Less hot air, more action: A protest sign in Sydney
Less hot air, more action: A protest sign in Sydney (Photo: Nomad Tales)

Glob­al warm­ing and evi­dence of cli­mate dam­age first reg­is­tered on the nation­al con­scious­ness thir­ty-three years ago dur­ing the dry, blis­ter­ing sum­mer of 1988. The lack of nation­al response, of nation­al resolve, in years since is amaz­ing giv­en the sig­nals and warn­ings from Moth­er Earth.

I was vaca­tion­ing from Wash­ing­ton, D.C. report­ing duties at Cape Look­out on the Ore­gon Coast in July of ’88 and took the family’s black stan­dard poo­dle, Jen­nifer, for an ear­ly morn­ing walk on the beach.

We returned, flipped on the Today show, and the map behind weath­er­man Willard Scott showed two sliv­ers of Amer­i­ca below nine­ty degrees, the north coast of Maine and the north coast of Ore­gon and Washington.

That sum­mer, three decades ago, marked the first pre­dic­tion by America’s polit­i­cal pun­dits that the envi­ron­ment would be a major issue in the fall elec­tion. After all, George H.W. Bush was declar­ing, “I want to be the envi­ron­men­tal president.”

The qua­dren­ni­al pre­dic­tions nev­er seem to gel. So here we are in anoth­er hot­house sum­mer out West with flood­ing in the North­east and fifty to one hun­dred year storms strik­ing West­ern Europe. Europe is mov­ing away from hav­ing a pol­lut­ing econ­o­my. On this side of The Pond, how­ev­er, its defend­ers are mount­ing mas­sive resis­tance against Biden admin­is­tra­tion initiatives.

The map behind Willard Scott appeared to car­ry a mes­sage, that the warm­ing of the plan­et will be mel­low­er to live with in the Pacif­ic North­west than elsewhere.

That sen­ti­ment remains baked in around these parts despite the alarm­ing one hun­dred and sev­en degree (and high­er) tem­per­a­tures of late June, and a fire sea­son that has spread from remote forests of the Pasayten Wilder­ness to the edges of com­mu­ni­ties on both sides of the Cas­cade Crest.

With due note to the keep-our-cool urg­ings of UW atmos­pher­ic sci­ences pro­fes­sor Cliff Mass, here are non-sta­tis­tic naked eye obser­va­tions that we, too, are in what George Bush mem­o­rably described as “the deep doo-doo.”

The retreat of the glaciers

The Cole­man and Roo­sevelt Glac­i­ers on Mount Bak­er were advanc­ing when I was a kid. The advance was being mea­sured by UW engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor Art Har­ri­son. It was a bear to get mea­sur­ing mark­ers across out­let streams and up to Bastille Ridge on the north side of the Roo­sevelt Glacier.

A very ter­ri­to­r­i­al bear was rip­ping up the mak­ers. The glac­i­er was fas­ci­nat­ing to observe, its advanc­ing ice tongues were curl­ing around either side of a cliff.

The glac­i­er has since retreat­ed about a quar­ter mile.

Of course, ice tongues advance and recede. But changes in my life­time have been dra­mat­ic. The Ander­son and Lil­lian Glac­i­ers in the Olympics have dis­ap­peared in the last two decades. The South Cas­cade Glac­i­er has large­ly melt­ed since the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey began mea­sur­ing it in 1950.

The region depends on its win­ter snow­pack, and glac­i­er melt in sum­mer, for stream flow, irri­ga­tion, fish­eries, hydro­elec­tric pow­er, nav­i­ga­tion and recreation.

It has fero­cious­ly fought efforts by the South­west to take our water, but now sees cli­mate tak­ing it.

The expansion of the pine beetle’s range

The mod­er­at­ing of tem­per­a­tures in British Columbia’s cold Chilcotin Plateau have quick­ened the breed­ing cycles of the pine bark beetle.

The infes­ta­tion is killing forests on a vast scale. Fly from Van­cou­ver to Ter­race: You will see below gray (dead) and orange (dying) trees.

Cana­di­an land man­agers are mak­ing a stand at the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide, hop­ing to turn back the infes­ta­tion before it rav­ages Canada’s bore­al forests. Bee­tles are also killing white pine bark pine trees from the Sier­ra Neva­da to the Rock­ies. Cones from the trees are a prime source of food for our endan­gered griz­zly bears.

The ever-lengthening fire season

The fire sea­son has grown longer and even reached our tem­per­ate rainforests.

A lot of us chuck­led a few years back when Forks was struck by drought – water could not be used to hose down log­ging trucks – and a tru­cu­lent for­est fire burned in the Queets Riv­er Valley.

It’s no laugh­ing mat­ter, though.

I once raft­ed the Stikine Riv­er, which flows from British Colum­bia down to South­east Alas­ka. We took to the water at the wet lit­tle town of Tele­graph Creek. Two years ago, part of Tele­graph Creek was destroyed in a for­est fire.

Vast fires have burned across Alas­ka, north­ern Cana­da and par­tic­u­lar­ly Siberia. Seat­tle has breathed smoke from Alas­ka fires.

Rising temperatures and rising seas

Ocean and riv­er tem­per­a­tures are ris­ing, at times risk­ing big sock­eye salmon runs in the undammed Fras­er River.

The acid­i­fi­ca­tion of our coastal waters (bril­liant­ly detailed in a Seat­tle Times series by Craig Welch) is such that shell­fish must be grown elsewhere.

Deprived of pro­tec­tion from sea ice, Alaskan coastal vil­lages are being hit hard by ear­ly sea­son storms off the Bering Sea. (Alaska’s U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don Young is a cli­mate skep­tic.) Our cities are begin­ning to plan for ris­ing sea levels.

Even as waters advance, the envi­ron­ment and cli­mate recede as a nation­al issue as elec­tion day approach­es. Projects to address cli­mate dam­age have large­ly come from the state and local lev­el, not the fed­er­al level.

Wit­ness the May­ors’ Cli­mate Task Force that Seattle’s Greg Nick­els helped launch, and California’s mileage stan­dards for cars and trucks. The Gold­en State found its fuel effi­cien­cy stan­dards chal­lenged by the Trump regime.

Our Wash­ing­ton is enlight­ened, “the oth­er” Wash­ing­ton is not.

(Not yet, anyway.)

The envi­ron­men­tal move­ment, joy­ous­ly launched on Earth Day in 1970, has grown into a lob­by that rais­es lots of mon­ey and makes the act of con­tribut­ing feel good. Seat­tle is, for instance, a font of cash for the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers. Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors fly here for fundrais­ers and fly out again.

The green-mind­ed activists of our state show their clout at the Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers’ “Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons,” fill­ing the West­in ball­room each fall (except for last autumn, due to the coro­n­avirus pandemic).

Very good, but duty does not stop with check writing.

We need more indi­vid­ual com­mit­ment and col­lec­tive action.

Dur­ing my time as as a reporter and colum­nist, I’ve watched peo­ple singing “O Cana­da” at road block­ades against log­ging of old growth in British Columbia.

And Abo­rig­i­nal First Nations chiefs, in full robes, bust­ed for protest­ing the Trans Moun­tain Pipeline expan­sion (fuel­ing the huge tar sands oil fields in Alber­ta and bring­ing a sev­en­fold increase in tanker traf­fic on the Sal­ish Sea.

This is not to sug­gest that every­body go out and get bust­ed. Only that it’s not enough to let an orga­ni­za­tion or lob­by speak on your behalf.

Con­tribute, yes, but com­mit to call­ing and canvassing.

As this is writ­ten, I am wear­ing an “LCV for Tester” T‑shirt brought back from Mon­tana by Seat­tle friends Eric and Heather Redman.

The Red­mans are busy, pret­ty promi­nent folk, yet they took time in 2018 to can­vass as League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers vol­un­teers in piv­otal Yel­low­stone Coun­ty, boost­ing the reelec­tion of Mon­tana Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester had infu­ri­at­ed Don­ald Trump, who came out not one, not two, not three, but four times to cam­paign against him. Mike Pence and Trump’s son Don Jr. were also dis­patched to afflict the Big Sky State.

Tester sur­vived in what’s become a very red state. With tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials lined up cheek-to-jowl, peo­ple count. And don’t count on net­work news or cable tele­vi­sion to ensure that cli­mate dam­age and cli­mate action get discussed.

The push for social and envi­ron­men­tal change in Amer­i­ca has long come from the bot­tom up. But we are liv­ing in a cli­mate emer­gency. Grass­roots activism is cru­cial to address­ing that emer­gency. It must con­tin­ue, and it must expand. But it also must be sup­port­ed in our nation’s cap­i­tal with seri­ous cli­mate action.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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