We know that health is affected by community conditions, including environmental factors like air and water quality. Climate — the long-term patterns of precipitation and temperature — also affects us, how we live and what we’re exposed to, and plays a role in our community’s health.
As our understanding of climate change grows, we learn more about potential health effects on communities. Among the changes predicted for Western Washington are:
• Drier, hotter summers with increased risk of heat waves and wildfires. This also worsens air quality because there is more particulate from fires, ground-level ozone and pollen.
• Altered precipitation patterns, such as warmer (rain rather than snow) and wetter winter months, with more frequent intense storms and resulting flood events.
• Expanded territory for disease-carrying or disease-causing organisms like mosquitos that carry West Nile Virus, Hantavirus (carried by rodents) and Vibrio bacteria in shellfish.
What can we do about this? Climate change from human activity is the result of many activities (agriculture, energy production and use, transportation, etc.) the world over. While the ways the roughly quarter million Thurston County residents live may be a small contribution overall, we do have an impact. The actions we take locally can reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and have health-related benefits here.
Some of them are:
• Reducing local air pollution through energy conservation and switching to renewable fuels.
• Using active or mass transportation like walking, bicycling and taking the bus. Walking and bicycling can be called healthy transportation because they also increase physical activity. When we build our communities to encourage active transportation, we are promoting health, while reducing the use of fossil fuels and associated air pollution.
• Reducing food waste, which saves resources used to grow, process and transport food. This has the potential to lower food costs, making healthy food more accessible to everyone.
Multiple Thurston Thrives strategies call for these kinds of actions and contribute to the air quality/climate goal to “Keep our air clean and our climate stable.”
As a community, we need to prepare for climate change — evidence of sea-level rise, streamflow timing, and precipitation and temperature data indicate that it is already happening. To adapt to and plan for climate change, our community has to “be prepared for and recover effectively from emergencies” as our Thurston Thrives goals state.
We can start by having an emergency response plan in place for ourselves and our families, and keeping a supply of food, water and necessary medications at home and in the workplace to help us through events like severe storms or flooding. But we also must be willing to help those most vulnerable — typically the isolated, the elderly and families with young children — in times of emergencies.
If we focus on helping people get more connected and involved, whether through volunteering or better access to community programs and services, we help our community be better prepared for emergencies of all kinds, including those brought on by climate change.
With better knowledge of climate change’s health impacts here, and a clearer picture of the multiple benefits of local action, we can build the partnerships to do our part of solving this challenge.