Living in Seattle, we and the rest of the PNW take great pride in being known for our commitment to the environment. There are jokes about the over-zealous recycler or composter, our ban on plastic straws and bags, and our proximity to the great outdoors has given us a reputation as being tree-hugging hippies.
But is this stereotype a reality? Are we actually leaders when it comes to addressing climate change? InvestigateWest is exploring this question and how the region of Cascadia might take effective and equitable action to address climate change in their new yearlong initiative “Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia.”
As partners of the series, we’ll be publishing their articles on our website and including previews of them right here.
Here’s an excerpt of part one, “A Lost Decade: How Climate Action Fizzled in Cascadia.” Read the full article here.
With dozens of people killed by wildfires in the western U.S., millions of acres scorched, and choking smoke spreading far into British Columbia, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lit up the news wires in September. “These are not just wildfires,” Inslee asserted at a press conference from Olympia, “these are climate fires.”
A few days later, however, the question in a Seattle courtroom was whether the state Inslee had run since 2013 should be sanctioned for helping to load and light the torch. On Sept. 17, an attorney representing Inslee and the entire apparatus of Washington state government stood to tell three masked judges behind a plexiglass shield that courts could not hold the state legally responsible for its part in the climate crisis: The part where it expanded highways. The part where it licensed power plants and factories to emit many tons of greenhouse gases. Where it set building standards that would keep residents’ stoves and furnaces and water heaters polluting the atmosphere for decades to come.
Thick haze from the climate fires still clogged the air outside the appeals courtroom in downtown Seattle as Assistant Attorney General Chris Reitz offered his arguments. The panel of judges peppered him with questions and probed for logical holes.
“I have asthma,” interjected one of the judges, David Mann of the Washington Court of Appeals Division One. “So I have to stay inside, with the windows shut.”
“Why isn’t that affecting my life and my liberty?”
The events leading to this legal confrontation in Washington, years in the making, are akin to those that recently prompted similar battles in Oregon and British Columbia courtrooms — government action and inaction that has increasingly spurred legal actions around the globe. In the Washington case, as in those to the north and south, young people are suing to stop what they call a state-sanctioned degradation of their futures.