Health professionals support a Green New Deal for Seattle

As conversations about a Green New Deal multiply and gain more prominence nationally, we’re excited to be part of a new effort focused on creating a city-wide Green New Deal for Seattle. This campaign led by 350 Seattle and local environmental justice organization Got Green urges City of Seattle leaders to eliminate climate pollution by 2030, address historic injustice in the city and its policies, and create thousands of living wage jobs.

WPSR is one of nearly 200 organizations to sign-on in support of Seattle’s Green New Deal. Four physician members of our Climate & Health Task Force have represented WPSR’s support for this initiative before City Hall in recent weeks. On August 13th, Dr. Annemarie Dooley, a nephrologist and active member of our Climate & Health Task Force, and Dr. Margaret Kitchell, a retired psychiatrist and longtime Task Force member, testified before City Council in support of the plan. Watch their testimonies here (starting at minute 11:00).

The Seattle Green New Deal is likely to include policies that will be introduced over time, including one that would prevent new fossil fuels in buildings (following the recent move by the City of Berkeley, CA to ban all new natural gas hookups). Most of our natural gas is derived from fracking, a clear and severe example of how fossil fuel extraction harms communities. Pollution from fracking is linked to low birthweights, neurological disorders, respiratory illness, harm to pregnant mothers, and even certain cancers. The combustion of gas inside our homes produces harmful indoor air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and ultrafine particles. A policy like that just passed in Berkeley that promotes all-electric new construction in homes and buildings can also significantly support human health by improving indoor air quality. 

Last month, the American Medical Association, Academy of Family Physicians, the American Lung Association, and dozens more public health and clinician organizations developed a Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity. Rapidly transitioning away from natural gas in order to improve human health and reduce contributions to climate change was a key priority in their joint statement. 

Climate change is an existential threat to health, but as the medical journal The Lancet reminds us, the climate crisis and efforts to address it pose “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”. A Seattle Green New Deal effort led by communities most impacted by climate pollution and fossil fuel infrastructure is an important step towards realizing climate justice and supporting the health of all people.

Photos left to right: Dr. Dooley listens to testimony during a committee hearing on the Green New Deal resolution, Carly Brook, Dr. Ken Lans, and Dr. Rich Lipsky at City Hall for the Green New Deal campaign launch, and founder of Standing Rock Siox camp LaDonna Brave Bull Alard testifies before City Council as Dr. Dooley sits behind (credit: 350 Seattle).

Honoring the Victims of Hiroshima on the 74th Anniversary

By Laura Skelton

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This week marks the 74th anniversary of the United States dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As we have every year since 1984, a diverse community gathered on August 6, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, at Green Lake to remember the more than 200,000 lives extinguished by those two bombings. Thursday, August 9, is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, which has a direct connection to Washington State. It was here in Washington, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, that the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was manufactured.

It is vital that we remember the very real and devastating consequences of these weapons of mass destruction. Yet, it is even more important that we take steps to ensure that nuclear weapons do not claim any more lives. Important progress in the form of diplomacy and international treaties has been made since the wartime bombings of 1945. Unfortunately, it seems that we as a nation are departing from our longtime commitment to nuclear disarmament.

President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Iran Deal (a deal that would limit Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon, and one that experts agree was working). And just last week, the United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, which for decades has limited the possibility of land-based nuclear attacks. Other developments, such as the creation of a new class of “low-yield” nuclear weapons (today’s “low yield” weapons are equivalent to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) and the plan to “modernize” the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, send a message to the rest of the world that we are nowhere close to relinquishing our nuclear firepower.

On a more hopeful note, there are policies being discussed that could dramatically improve the dangerous situation we find ourselves in. At the very least, the U.S. could finally adopt a “no first use” policy, which would match the Pentagon’s rhetoric that nuclear weapons are only needed for defensive reasons. If we only have nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, why would we ever need to launch them first? Senate bill 272 (introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren) and House bill 921 (introduced by Rep. Adam Smith from Washington’s 9th district; also co-sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck and rep. Pramila Jayapal) would help to de-escalate tensions that have been growing among nuclear states.

Before another year moves the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki further from our minds, let us honor the victims by taking real and meaningful actions to protect current and future generations.

Important Anti-Nuclear Gains Made in House Version of the National Defense Authorization Act

By Alexander Tufel

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For months now, the country (and perhaps the world) watch with bated breath as this year’s $733 billion National Defense Authorization Act slowly takes shape.

On the negotiating table is the health of everything living on the planet.

While pundits from both major political parties decry the cost of providing all of us with healthcare, education, and a habitable planet for future generations, the $733 Billion NDAA reveals the extent to which American Politics is guided by the Military Industrial Complex.

The Trump administration is engaged in an extraordinarily dangerous push to blur the line between conventional and nuclear weapons while also attempting to provoke Iran into an illegal and unconstitutional war.

The House of Representatives, however, has delivered a number of important sought-after victories in the House version of the NDAA. If these amendments make it into the final version of the NDAA, it would act as an additional set of checks and balances on the Trump administration’s reckless foreign policy and autocratic impulses.

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility has prioritized the inclusion and objection to a number of amendments to the NDAA, all of which received support from Washington State Democratic representatives Adam Smith, Pramila Jayapal, Kim Schrier, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, Suzane DelBene and Denny Heck.


Defeated funding the deployment of Trump's new "low-yield" nuclear weapon

Leading up to the 2016 election, the terrifying prospect of Trump having total authority over our nuclear arsenal was broadcasted to us on a regular basis. Since taking office, Trump’s “red button” has only gotten bigger.

Last year, the Trump administration released their 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, essentially doing away with the notion that weapons of mass destruction should be reserved only as a deterrent.

Aside from suggesting that the United States respond to a cyber attack from a hostile country with nuclear armaments, the document called for the development of a new low-yield nuclear weapon, according to Common Dreams. With ⅓ the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the W76-2 dangerously lowers the threshold for the use of such weapons on the battlefield, possibly leading to a scenario of escalation that threatens all of humanity.

Thankfully, an amendment introduced by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) that would have funded the deployment of the W76-2 was voted down.


Repealed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force

It has been sixteen years since the United States invaded Iraq, leading to the death of hundreds of thousands.

What is now viewed almost unanimously as a disastrous decision by politicians and the American public is not enough to deter hawkish Trump administration officials, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, from starting another endless war in the Middle East.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) repeals the 2001 AUMF, a significant step in Congress reclaiming the power under article I of the constitution to authorize war.


Prohibited the unauthorized use of military force against Iran

From pulling out of the Iran Deal, to Trump’s twitter threats of genocide, to renewed sanctions, the Trump Administration has done almost everything to provoke a war.

On June 20, after an American surveillance drone was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, according to the New York Times, the United States was minutes away from initiating an attack on Iranian targets when the president abruptly changed his mind.

As long as neoconservatives John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are in the White House, war with Iran remains a very real possibility.

An amendment introduced by Ro Khanna (D-CA) prohibits an unauthorized war with Iran.


Prevented the U.S. military from supporting and participating in the Saudi-led war against Houthis in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen between the country’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab nations has led to the world’s worst humanitarian distaster, according to the BCC. Since March 2015, the UN reports that at least 7,025 civilians have been killed and another 11,140 injured.

Three million people, two million of which are children, are on the brink of starvation, while also enduring the world’s largest recorded cholera outbreak.

Starting under former-President Barack Obama and continued under President Trump, the United States has been aiding this genocide through sharing intelligence, refueling planes and selling munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to In These Times.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) ends the United States’ support to the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen.


Expressed Congressional support for the extension of the New START treaty

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which replaced the original 1991 START 1 treaty, was an agreement between the United States and Russia to verifiably reduce the two nations’ nuclear arsenals, according to the Arms Control Association.

Seven years after the adoption of the treaty, both countries' bombs and warheads were reduced by 1,550.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) would not only extend New START but also prohibit the use of funds for withdrawing from the treaty unless Russia has violated the agreement.



Withheld funding for new missiles that would violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The landmark arms control agreement between then-President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev required the elimination of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, according to the U.S. Department of State website.

In addition to the administration’s highly aggressive 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and the $2.1 trillion “modernization” of our nuclear arsenal that started under former-President Obama, the scrapping of the INF Treaty is paving the way for a new global arms race.

Last June, a document briefly published online by the Pentagon before it was taken down revealed a frightening return to the Cold War-era mentality of winning a nuclear war, according to The Guardian.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) prohibits funding for any missiles that are noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.


Thanking our Washington State representatives

It is important that we take the time to thank your representatives in Washington for taking a stand and voting for the interests and health of their constituents but also the world. Without their support, such important amendments would not have even been considered. With our allies in Congress, we will continue to oppose this administration’s dangerous agenda.



WPSR joins global call for urgent climate action to protect health

Washington health professionals are among the thousands of medical providers represented in a new call for public officials to advance solutions that address the climate crisis.

The new policy action agenda, The Call to Action on Climate, Health and Equity, advocates specific solutions to promote human health. Endorsers include The American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and dozens of other groups which represent thousands of medical providers in Washington State. Recommendations include rapid transition away from coal, oil, and natural gas, promotion of active transportation, and targeted investments in communities most impacted by climate change and air pollution.

"In our state, the resulting climate crisis is already responsible for an increase in heat-related illness and deaths, as well as worsening asthma from greater levels of air pollution and wildfire smoke,” said Ken Lans, MD, the Past-President and Co-Chair of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility Climate & Health Task Force, which signed the letter. “The specific recommendations in this Call to Action are affordable, achievable and will significantly benefit human health. We ask our elected officials in Washington state to continue their leadership and promote and invest in health-promoting solutions to our climate crisis.”

"We have to cure ourselves of fossil fuels"

On May 22nd, Dr. Mark Vossler and Dr. Annemarie Dooley spoke to Puget Sound Energy executives at their listening session in Bellevue. Both urged the utility to rapidly move away from fossil fuels , given the scale and health impacts of our climate crisis and the dangers posed by dirty energy. Watch their testimonies, and see Dr. Vossler’s letter below.

Addressed to David Mills, Sr. Vice President of Puget Sound Energy

            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Puget Sound Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan.  As a PSE rate payer, practicing physician, public health advocate, and representative of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, I have serious concerns. 

            First and foremost is the planned continued reliance upon natural gas even as coal based electricity generation is phased out.  The LNG plant in Tacoma and the pipeline expansion plans in Snohomish county reveal that rather than transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible you intend to extend our societal dependence on dangerous, dirty, unhealthy energy sources for as long as possible.  Given that methane is 86 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2 in the twenty-year time frame any leakage between the well and generating station is dangerous to the health of the entire global population. Furthermore the serious health risks posed to surrounding communities by fracking operations need to be considered.  It is immoral for us to keep our lights on at the expense of the health of people living proximal to frack sites. 

            We are pleased that you plan to comply with state law and not charge rate payers for coal generated electricity after 2025 but your stated plans for the Colstrip plant seem quite nebulous.   The climate impacts and the waste disposal issues of coal would mandate that nobody is getting their electricity from Colstrip after 2025.

            PSE’s planned infrastructure developments, including Energize Eastside, seem to be geared toward centralized power generation inherent in the old model of burning fossil fuels rather than the new model of distributed generation and clean energy.

            We therefore request that your IRP be revised to include no expansion of the use of fracked gas, including the Tacoma LNG project, a more rapid transition to 100% renewable sources, and a revision of the infrastructure build out paid for by your ratepayers to more accurately reflect the needs of a modern renewable energy grid.

Sincerely,

Mark Vossler, MD

President, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

                                                                                 

Nuclear Weapons is A Current Threat

By Joe Berksen, WPSR Member, Nuclear Weapons Task Force

This piece was written for Joe’s 50th College Graduation Anniversary, thoughtfully crafted to engage his former peers and colleagues about the urgency to act to prevent nuclear war.

Our generation started with “duck and cover,” nuclear attack drills in elementary school. A few years later in the Kennedy administration, we lived through the Cuban missile crisis which had all America on edge for days. Nuclear war seemed a real and present danger. I was scared! 

Later when attending Oberlin, we were fighting against the Vietnam war and threats of nuclear war. I studied nuclear weapons on my own, verification of nuclear tests and started advocating for the nuclear test ban treaty. 

With Soviet detente in the early 1980s, there was progress on reducing nuclear weapons arsenals. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the movement relaxed, thinking the risk was less. But now the dangers of nuclear war or nuclear accidents are higher, and I’m scared again.

After medical school, I moved to Washington state and joined the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility(WPSR). We sought to leverage public respect for physicians, to teach that nuclear war was a public health threat. Consequences of nuclear explosions could not be effectively treated medically and we campaigned to prevent any use.

Many groups in Washington State care deeply about eliminating nuclear weapons, but none of these groups were working together. Knowing we would be much stronger together than alone, three years ago WPSR created a statewide, antinuclear coalition, Washington Against Nuclear Weapons.

Through the coalition, which now includes over 40 organizations from across the state, we are building a public anti-nuclear weapons movement. We are still growing, with diverse groups including peace, faith, healthcare, labor, education, and social justice organizations.

Our coalition work is supported by a strong group of WPSR members (over 1000 in our state), I volunteer on our WPSR nuclear weapons abolition “task force,” which has a full-time staff organizer. We developed a strategic plan collaboratively with the coalition, with a goal to impact policy makers to change U.S. nuclear policies.

Washington Against Nuclear Weapons is one of the few, and definitely the largest, anti-
nuclear coalitions in the country. We want to increase public visibility of nuclear weapons issues through media and community organizing. Building solidarity with social justice movements, we partner with local grassroots organizations engaging local activists, educating the public by daylighting the military industrial complex and nuclear weapon manufacturers in Washington State. 

We are exerting constituent pressure on members of Congress by meeting with all congressional delegates at least yearly. We feel our efforts show progress. For several years WPSR worked with a Washington State Congressman, Adam Smith, to educate him on nuclear weapon issues, meeting with him several times per year for the past decade, since he was open to the issues and was getting more progressive with time. 

Adam Smith is now Chair of the Armed Services committee in the house and held the first hearing on nuclear weapons policy in house committee in the past 30 years. He declared that he supports no-first-strike legislation and will work to stop increased spending on low-yield nuclear weapons, and is against “upgrading” our ground based ICBMs. He believes they can be eliminated from the arsenal. 

We need a safer world and there is hope.

Militarism Threatens All Humanity

By Jim Sawyer, WPSR Member, Nuclear Weapons Task Force

US military spending continues to spiral, expand, explode and there is no end in sight.  Sadly this fiscal insanity is rarely challenged or contested by our governing political establishment.  This damning reality showcases the impact of militarism in modern American life. How pervasive is militarism?  Militarism has woven its way into every facet of American culture and is seldom commented on. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration but is in fact an understatement for where we are at as a nation.  How many Americans can list the nations that the United States is at war with and is currently bombing? How many Senators and members of congress can accurately tell us the total number of US military bases worldwide; or the locations for this global network of bases?  You could not find one Senator or congress member who can answer this.

What Americans have to come to terms with is the threat that uncontested US militarism presents to all humankind.  Consider that 3% of US military spending could end all global hunger. Acknowledge the reality that US military spending is the single biggest contributor to Global climate catastrophe and environmental destruction in the world.  US militarism is the driving force, behind the 6th great extinction that we are now in the midst of. President Eisenhower in his famous 1960 farewell address warned us about the threat of the “military industrial complex.”  Ike is not rolling over in his grave now- he is doing cartwheels.

The only force that has a chance of countering and rolling back the militarism that has poisoned both our culture and political press is active political action and democratic participation. We have to meet head on and with passion discredit the misguided notion that endless military spending and expansionism somehow safeguards the country when the exact opposite is true.  Reasoned people need to collectively cast light on this a problem that left unaddressed will eventually lead to endless global conflict and inevitably nuclear extinction. The choice is ours. It’s not too late to act on and rally behind the wisdom of President Eisenhower.

People in Target Nuclear Weapons Blast Zones Meet with Members of Congress

Seattle, WA - Between rising concerns over North Korea, tensions between India and Pakistan, and the Trump administration's push for new weapons systems we have seen a growing concern about the risk of catastrophic nuclear war. We also have seen volunteers stepping up at the local level to push our elected officials to be more responsible about our nation's nuclear weapons policy. In April our volunteers met with Representatives Larsen, Jayapal, Newhouse and Smith and Senators Murray and Cantwell to talk about these issues. A particularly important meeting was with Congressman Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and possibly the most powerful man in the country when it comes to conversations about nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

Volunteers like Mona Lee, who owns the property which is closest to the highest concentration of nuclear weapons in the world, Bangor Base which is where Ground Zero Center for Non Violent Action is located. Or with volunteers like Bruce Amundson who has been fighting nuclear weapons as the greatest health threat to humanity, as a physician activist for the last 50 years. Activists like David Anitok, from the Marshall Islands also participated to advocate that Congress right the wrongs of the past by passing an amendment to Medicaid to include Marshall Islanders whose islands were bombed 67 times in WWII Nuclear Weapons tests to finally get access to health care .

They, along with volunteers from across the state have been working with the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility locally, and at the state level, on bills like SJM 8006 and HJM 4008 which urge "Congress to take appropriate steps to move back from the brink of nuclear war." Volunteers like Bruce Amundson know that we cannot wait on leaders in DC when the issue is so important. 

Historic climate legislation passes through WA legislature

With your help, WPSR and our coalition partners secured major victories on climate and environmental policies this legislative session. These wins were only possible because of years of hard work from people like you to push equitable action on climate change at all levels in our state. Thank you for your work to help make this happen! This was one of the most sweeping policy aggregates in recent memory in Washington.

To recap, here’s a quick snapshot of the progress we achieved together:

  1. The strongest 100% renewable energy policy in the nation, phasing out coal by 2025 and eliminating fossil fuels from our electric sector by 2045. This historic bill will grow jobs in clean energy and provide energy assistance to help all Washingtonians reap the benefits of our transition to healthy sources of energy.

  2. A clean buildings policy that will reduce carbon pollution and improve health. 20% of our carbon emissions come from the commercial sector, and this bill establishes critical energy efficiency standards.

  3. Creation of a state task force to address environmental health disparities caused by pollution. Where you live shouldn’t determine your health, and this task force will begin crucial work to reduce pollution and existing health inequities.

  4. A landmark oil spill prevention and safety bill. This victory adds a notch in our successful movement to improve safety in oil transported over water, halt dangerous new oil export facilities, and prevent the likelihood of catastrophic oil spill

WPSR advocates played an important role in these victories. From testifying and lobbying in Olympia, to convening unprecedented support from our state’s medical and healthcare community, to publishing letters in local newspapers and communicating with legislators, your support helped ensure that our elected officials knew that taking action on climate change is imperative for our health. Thank you.

While two of our priority bills, a clean fuel standard and the Healthy Environment for All Act, didn’t make it across the finish line this year, we look forward to continuing our advocacy on these important policies in the coming months.

What comes next?

WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force is continually working towards climate justice. We’re excited to keep heath messages at the center of our movement to stop new mega fracked gas projects in Washington, and more collaboration with health and medical groups to address this moral issue of our time.

For now, we are deeply grateful for your support in this work, and thrilled that we’re ending this session with the most sweeping set of policies supporting a healthy climate in recent memory. Onwards!

Thanks for all you do,

Sarah Cornett

Climate Program Organizer, WPSR

Ken Lans, MD, MBA

Chair, Climate & Health Task Force

Past-President, WPSR


Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Calls on State Legislature to Prevent Nuclear War: SJM 8006 Ends up in X-File

Written by Alexander Tufel, Beyond the Bomb UW Chapter

Seattle, Wa — Washington Against Nuclear Weapons (WANW) organized the State Senate to pass Senate Joint Memorial 8006 and in the House of Representatives to pass House Joint Memorial 4008; these memorials requests that the U.S. Congress impose checks and balances on a president’s ability to start a nuclear war. These bills put the the impacts of Nuclear Weapons on people in Washington State on display at the highest level of governance in Washington State.

WANW, a statewide coalition of activists united for a future free of nuclear weapons, hopes to halt the $1.7 trillion overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, with the long term goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons.

Aside from curtailing a U.S. president’s ability to launch a preemptive strike, the memorial also asks that the president not have unilateral authority to use nuclear weapons, removing US nuclear weapons from hair trigger alert, cancelling the planned $1.7 trillion rebuilding of our nuclear arsenal, and pursuing multilateral, verifiable disarmament with other nuclear powers, leading to the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.

SJM 8006 was drafted with grassroots involvement, has the backing of over 40 organizations statewide, and is co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Hasegawa, Patty Kuderer, Sam Hunt, David Frockt, Jamie Pederson, and Rebecca Saldaña.

On Feb. 22, 2019, SJM 8006 had a public hearing at the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee, where it passed the rules committee.

Hasegawa opened the hearing by recounting the nuclear weapons experimentation that occurred in the Marshall Islands during the Cold War and his opposition to the current arms nuclear racing of the Trump Administration.

“I think this whole escalation of the nuclear arms race that is kicking into gear again is just as sociopathic and unconscionable as what we did to the those people,” Hasegawa said. “The fear that this brings on of just global annihilation at the disposal of one person … I think needs to be corrected.”

Hasegawa added that given that the Washington State has the highest concentration of nuclear weapons in the country, it would be a “prime target” during a nuclear exchange.

According to Crosscut, 20 miles from Seattle is Naval Base Kitsap, home port to eight out of the fourteen Trident ballistic missile submarines. The base also houses an underground nuclear weapons storage complex. Altogether, the base contains over 1,300 nuclear warheads. This is not only the single largest concentration in the country, but the world.

Nine other activists from various grassroots organizations also gave testimonies, voicing their concerns with U.S. nuclear policy and its current dangerous trajectory.

“For half a century, nuclear weapons have continuously threatened to destroy all life on earth,” Glen Anderson from the Olympia Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said. “If something were to go haywire right now in our nuclear system, 30 minutes from now all of us could be dead.”

He urged those listening to consider the fact that, while only Congress can officially declare war, no such impediment is placed on the president’s ability to wage nuclear war.

“Let us hope we never have a president who is emotionally unstable,” Anderson said. “Let us hope we never have a president who is reckless and impulsive.”

WPSR Executive Director Laura Skelton mentioned the Trump Administration’s recent withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which she said could could trigger a new arms race, according to experts. Those living close to deployed nuclear weapons would be most at risk.

“SJM 8006 is an important tool for sending a message to our president and our federal leaders,” Skelton said. “Please pass this measure.”

Given that the Senate failed to hear a vote on SJM 8006 before the cutoff date on March 13, WANW will have to take a second swing at passing this legislation through the legislature next session. The Joint Memorial ended up in what is called the “X-File” where the House and Senate Rules Committees may place bills that will go no further in the legislative process. WANW hopes that Washington State legislators make not only the right choice for the safety and health of their constituents, but the world. Our country’s dangerous and reckless nuclear policy must be changed.

Climate & Health Task Force testifies in support of King County fossil fuel moratorium

On Wednesday, March 13th, four members of WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force testified to King County Council supporting the six-month ordinance prohibiting new fossil fuel projects! Over 30 people testified in support of the moratorium, which was passed in January.

You can watch the video of their testimonies here.

The physicians included:

  • Dr. Dianne Glover, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who spoke about her infant patients and how climate change excacerbates wildfire smoke pollution that can significantly harm lung function, especially in babies born prematurely

  • Dr. Annemarie Dooley, a nephrologist who’s seen increases in heat-related kidney disorders in her patients as our region has experienced higher temperatures in recent summers

  • Dr. Margaret Kitchell, who spoke about the Lancet Commission’s findings last year that city-level carbon reduction is a key piece in reducing the health consequences of climate change, and

  • Dr. Ken Lans, who encouraged Council members to mitigate air, water, and climate pollution in their regulatory re-write and hold fossil fuel projects to high environmental review standards.

Thank you to 350 Seattle organizers and all who attended to support this important policy!

WPSR supports the HEAL Act: testimony from Dr. Ken Lans

WPSR is proud to support the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, currently making its way through the legislature in Olympia. These bills (SB 5489 and HB 2009) create a shared definition of environmental justice for state agencies, ensuring that health disparities are reflected in investments, policies, and other programs .

The recently-released Environmental Health Disparities Map, developed by Front & Centered with the University of Washington and the state Department of Health, illustrates that certain Washington communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and other environmental indicators that harm health. This new tool reinforces that those suffering from environmental injustice must be the first to shape policy decisions to better ensure that where you live doesn’t dictate your health.

Dr. Ken Lans recently testified to the House Environment Committee in support of the bill. See his testimony and contact your legislator today in support of the HEAL Act!

Ken standing outside the state capitol in Olympia with Front & Centered leaders and staff.

Ken standing outside the state capitol in Olympia with Front & Centered leaders and staff.

Dear Members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee: 

My name is Ken Lans, I’m a retired General Practice Physician and the Past-President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, a non-profit with a 40-year history of health-based advocacy in our state. I’m writing to urge you to pass the Healthy Environment for All Act, SB 5489, out of your committee this week.

As a doctor, I know through my own experience that healthy brains, hearts, and lungs are needed for people to thrive and meet their full potential. Living in an environment free from pollutants and toxins is absolutely critical for everyone’s health and normal development. It is an injustice — one that we can correct — that too many people in certain communities in Washington face worse health impacts because of where they live.

In practical terms, minimizing such exposures requires first being aware of them and taking them into account.

The health-disparities mapping analysis tool, that is part of this legislation, provides an informative, easy-to-use framework for each agency to identify and map out which populations are most vulnerable to a given environmental threat.

These individual exposures don’t act in isolation, they compound on each other.  Along with the growing impacts from climate change, these exposures to pollutants further increase the vulnerabilities that medically-sensitive populations already face. 

All this severely strains our healthcare system, dramatically raises health care costs, and needlessly siphons away money, resources, and productivity.

I urge the state to make the targeted investments to reduce environmental health disparity that can benefit every Washington community — helping each and every one of us reach the promise of a healthy, happy, and productive life. I urge you to please support the Healthy Environment for All Act, SB 5489. 

Thank you for all the work you do to represent us.

Senate Joint Memorial on preventing nuclear war moves forward!

Washington Against Nuclear Weapons had a great day on Friday, February 22nd. We are delighted that the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee voted in favor of Senate Joint Memorial 8006, which now sends it to the Rules Committee.

Ten individuals representing Washington Against Nuclear Weapons and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility testified in support of SJM 8006, a measure that – if passed – would send a request to President Trump and the leaders of both houses of Congress to take specific actions to pull our country back from the brink of nuclear war.

We are grateful to Sen. Hasegawa for introducing SJM 8006 and to Rep. Tarleton who introduced HJM 4008 in the House. We are also grateful to the co-sponsors of these Memorials. And we are especially grateful to all of the individuals who attended Friday’s hearing, testified in support of SJM 8006, and/or contacted their legislators urging support of this measure.

One memorable moment on Friday was Senator Hasegawa’s introduction of SJM 8006 to the Committee. When he mentioned the large collection of nuclear weapons housed in Washington State at Bangor, the gasp in the crowded room was audible. That gasp reminds us of what an important opportunity this is to educate our fellow Washingtonians about the immense risk we face. Onward in the quest for a safer future!

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For the First Time Since the Cold War, WA Legislature Opposes Nuclear War

People in Washington State find ourselves in a crossfire of the New Nuclear Arms Race, since the presence of nuclear-armed submarines at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval base makes us a prime target in the case of a nuclear exchange. On Friday Feb. 22, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, Washington State Legislators are stepping up to say No More to nuclear proliferation and are standing up to Nuclear War and the New Arms Race.

The risks of international conflict, escalating to include the use of nuclear weapons, have reached levels not seen since the height of the Cold War. Recently renewed conflict between two unpredictable nuclear-armed nations, India and Pakistan threaten global security. The continuing uncertainty surrounding North Korea’s nuclear arsenals; paired with aggressive policies of the Trump administration, which involve a new nuclear arms race combined with irresponsible threats involving nuclear weapons and a total breakdown of existing arms control treaties (such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), have combined to create a frightening and dangerous international environment.

These multiple nuclear crises are finally being addressed with a bold and visionary pair of initiatives in the Washington State Legislature. These Joint Memorials, led by Sen. Hasegawa in the Washington Senate and Rep. Tarleton in the House, propelled by the public, call for the U.S. Congress to “take appropriate steps to move back from the brink of nuclear war.” The Washington Against Nuclear Weapons coalition applauds Sen. Hasegawa and his colleagues for holding a hearing on Senate Joint Memorial 8006 Friday, February 22nd, 1:30 PM, by the Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections.

Directed at President Trump and the leaders of both houses of Congress, if passed by the Washington Senate (and House), these Memorials would represent very bold statements regarding nuclear dangers addressed to our national leadership from the highest levels of Washington state government. Two similar resolutions were passed by the state of California last year.

SJM 8006 urges that Washington “has a local responsibility to lead a national conversation about reducing and eliminating the threat of nuclear war and revamping our federal strategy.” The Memorial goes on to urge the U.S. to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by laying out several policies aimed at reducing the extreme risks from these weapons as well as reducing our arsenals.

The Washington Against Nuclear Weapons coalition, comprised of over 40 organizations across Washington, and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization of over 800 health professionals, strongly support passage of these Memorial statements, and commend our elected officials for their foresight and leadership in putting them forward in the 2019 Legislature.

“We are fortunate to have this quality of leadership in our Washington Legislature that is willing to challenge the very dangerous status quo and address these policy issues that ultimately reside at the national level,” said Dr. Bruce Amundson, Vice President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Historic fossil fuel prevention ordinance passes in King County!

In a major victory, the King County Council passed an ordinance preventing new fossil fuel facilities in a 6-3 vote. Introduced by Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, the moratorium follows Whatcom County and other Northwest communities with similar policies that protect health and safety and take action on our climate crisis. 

WPSR members worked closely with 350 Seattle and other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Power Past Fracked Gas coalition, in support of this historic ordinance. We’re grateful for 350 Seattle and Councilmember Upthegrove’s leadership to move this issue forward! Thanks especially to Jess Wallach, who first approached us about getting involved in this a year ago. 

This moratorium is a win for health. WPSR published a research report making the case for it, sent letters and made calls to Council members, two of our physicians, Dr. Ken Lans and infectious disease pediatrician Dr. Dianne Glover, testified. Dr. Lans spoke at a press conference just before the vote. Read his remarks below. 

Good morning. My name is Ken Lans. I’m a retired General Practice physician, the past-president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the father of an 18 year-old son.

In a couple hours, I will be testifying before the King County Council, urging them to protect the health and safety of this county’s citizens by passing the Fossil Free KC ordinance.

As a physician, I know that adding major fossil fuel infrastructure puts more and more people’s health and safety at increased risk. Fires and explosions, while rare, are still much too common and, when they do occur, can be catastrophic, like the 2016 Greenwood gas explosion. Add to that the known risks of adverse health effects that result from exposures during fuel extraction, processing, and transportation.

There are also huge health impacts from burning those fossil fuels. Our reliance on these fuels means we’re dumping enormous amounts of global-warming causing CO2 and health-harming gases and particulate matter directly into the air that we, and our children, need to breath. Most in the medical community now see climate change as the biggest, most serious threat to our public health.  

We know from the medical evidence, and from seeing patients in our everyday practices, that air pollution and climate change — human-caused climate change — hurt real people right now.  All of us can be harmed, but poorer populations and communities of color are even more heavily impacted, as they tend to live in areas with higher levels of pollution and toxic air. Numerous health studies show that, because of increased exposure to pollution, they tend to die younger and suffer more ill-health throughout their lives. That’s true here in Seattle (as in many other places) where, largely due to localized pollution, residents of the Georgetown, South Park, and Beacon Hill neighborhoods have a life expectancy eight years shorter than the city’s average.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, our own government’s National Climate Assessment, and the World Health Organization all recently reported findings that climate change is accelerating even more quickly than predicted — and added loud warnings of profound climate change-related dangers to human health if we continue on our current path of greenhouse gas emissions.  

As the experts also so clearly lay out, the longer we wait to act, the more fossil fuel we continue to burn, and the more carbon dioxide and other pollutants we pour into the air — the more the earth will warm, the more extreme the climate will become, the more air quality will worsen, and the more dire and widespread the impacts and harms on people will be.  To put it bluntly, the prognosis — without a prompt change in course — is very bad. 

We have about a decade to greatly accelerate our transition to clean energy. But while the time to act is short, it’s still in our power to make the wise choices that get us off this unsustainable trajectory. 

The grave dangers posed by climate change mean we should be doing everything we can to reduce our fossil fuel use, rather than enabling it.  The Fossil Free KC ordinance, which will stop expensive, unwise and health-damaging investments in major fossil fuel infrastructure, is an important step in the right direction.

To protect everyone’s health, we urgently need to begin transitioning off our heavy and harmful reliance on fossil fuels. This transition to cleaner sources of energy will help drive down emissions, reduce levels of pollution, and bring enormous and immediate health benefits and health cost savings.

That is why, as both a health professional and a father, I am urging the King County Council to take this bold step forward to protect the health and safety of this county’s citizens and pass the Fossil Free KC ordinance. 

Each and every one of us has both the power and the responsibility to ensure that our children and grandchildren will inherit a safe and livable planet, where they can thrive and lead full, healthy, and productive lives. 

Dr. Ken Lans speaking at a rally in support of the moratorium.

Dr. Ken Lans speaking at a rally in support of the moratorium.

The health and safety imperative of preventing new fossil fuel projects

WPSR has published a 14-page report making the health and safety case for a moratorium on new major fossil fuel infrastructure in King County. Read it here.

Over the past decade, Northwest communities have successfully fought back against fossil fuel development in their backyards. As the climate crisis deepens and coal, oil, and gas industry interest continue to eye Washington and Oregon for new projects, cities and counties are taking proactive steps to prevent this infrastructure from being allowed for in the first place. On January 28th, King County can be next. Councilmember Dave Upthegrove is set to introduce a moratorium on these harmful projects.

The risks to health and safety posed by fossil fuel infrastructure are well documented. Pipelines carrying oil and gas, compressor stations, storage tanks, and vessel and rail transport sites have been shown to be susceptible to combustion, fire hazard, and releases of toxic pollution in instances of leaks and spills. Shipping and storing coal and oil poses its own unique risks.

While King County does not have any oil refineries or coal export facilities, it is home to quite a large amount of fossil fuel infrastructure and like many communities in our region, is at risk of fossil fuel expansion. Of primary concern are pipelines and trains carrying oil and gas through the region. Coal is also of concern; a coal mine was recently proposed to re-open in Black Diamond.

In recent history, the vulnerability of King County residents to the risks associated with infrastructure carrying and storing fossil fuel products has become apparent. Incidents like the 2016 Greenwood Gas explosion and the 2014 Interbay oil train derailment in Seattle are a reminder that large volumes of fossil fuels are being transported through our neighborhoods and right under our feet. A full breakdown of existing pipelines and fossil fuel projects were mapped by 350 Seattle members in 2018 (you can find the map here).

In Whatcom County, Tacoma, Vancouver, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Portland, Oregon and Baltimore, MD local governments have responded to these risks through protective land use planning. Successful legislation has updated zoning codes to prohibit new significant fossil fuel development. Adapting these strategies to secondary and temporary infrastructure, including pipeline expansions and the local permits relevant to fossil fuel infrastructure construction and ongoing operation, offers another tool to protect local residents from the well-documented health and safety risks posed by fossil fuel infrastructure.

Why now?

The most significant fossil fuel threat to King County is the expansion of gas infrastructure to meet the demand created by major gas projects proposed for southwest WA, such as the Kalama methanol refinery.

Dr. Margaret Kitchell, a physician on WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force, speaks about the health and safety risks of the methanol refinery at a rally.

Dr. Margaret Kitchell, a physician on WPSR’s Climate & Health Task Force, speaks about the health and safety risks of the methanol refinery at a rally.

The Kalama refinery alone would use more than one-third of Washington state’s current gas consumption, meaning that should it come online the Kalama refinery would overtax current infrastructure. While proponents of the refinery have presented a plan to ‘bridge the gap’ in gas supplies, this plan is short-term and ultimately depends on the construction of a new pipeline to augment the current Williams Northwest system. This pipeline expansion would most likely happen in the existing pipeline corridor that runs through King County. But King County faces gas threats from more than just Kalama.

Between 2012 and 2017 alone, the Northwest has seen proposals for six major new gas pipelines and in the 2016 Gas Outlook, the NW Gas Association states that a new pipeline is “only a matter of time”.

King County is at also risk from piecemeal expansion of existing gas infrastructure. ‘Safety upgrades’ for aging pipelines often double as opportunities to significantly increase pipe diameter and expand gas capacity. The current North Seattle lateral expansion project is an example of this: A 2012 inspection found signs of cracking and a leak in the 60-year old North Seattle Lateral gas pipeline that runs along the King-Snohomish border. Permitting is underway to replace six miles of the damaged eight-inch diameter pipeline with a new 20 inch diameter pipeline – quietly increasing gas delivery capacity by 63% and ensuring that the pipeline can stay in service for another 60 years. With this ‘safety upgrade’, the pipeline will have increased WA’s annual greenhouse gas pollution by 3%, or three million metric tons per year (that’s almost as much as the entire city of Seattle).

Of lesser but still significant risk is the possibility of fossil fuel infrastructure expansion near the Port of Seattle. This deepwater port has been the site of multiple proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects, most recently the 2015 proposal for a terminal to support Arctic drilling operations. While the project proponent, Royal Dutch Shell, retracted the plan following broad opposition, it demonstrated the region’s vulnerability to new fossil fuel projects.

Our health, climate, and fossil fuel extraction

Credit: NIAID, Flickr

Credit: NIAID, Flickr

Climate change is already negatively impacting health, both in King County and around the globe. The US Climate Assessment released in November 2018 found that asthma exacerbation, extreme-heat related illness, and smoke pollution resulting from wildfires will worsen health outcomes for people living in the Pacific Northwest as climate change intensifies. Adding to these health concerns, the Washington State Department of Health reports that climate change is likely to increase rates of heat related illnesses; respiratory illness; vector-, water-, and food-borne diseases; and mental health stress. Indeed, deaths caused by extreme heat in King County rose 10% between 1990 and 2010, and our region can expect to see more frequent and extreme heat waves as the climate crisis intensifies Climate change-exacerbated wildfires across our region in the  summer of 2018 brought the region its worst air quality in decades.

A new mapping tool developed by University of Washington’s school of Public Health, Front & Centered, and the Department of Health identifies environmental health and pollution disparities.

A new mapping tool developed by University of Washington’s school of Public Health, Front & Centered, and the Department of Health identifies environmental health and pollution disparities.

These health burdens are not affecting King County residents equally. Lower-income and communities of color in Washington are already bearing an outsized health burden. A 2018 report from Front & Centered and the University of Washington identified flood risk, significantly poorer air quality, and higher rates of chronic conditions made worsened by climate change and pollution impacts (such as asthma and heart disease) as existing inequities in the climate change burden our region faces. Neighborhoods in South Seattle that lie within existing pipeline routes, including the Olympic Oil Pipeline, already face more pollution and health disparities than other parts of the city.

Fossil fuel infrastructure is fueling the climate crisis, which the World Health Organization and major medical journals have declared the greatest public health threat of our time.Scientists agree that fossil fuel extraction plays a central part in our climate crisis. While extracting gas, oil, and coal contributes to these climate change-related health burdens, the infrastructure required for their production and transport also poses significant and numerous risks.

“We must prevent what we cannot cure”

Nurses and public health professionals testify in support of regulations limiting new fossil fuel projects in Tacoma in November, 2018.

Nurses and public health professionals testify in support of regulations limiting new fossil fuel projects in Tacoma in November, 2018.

Limiting fossil fuel development can yield major health and climate benefits by curbing harmful air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning and transporting coal, oil and gas. Local governments and regulators can employ protective land use planning to limit new fossil fuel infrastructure and enhance safety of existing infrastructure.

Called by the prevention principle, physicians and nurses have been a key voice in campaigns for fossil fuel infrastructure moratoriums in Tacoma, WA and Portland. Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility strongly encourages King County leaders to join the list of communities employing these powerful land use strategies to protect health and safety from these projects.

WHO, Lancet Reports Confirm It: Tackling Climate Change Improves Public Health

“Climate change is killing our patients,” WPSR physicians write op-ed in Seattle Times.

Image credit: Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

New reports from The Lancet medical journal, a World Health Organization study, and the recently published US Climate Assessment confirm what Washington healthcare providers are already seeing: climate change is hurting our patients.  

Both reports detail striking health consequences of climate change with impacts in the Pacific Northwest. They find that actions to reduce global warming emissions will dramatically benefit health, from reducing air pollution to protecting those at risk of disease. “From the devastating smoke pollution caused by wildfires this year this summer to extreme heat stress, our patients are suffering the health consequences of climate change” said Dr. Mark Vossler, a cardiologist in Kirkland, Washington and Chair of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR) Climate & Health Task Force. “The findings of this report demonstrate the need for physicians and nurses to get out of the exam room and in to offices of our legislators.”

Health professionals in Washington are already mobilized to take action on climate change. An unprecedented medical coalition representing thousands of Washington physicians and nurses endorsed the carbon fee ballot initiative, I-1631. Medical providers have been key players in coalitions that have successfully resisted construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and will advocate for statewide emissions-reducing policies next year in Olympia.

“As physicians called to prevent what we cannot cure, this report confirms that it is our duty to do everything we can to ensure a livable future for our communities and our patients,” said Dr. Anita Peñuelas, family physician and WPSR Climate & Health Task Force member.

“As a physician, I and my colleagues know from the medical evidence and from seeing patients in our everyday practices, that air pollution and climate change — human-caused climate change — hurt real people right now,” said Dr. Ken Lans, WPSR President. “To protect everyone’s health, we must stop using the atmosphere as an open sewer, dumping huge amounts of pollution right into the air that we, and our children, need to breath.”

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