Gael Tarleton on the House floor
Gael Tarleton on the House floor

Edi­tor’s Note: Yes­ter­day, found­ing NPI board­mem­ber Gael Tar­leton, a com­mit­ted cham­pi­on for envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, was hon­ored as Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers’ Leg­is­la­tor of the Year. The fol­low­ing is the text of Gael’s accep­tance speech, which she deliv­ered from the stage at WCV’s Break­fast of Champions. 

Hel­lo Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Voters!

Thank you for believ­ing we must take on cli­mate change.

Thank you for going on offense to bring renew­able ener­gy choic­es to our state.

Thank you for this hon­or. I am so deeply grate­ful to be select­ed as your leg­is­la­tor of the year. I nev­er had a plan to take on the strug­gle to com­bat cli­mate change.

But my sis­ters have told me it was inevitable that I would decide to go climb the high­est moun­tain. That I’d see the chal­lenge of mov­ing beyond a fos­sil-fuel econ­o­my and say: “I am going to give it all I’ve got to win this race.”

We’re in a dif­fer­ent kind of race now.

For the past thir­ty years, we’ve been run­ning a marathon.

Now? It’s time to sprint.

Non­stop. For the next decade.

I love the ocean. I grew up on the Atlantic coast, rid­ing the waves and hang­ing out at the har­bor to watch the fish­ing boats in a small town called Man­ches­ter-by-the-Sea in Mass­a­chu­setts. This is why – when my hus­band and I moved to Seat­tle in 1990 — we chose to live on the salt­wa­ters of Shils­hole Bay with the North Pacif­ic Fish­ing Fleet right down the road.

We moved here for my hus­band to get a PhD at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington.

But that was just an excuse. The real reason?

The call of the wild salmon and steelhead.

Every year, we’d leave our desk jobs at the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and take two weeks to fly-fish, hike and explore the Pacif­ic North­west. What we discovered?

The mag­ic of the Olympic rainforest.

The awe of spawn­ing salmon rac­ing between our legs to get upriver.

The mys­tery of the pink salmon runs every odd year in Puget Sound and Elliott Bay.

The mania of the chum salmon runs at mid­night on Hood Canal.

And so we head­ed west for good, leav­ing our jobs, fam­i­lies, friends, and D.C. behind us. Near­ly thir­ty years lat­er, I am des­per­ate­ly try­ing to fig­ure out how we move beyond fos­sil fuels.

How we pre­vent more cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate events from dec­i­mat­ing our communities.

How we pro­tect peo­ple’s health with clean air, clean water, and clean food.

How we save orcas, wild fish runs, the ocean, forests, rivers, and wheat fields from dev­as­tat­ing droughts, fires and hot­ter tem­per­a­tures year-round.

The era of cli­mate melt­down has arrived.

Now we must act – not just talk about chang­ing the path for­ward – but take the new path for­ward. I will sup­port Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers, our part­ners, and my col­leagues to get a low-car­bon fuel standard.

I will give it all I’ve got to have Wash­ing­ton State get to a one hun­dred per­cent clean grid by 2030… because even if we only get to nine­ty or nine­ty-five per­cent, it’s bet­ter than set­tling for sev­en­ty percent.

I will keep fight­ing to pro­tect Ini­tia­tive 937, because it is help­ing our state adopt clean-ener­gy solu­tions in every community.

And we must pass Ini­tia­tive 1631 on Novem­ber 6th and put a fee on car­bon pol­lu­tion at long last. There is so much to do. It is hard to imag­ine victory.

But I go to work every day with my Mom’s favorite say­ing run­ning through my brain: Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

We must fight every day, for the rest of our lives, to save the Sal­ish Sea so that it is still home to whales and salmon and trib­al tra­di­tions gen­er­a­tions from now.

We must move to a way of life that does not depend on fos­sil fuels.

Here’s to all of you. Let’s go win this fight for our future.

Thank you so much.

About the author

Gael Tarleton is an NPI Advisory Councilmember and former Washington State Representative who led two Russian subsidiaries during the 1990s and lserved as a senior defense intelligence analyst on Soviet strategic nuclear programs at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency from 1981-1990. She served on NPI's board from its inception through 2021.

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