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.
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