The state of Washington is attracting national attention for Initiative 732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax on the ballot this November. Washington is the first state in the nation where voters will weigh in on what many experts believe is an integral component of climate mitigation policy (a carbon tax). Not unexpectedly, this important initiative has many environmental and social advocacy groups talking.
One Washington Family Physician, Dr. Gwen Hanson, has been at the forefront of climate action leadership. As the Bellevue, WA chapter leader of Citizen's Climate Lobby (which supports I-732) and a volunteer for Carbon WA, the grassroots organization sponsoring I-732, she is taking her passion for healthy communities to a new level.
I first met Dr. Hanson when she provided community testimony in support of I-732 before the Washington State Legislature at the special legislative session, January, 2016. She is an inspiring example of a community physician who sees vividly the worrisome health impact of climate change---and refuses to sit on the sidelines.
Dr. Hanson, thanks for agreeing to share your story as a physician climate action leader. First, where are you now in your medical career?
For the past 12 years, I’ve enjoyed practicing full time as a solo family practice physician--no office staff--in Bellevue, WA.
What inspired you to get involved in Citizen's Climate Lobby (CCL) and WA State's I-732?
Fear of cheetahs going extinct, the Amazon being chopped down, and humans dying for lack of clean air weighed heavily on me for years. Unable to convince my family to walk for short errands, I gave up all solo driving about 10 years ago. Thanks to finding Carbon WA and CCL, I was able to work side by side with other people just as concerned as me. Psychologically, action towards effective and practical solutions has helped me tremendously.
You provided testimony in support of I-732 in front of the WA State legislature--from the perspective of a physician. How was that? How did you prepare?
Because I testified at the first carbon tax hearing in any U.S. legislative body, it was very exciting. Testimony supporting Washington state’s carbon tax was impassioned and varied. Testimony against it revealed no emotion. To prepare, I wanted to counter arguments that our measure would cost too much so I researched our government’s return on investment in the Clean Air Act [from the perspective of health impact]: For every $1 spent on its implementation, approximately $45 were saved on healthcare!
What efforts/actions are you and your organization leading or supporting now?
We’d like to enact the first carbon tax in the country in the state of Washington. Vote YES on I-732 in November! In addition, Citizens Climate Lobby aims to have a carbon fee and dividend bill introduced by a Republican and passed in Congress in 2017. These measures would begin to correct the market’s current failure to charge for the emotional, physical and globally irreversible damage that carbon dumping into the atmosphere and ocean are causing.
As a physician leading local climate solution efforts in your community, in what ways do you feel being a physician has made an impact?
Prevention has always been my highest priority. Simple solutions like walkability and vegan/vegetarian diets can help my patients so much more than exercise advice and medicines. Fewer cars on the road translates to fewer asthma/lung/Stroke and heart attacks, less diabetes, fewer motor vehicle accidents and less extreme global warming. A stroke of policy can obviate the need for thousands of prescriptions and hospital admissions.
For physicians who want to become more involved in leading climate action in their community, what advice would you give them?
Take care of yourself first. If you work too many hours or feel dissatisfied at work or home, you won’t be able to bring energy and enthusiasm to outside pursuits. Make sure you have “breathing room” at your job. Take charge of your schedule in and out of work. The more you can align your actions with your values, the happier you’ll be.