Public officials in several western regions and communities are identifying ways to shield residents from smoke-filled air and to offer communal support when residents are faced with poor air quality and the impact of climate change. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor looks at initiatives such as the city of Seattle’s program in which five public buildings were set up as clean-air centers where residents can take shelter if summer wildfire smoke impacts air quality. Dan Jaffe, along with Alex Margarito (UW Bothell graduate) and Rebecca Rickett (UW Bothell student), are working with the city to analyze the effectiveness of these clean-air centers.
In other action, two US senators are introducing “legislation that would provide federal funding to communities to improve ventilation systems in public buildings and set up emergency smoke shelters.” A California state assemblywoman also proposed a state program to improve “ventilation systems in schools, libraries, and community and senior centers” so that residents have a safe haven when air quality is poor.
The particulate matter in smoky air is a health hazard that affects everyone but hits the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, the hardest. In addition to the physical toll, residents facing wildfire smoke may experience negative mental health effects. Researchers at the University of Montana in Missoula Human Dimensions Lab found that bringing residents together can help alleviate anxiety. As Libby Metcalf, lab co-director, says, “There’s a need to have a community gathering space to share stories about wildfire…It’s a way for people to feel like they don’t have to face what’s happening on their own.” The American Psychological Association also identifies communal support as an essential remedy to the depression and desolation that people may experience as they cope with the impact of climate change. Officials such as Julia Reed, senior policy adviser to the Seattle mayor, also see the need to bring people together: “All of us see climate change happening right outside our window,” she says. “Coming together is a way to make people feel less helpless.”