I joined Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility to work on preventing that which we as doctors 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 and it will only get worse if we delay in taking action.
Over the last three months, I committed every free moment to help put this initiative get on the ballot because there was nothing else I could have done that would have had a greater impact on the health of residents of King County and Washington state.
As a health professional, it’s a part of my job to keep up to date on the science that affects my patients. A changing climate increases the risk of heat related illness, extreme weather disasters, flooding, drought and forest fires. All of these risks affect people in our state now or will affect them soon. Carbon dioxide is not the only pollutant released by burning fossil fuels that poses a risk. Multiple studies have shown increased heart attacks and strokes related to “bad air days,” those days when small particulate pollution known as PM 2.5 is prevalent. We know that air pollutants are affecting people in our region right now, I’ve seen my own patients coming to the clinic with worse heart failure and worse asthma when the particulate counts are up. We also know that the health benefits of reducing these pollutants and emissions are enormous.
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 low lying coastal villages with water supplies flooded with sewage. Yet these vulnerable communities have done the very least to contribute to the problem.
Neighborhoods in the South end of the city, places that are predominantly API and people of color, are far more likely to experience the daily consequences of pollution than other communities. I-1631 will reduce 20 million tons of air pollution a year ensuring those hardest hit by pollution are the put front and center in our solutions to clean up our state.
Unfortunately, we know our state’s biggest polluters will fight us at every turn. Oil companies have already started spending hundreds of thousands against us, to make sure they keep the status quo and protect their bottom line. They will spend millions on ads trying to fool voters that they want to protect them. But if I know one thing from talking with so many voters this past few months, it’s that they may have the money, but we have the people. Folks know we have to start doing something and do it soon. This initiative is an important first step to start the transition away from dirty energy and building a cleaner future together.
Those of us working on this initiative aren’t willing to let the oil companies 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.
I remember the first person I talked to on the campaign. The woman who signed on a rainy April day grabbed my board after seeing my sign that said, “clean air clean energy”. Then, about to sign, she asked, “What’s this about?” As I briefly explained the proposal, she said, “You had me at clean air.” That experience has lifted me through the rest of the campaign, a reminder that if you can’t breathe nothing else matters.
The health of people in our community is not a special interest. It is everybody’s interest. I hope you’ll join us.
Dr. Mark Vossler has practiced medicine for 29 years and currently serves as the chairman of the cardiology section at Evergreen Health and the co-chair of the Climate and Health Task Force of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.