Spokane Climate Project supports local and state climate initiatives

CIRC resources drive climate policy in Spokane

Kara Odegard

Much has happened since we last reported on the Spokane Climate Project. In 2018, CIRC partnered with members of the Spokane, Washington, community to help our region better understand the wide range of impacts that are expected as climate changes. CIRC assisted local Spokane stakeholders in conducting research and reporting around five key areas: temperature, precipitation, stream flow, snowpack, and wildfires. This collaboration became known as the Spokane Climate Project (SCP). Like many community projects, our group experienced some Covid-19 challenges over the past 18 months, but the rewards have been worth the hard work and dedication of our all-volunteer team. We are excited to share with you a few examples of how the SPC has influenced both local and state climate initiatives.

State Policy

The 2021 legislative session proved to be a big win for climate policy in Washington. Washington finally passed a low-carbon or Clean Fuel Standard to align with those implemented by other states and provinces along the west coast, including California, Oregon, and British Columbia. This legislation passed due to tireless efforts of many in our state, including Spokane policy makers who used the SCP report to further understand the health and environmental risks associated with higher carbon emissions. By mid-century, temperatures in Spokane are expected to be warmer year-round, with more intense increases in summer, diminished snowpack, lower stream flows, and increased risk of wildfires in the region. These climate impacts carry social and public health risks, increased risk of heart and respiratory illnesses, local economic losses, and further widening existing disparities in our community.

Futurewise, a statewide environmental advocacy organization, also used data from the Spokane report in a recent campaign to promote climate policy that would require jurisdictions planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) to include climate resiliency and adaptation measures in their comprehensive plans. The GMA is a Washington law designed to discourage urban sprawl and encourage smart growth strategies. This new legislation to include climate planning within the GMA did not pass in 2021, but likely will be considered during future Washington state legislative sessions.

Spokane’s Sustainability Action Plan

Possibly the most consequential local climate initiative of the past year was the release of Spokane’s draft Sustainability Action Plan. This plan, an update to the city’s 2009 plan, includes the first specific actions that the city will take to mitigate and adapt to Spokane’s changing climate. The SCP’s climate report and the Climate Toolbox informed the draft plan throughout its two-year development. The Sustainability Action Plan, which is expected to be formally adopted by Spokane City Council in October 2021, is a direct response to the current and anticipated future impacts of climate change in Spokane.

Community Engagement Around Climate

Over the past year, the SCP website has proved to be a valuable resource for informing and engaging the public, which is key to implementing successful climate action. The website has guided not only local policymakers but also print and television media and community-based organizations in an informed conversation on climate in the inland Northwest. In fact, after the heat dome created deadly temperatures in Spokane and throughout the west in June 2021, we saw an increase in public discussion about climate change. The SCP website became and has remained the go-to source for local climate data (Fig. 1).

Graph of average maximum temperature at Mt. Spokane, Washington
Figure 1. (above) Average maximum temperature (simulated historical) at Mt. Spokane, Washington. Source: Climate Toolbox, Historical Climate Tracker. (right) The Spokane Climate Project’s key findings related to impacts of temperature increases on local ski resorts.

Next Steps for the Spokane Climate Project

We are in the final stages of conducting our adaptive capacity evaluation, which will conclude our climate vulnerability assessment and neatly wrap up the research phase of our work. The Spokane team expects to complete the final vulnerability assessment report by early 2022. The next phase will focus on implementing new policy and actions to address the greatest risks identified by the SCP. In the meantime, SPC has teamed up with Rogue Heart Media to create a series of short videos that will connect climate data to stories about the effects of climate change on human health and wellbeing in Spokane. The production of these videos is scheduled to conclude by the end of October 2021. Throughout the course of filming this summer, Rogue Heart Media became absorbed in the data and storytelling behind these videos, and they created a promotional video to help encourage public engagement in the Sustainability Action Plan. We hope you will return to our website later this fall to view the full story of Spokane’s Climate Project and watch the videos.

The Spokane Climate Project team would like to thank CIRC for their unwavering support over these past few years. Climate action in Spokane would not be where we are today without the resources, data, and moral support CIRC has given us.

Kara Odegard is the founder and owner of Measure Meant and Manager of Sustainability Initiatives at the City of Spokane.

Featured image by Erica Fleishman. All rights reserved.

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