Oregon Healthcare Professionals Declare Climate State of Emergency

Last month, a coalition of more than 500 Oregon healthcare professionals and community health organizations declared a state of emergency and issued a call to action on climate change.  

In a statement from the Oregon Public Health Association, the coalition cited a number of ways climate change has already impacted Oregon and called climate change “the greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.”   

“Extreme weather events, wildfires and droughts, have increased in frequency and severity over the last decade leading to rising health risks in Oregon,” Jessica Nischik-Long, Executive Director of OPHA, told KLCC. “More extreme heat is resulting in more heat related hospitalizations. More wildfire smoke is causing asthma attacks.”   

Other public health threats the coalition identified included increased exposure to disease, risks to the state’s agriculture and water systems, and a rise in depression and anxiety related to climate change.  

PREVENTATIVE MEASURESOPHA urged the governor and state legislature to take action on 10 policies it believes are crucial to reduce greenhouse emissions and improve public health. These recommendations include a prioritization of walking or biking, a transition to sustainable energy and an investment in workers and communities impacted by this transition.  

Reducing carbon consumption throughout the healthcare sector and increasing early warning systems may equip Oregon’s healthcare providers in the face of climate-related public health crises. The coalition recommended bolstering the state’s investment in public health departments and preparing them to respond to increases in disease and emergencies, claiming “Oregon’s local health departments do not have adequate capacity to build climate resilience.”   

OPHA’s recommendations come as the state legislature works to reduce greenhouse emissions and pass new legislation to address climate change. In addition to the high profile cap-and-trade bill, the House has introduced 4 new pieces of legislation intended to regulate carbon emissions this session.  

By Kevin Davenport-Rackham 

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