I-1631: Gratitude and Reflections

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This was a big week…nay, year!...for WPSR and our work to address climate change and its health effects. We were an early and strong supporter and helped write Initiative 1631, a climate justice policy that would have put a fee on greenhouse gas pollution and invested in clean energy projects in Washington communities. As we all get some rest and process Tuesday’s results, we wanted to share with you our reflections.

What we didn’t do:

Unfortunately, we lost this one. We didn’t overcome the more than $31 million that the oil industry spent on an unprecedented misinformation campaign to defeat this measure. That's a bitter pill to swallow, but now let’s get on with the good news.

What we did do:

We built a major climate justice movement in WA, one whose strength drew an enormous backlash from the oil industry. Over the last several years, we have worked alongside an amazing diversity of stakeholders, including environmentalists, labor unions, faith leaders, communities of color, businesses, and tribal nations. We established a vision for addressing climate change while especially protecting the most vulnerable among us. Our efforts have inspired people far beyond our little corner of the country to contemplate putting a price on climate pollution.

WPSR in particular proved that a relatively small group of intensely dedicate people can have an outsized impact. WPSR members gathered over 9,000 signatures to get Initiative 1631 on the ballot. We knocked on thousands of doors and made hundreds of calls to talk with voters about why we support I-1631. Our physicians appeared in campaign ads; nurses appeared in television interviews; and public health researchers wrote op-eds.

WPSR also strengthened our relationships with a number of leading organizations and individuals within Washington’s medical community. We sought endorsements from a number of local, state, and national organizations, and many of them stepped up to confront the threat that climate change poses to our health. Organizations representing thousands of health professionals, including Washington State Medical Association and Virginia Mason, endorsed the initiative – for which we are so grateful!

WPSR members did not sit on the sidelines and hope for the best, nor did they feel their work was done after endorsing the initiative. We gave it our all, signaling to the public that climate change is very much a health issue.

Thank you.

While the results of this week’s election were not a home run for climate justice, there are so many things to be grateful for. Working with many of you on this campaign has been a joy for us. The dedication of our members to the cause of climate justice has been truly inspiring.

When WPSR first joined the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy four years ago, we could not have guessed that our physicians and nurses would be gathering signatures at farmers markets and doorbelling in their white coats. We could not have imagined that several WPSR physicians would be among the campaign volunteers who gathered the most signatures to get I-1631 on the ballot, and who knocked on the most doors to talk to voters.

You came to rallies and held signs. You spoke at press conferences, some of you for the very first time. You wrote letters to your local papers. You initiated conversations with your coworkers during lunch. You entreated your workplaces to endorse the initiative. You hosted informational events in your home.

We have heard many times from our partners in the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy that the health community “punched above its weight” in this campaign. Thank you!

What we must do now:

We have built such an amazing network of health professionals pressing for action. We must build on this momentum, and advocate for policies that will protect health from climate change. We will advocate for bills during the upcoming legislative session. We will work with local health professionals to support community-based initiatives to transition to clean, renewable energy. We will educate medical students about the links between climate change and health. We will train health professionals to understand and amplify the health co-benefits of acting on climate change.

What we must not do is give up. We do not have time to wait for others to act. We must fuel our sense of urgency into continued education and advocacy. 

Our patients are depending on us. Our communities are depending on us. Our grandchildren are depending on us.

Thank you for your hard work and your support during this campaign.

With love and hope,

Laura Skelton, Executive Director
Sarah Cornett, Climate Program Organizer
Ken Lans, MD, WPSR President
Mark Vossler, MD, Co-Chair of WPSR Climate & Health Task Force

Nate Matthews-Trigg, MPH, on Climate and Health

Last month, WPSR Climate & Health Task Force member Nate Matthews-Trigg led a webinar for youth activists with the organization Our Climate on climate change as a health issue. The presentation focuses on understanding the health impacts of climate change, and how activists can use the topic of climate change and health to promote mitigation and adaptation actions, policies, or general awareness.  

Close to 1.5 hours in length, the presentation is a helpful resource for new and seasoned advocates alike. The audience should already have a basic understanding of climate change. The discussion questions at the end can be used to facilitate small group discussions or act as writing prompts. 

Feel free to use, share, or alter this presentation, which you can find on the “Climate and Health Advocacy Resources” page on our website. However, do give credit to Nathaniel Matthews-Trigg!

"Let's go electric!"

On July 19th, WPSR Executive Director Laura Skelton joined leaders from Environment Washington, Sierra Club, Washington PIRG Foundation, King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Metro Transit in recognizing the County's commitment to bus electrification by 2040.

We know that transit electrification yields immediate health and climate benefits, and we're grateful for the County's leadership. See Laura's remarks below:


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I’m here on behalf of hundreds of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals in WA Physicians for Social Responsibility who recognize climate change as a growing health crisis. One of the best ways we can take care of people and patients is to champion policies that fight climate change and ensure a livable environment.

King County's electrification of public transit is an important means both of addressing climate change and protecting health. Transitioning to electric vehicles will help our communities realize immediate health benefits.

Pollution from vehicle exhaust has been linked to cancers, respiratory ailments, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Diesel exhaust accounts for 78% of the potential cancer risk from all air toxics in the Puget Sound area – and a third of that diesel exhaust comes from on-road vehicles.

Instead of diesel, let’s go electric!

Bus electrification will especially help protect the more than 600,000 Washingtonians who suffer from asthma. Not surprisingly, asthma rates and other respiratory ailments are higher in communities along heavy transit corridors.

Because low-income residents and communities of color are more likely to live along these corridors, they bear a disproportionate burden of the consequences of our fossil fuel use.

To fight this injustice, let’s go electric!

Moving to electric buses will immediately result in cleaner air, protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. It will also protect health long-term, by mitigating further climate change. This is truly a win-win.

We are grateful for King County’s leadership in transit electrification. In order to protect our climate and the health of Washingtonians, we hope that more communities will follow King County's lead. Let’s go electric!

Saying "Yes" to Clean Air and Clean Energy

You did it! On Monday, July 2nd, WPSR members and staff joined our partners in the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy coalition in Olympia to turn in 377,000 signatures to get Initiative 1631 ("Clean Air, Clean Energy") on the ballot. We are honored to play a leading role and represent the health voice in this unprecedented coalition of tribal nations, communities of color, labor unions, and environmental groups working to improve the lives and health of all Washingtonians.

Over the past four months, volunteers gathered thousands of signatures for Clean Air and Clean Energy. From Farmers Markets, to rainy light rail stops, to retirement home lobbies and gatherings of friends, health activists were unstoppable. Together, WPSR members gathered over 8,368 signatures. We are amazed by your efforts and activism - thank you for helping us get here.

At the signature turn-in press conference, Dr. Mark Vossler (cardiologist and Chair of WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force) gave the following remarks. He was joined on the speakers list by WPSR intern Jade Lauw, also a fellow with the youth advocacy organization Our Climate. Mark gathered nearly 1,000 signatures and played a leading role in the East King County signature drive campaign. We’re inspired by his efforts and those of our entire team.

Supporting I-1631 through health-based advocacy is a priority for WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force. As we gear up for November, we’re getting ready to speak loudly and often about the imperative of putting a price on carbon pollution, supporting communities most vulnerable to climate change, and investing in clean energy. From talking to friends and neighbors, to writing op-eds and letters to the editor, there will be countless ways to support this critical effort.

Will you join us?


Dr. Mark Vossler's Remarks at I-1631 Signature Turn-in Press Conference

“Clean Air! Clean Energy!  What’s not to like?” I remember my first signature gathered in the campaign. The woman who signed on a rainy April day outside PCC said those words to me while she grabbed the board and then about to sign asked, “What’s this about?” As I briefly explained the proposal she said, “You had me at clean air.” That experience has buoyed me through the rest of the campaign.

I joined Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility to work on preventing that which we cannot cure. I took time away from my medical practice and my family to volunteer for Yes on 1631 because I know that climate pollution is affecting real people right now. I committed every free moment I had to the effort because there was nothing else I could have done over the past three months that would have had a greater impact on the health of our community. I know that the air pollutant co-riders with carbon are affecting people in Washington right now. I’ve read the studies showing increased heart attacks and strokes related to “bad air days." I’ve seen my own patients coming to clinic with worse heart failure and worse asthma when the particulate counts are up.

The health impacts of our continued addiction to fossil fuels hit the most vulnerable the hardest, from little kids with asthma to the frail elderly with heat stroke to residents of impoverished low lying coastal villages with water supplies flooded with sewage. Yet these vulnerable communities have done the very least to contribute to the problem. It is repulsively immoral that our nation continues to promote interests of dirty energy barons on the backs of the sick, the infirm, the young, the old and the poor.

We aren’t willing to let the naysayers hold us back. I feel so privileged to be able to work with so many amazing diverse groups who are ready to stand up for their communities. This coalition truly represents all of Washington because having clean air and a health place to live affects all of us.

The health of people in our community is NOT a special interest. It is everybody’s interest.

So Yes! Yes! Yes! On 1631…It can be done!!

WPSR members and staff gathered 8,368 signatures to get I-1631 on the ballot!