Wednesday, November 11, 2020
We have spent a lot of time indoors this year—more than we ever anticipated. Whether from precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic or the weeks of gray skies and smoke from intense wildfires throughout the West, our daily spaces have rotated from the couch to the dining room table and the spare bedroom. And during these twinning crises of global pandemic and raging climate-fueled wildfires, we’ve also learned a lot about air quality and the linkages between the air we breathe, our health and our climate. We know that vulnerability to COVID-19 and exposure to poor air quality are directly linked. We know that poor air quality exacerbates climate impacts. Fortunately, we can do something about it.
Our efforts in Bellingham to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help our state achieve 100 percent clean energy are already underway. Priority recommendations from the Bellingham Climate Action Task Force guide our City’s efforts. Bellingham is poised to lead the state with new policies to reduce our climate pollution, improve our indoor air quality and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We can do this while keeping our buildings affordable, reducing energy costs, and protecting jobs in the construction industry. Our state is helping too—Washington’s electricity is already one of the cleanest and most affordable in the nation, and it’s getting cleaner every day as the state transitions steadily toward 100 percent emissions-free electricity by 2045.
In Washington state, homes and buildings are the fastest-growing source of carbon pollution, up 50 percent since 1990. This increase is attributed to the use of fossil or fracked gas (speciously called “natural” by the gas industry) as one of the primary sources to power and heat our homes and buildings. Every time a gas appliance is used to heat buildings or water, it creates climate and air pollution. Discontinuing the use of fossil fuels and electrifying our city’s homes and buildings is one of the most affordable and cost-effective pathways to help achieve our climate goals.
To build a 100 percent emissions-free future, we must start today.
For all the time we’ve spent indoors for one crisis or another, the quality of the air we breathe inside our homes and buildings is of extreme importance. Burning gas to cook, heat and power our homes releases carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, lead, and formaldehyde. These chemicals are harmful to our respiratory systems and our health, exacerbating existing respiratory illnesses, increasing blood pressure, causing decreased lung function and even premature death. Imagine if we could see firsthand how the air quality inside our homes is steadily declining, just as we saw the smoke from wildfires cloud our skies this summer—we would not stand idly by.
Making it easier, more affordable and accessible for our homes and buildings to go all electric is a double-win for our health and our climate. As we transition away from climate and air-polluting fossil gas, we can stop breathing in the harmful emissions, meet our climate goals, and improve air quality. While the transition to all-electric homes and buildings will take time, we can act now to avert increased emissions by building new 100 percent emissions-free homes and buildings in Bellingham.
The technology for high-efficiency heat pumps is already being utilized by construction companies to make new construction all-electric. We can steadily replace gas appliances over the next two decades, as equipment ages and needs upgrades. We can work with utilities and other partners to make sure low-income families have the help they need to ensure the change is just and equitable.
Our ability to build a 100 percent emissions-free future is dependent upon the decisions we make today. We all deserve safe, resilient and healthy places to live, work and learn.
Hannah Stone serves on Bellingham City Council. Dr. James Troutman is a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.