On Wednesday, the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society and the Environment hosted its annual Spokane Candidates Climate Change Forum.

Four local government candidates attended and answered questions related to climate change that were delivered by a GU junior and a Lewis and Clark High School senior. The forum was moderated by Brian Henning, the director of GU Center for Climate, Society and the Environment. 

"We wanted to host this event so that we could help inform voters on the real concerns of the climate issue, and it’s better to be informed when you’re voting, especially on issues as pressing as this,” said Laurel Burlingame, a GU junior who works for the Climate Center. 

Three candidates for city council, Betsy Wilkerson, Naghmana Sherazi and Zack Zappone participated in the panel. They were joined by Riley Smith, a candidate for the Spokane Public Schools Board.

Five other local candidates were invited to participate but did not attend: Mike Lish, Johnathan Bingle, Kata Dean, Melissa Bedford and Daryl Geffken.

“I came because I think it’s important to engage on important issues like climate and talk to community members about those important issues,” city council candidate Zack Zappone said.

During the forum, the candidates answered questions related to their visions for successfully addressing climate change in Spokane, the knowledge and experience that will help them make informed decisions on climate policy, their experience working with members of the federal government, their plans for developing resilience in the face of climate change, how they would address issues of environmental justice related to climate change, how they plan to work with the mayor and how they plan to engage with community members.

Zappone, who has a background in education and public health, emphasized the importance of considering the disproportionate impact climate change has on marginalized groups.

Sherazi has experience unique to the city council as an immigrant from Pakistan, and expressed support for a number of sustainability initiatives in Spokane, including the city’s Sustainability Action Plan.

Wilkerson is running for reelection to the city council and stressed the importance of environmental justice and communication with the community.

Smith, who is running for the school board, is a Spokane Public Schools graduate himself. He described a number of education specific ideas, such as implementing curricula on climate change in Spokane schools and making school infrastructure as climate friendly as possible.

There were a number of themes throughout the forum.

The candidates repeatedly mentioned steps that the City of Spokane must take to address the climate crisis, such as providing heating and cooling shelters for residents. Infrastructure was another recurring topic, especially related to public transit.

Zappone talked about incorporating checks for equity into the process of developing policy and described the specific way Seattle already does this as an example. Wilkerson spoke about the needs of people of color within our community.

“There have not been a lot of people of color at the table to actually represent the position of people of color,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson plans to continue to address this issue following her reelection. 

Collaboration within and beyond local government was another forum topic.

Henning asked the candidates how they might approach working on climate change related policy with a mayor who is not likely to support it. To answer, Sherazi stressed the importance of relationships, and Wilkerson brought up the point that business and economic development are not the enemies of climate change policy. 

Each of the candidates spoke about communication with the community, which they did through their participation in this forum. The general election will be held on November 2.

Maureen Parks is a staff writer.