas of the city that have less trees, and proactively assisting people who are the most vulnerable in a climate disaster.

“Communities that work together, help each other, love their neighbors and act in the best interest of the entire community bounce back from disasters and are more resilient to threats,” she said. “So, say hi to someone new, 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.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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