Thank you for The Herald’s Sept. 17 article, “Two simultaneous health crises: Wildfire smoke, coronavirus,” by reporter Joseph Thompson. Both of these conditions pose serious threats to our wellbeing and, as a physician, I am deeply concerned about the health impacts that each of them cause. While this article correctly points out the link between being exposed to toxic wildfire smoke and increased susceptibility to the Covid virus, what it fails to mention is the direct link of both of these problems to the worsening climate crisis.
Climate change has created conditions (increased heat and worsening drought) which have caused wildfires to become much more frequent and severe in recent decades. Gov. Jay Inslee was correct when he recently stated that these fires should be called “climate fires” instead of “wildfires.” Climate change has also resulted in more widespread and frequent outbreaks of many infectious diseases, including the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The article does mention, if only in passing, the disproportionate impact that the wildfire smoke is having on the area’s homeless population. This is part of the vast social and economic inequity inherent to the climate crisis. For example, the infection rate and death rate for Covid-19 is much higher in low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous populations than in other groups. Similarly, the death rate caused by air pollution is also higher in these disadvantaged populations.
It is clear that climate change is not only causing a climate crisis, but is also causing a social injustice crisis.
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility