The arrival of summer is a cause for celebration in our state. The days are longer, the skies are bluer and the outdoors beckon.

But summer is no longer just about relaxation and recreation. Last summer’s deadly record-breaking heat wave, wildfire smoke, and harmful algal blooms were reminders that climate change is not something far off in time and far away in other places. It is here and now. Will 2022 bring more such threats to our health and well-being?

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR), a statewide group of health professionals, has just released a first-ever report on the impacts of climate change on Washingtonians’ health. The report finds that, in addition to heat, wildfires and harmful algal blooms, some of which can contaminate fish and shellfish and can be toxic to humans, our state faces multiple other documented climate-related health threats: rising sea levels, severe storms, infectious disease risks and mental health problems. Climate change is also undermining our health indirectly. For example, when chaotic weather reduces agricultural production, farmers and their families suffer, and Washingtonians on limited budgets face painful increases in the price of food.

Unless we take concerted action, these harms to our health are going to get much worse. The sooner we act, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Washingtonians.

Fortunately, the WPSR report also finds that tackling the climate crisis is good for health in many ways. Cleaner public transportation means more physical activity and cleaner air. Climate-friendly, plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Switching from gas to electric stoves means cleaner air inside our homes, reducing children’s risk of asthma attacks. Planting trees — a “nature-based solution” — helps sequester carbon, cool our communities, manage stormwater and foster better mental health.  

Our state is a national leader in many healthy climate policies. But there is more to do. We need to ensure that our efforts to decarbonize electricity generation are followed up by electrifying transportation and buildings. 


We call on all health professionals to learn about the links between climate change and health — not just the “diagnosis,” but also the “treatment.” We call on our medical and nursing schools to include climate and health in their curricula.

We call on our state’s elected officials to continue to lead on climate action. The clean-fuel standard, the clean-energy transformation act and the climate-commitment act form a strong base from which to work. Our transportation spending must promote walking, cycling, public transportation and electric vehicles.

Projects that reduce transportation-related air pollution in our most-impacted communities must be given priority. Our buildings must be all-electric as quickly as possible. The executive and legislative branches of our state government must ensure that all newly constructed buildings are fully electric and that conversion from gas to all-electric appliances is equitably affordable for all Washington residents. 

We call on members of Congress in “the other Washington” to follow our state’s lead and fight for a clean-electricity standard, a clean-fuel standard and a price on carbon at the federal level.

We also call on private-sector leaders across our state to rapidly decarbonize their businesses. Businesses do not need to wait for state or federal legislation to start making a difference.

Our state’s health care professionals work hard to protect the health of all Washingtonians, but climate change is a huge threat, and we can’t tackle it alone.