Written by Mark Lundsten
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global tragedy, from Skagit County to County Cork, from Kolkata to Kenya. In response, a multiplicity of strict national and regional rules have arisen all over the world. We have no choice. The alternative is sickness and death. Fortunately, our cooperative efforts have begun to work and we have learned three fundamental principles for success in fighting this plague: good science has to be followed, early and decisive actions are the most effective, and local efforts are essential. Skagit County has learned and followed these principles well, just as other jurisdictions have done around the world. Now we all need to apply them to another global plague: the climate crisis.
The first principle is to follow scientific knowledge, and not any political agenda, whether economic or ideological. Trump and Fox News have tried to downplay the virus, preaching that the Dow Jones Industrial Average will return to high levels if people would just realize that Covid-19 is no big deal. Fortunately, we have not followed that toxic advice and instead have relied on Dr. Fauci and his cohort. It is obvious that scientific understanding has been the basis of all our progress against Covid-19.
We owe climate scientists the same attention and respect. The stakes are even higher. Glaciers are melting as temperatures and sea levels rise around the world. Liveable human habitat, and thus, human life, is threatened. There is no debate about that, just as there is no debate about the danger of Covid-19. We need to keep that straight.
The second principle is that early, decisive action is most effective. A stitch in time saves nine. The researchers who independently developed a set of testing protocols in Seattle that led to the discovery of the “non-travel” cases of Covid-19 early this year allowed our state to detect the virus before others did and to prevent our regional contagion from being worse. We have “flattened the curve” of this wave of the virus in our region because of that timely work. Our governor and health administrators wisely have acknowledged and followed their example.
Conversely, we could have heeded NASA’s James Hansen when he gave his now-famous Senate testimony about climate change in 1986 and 1988 (a profile of Hansen by Elizabeth Kolbert can be found here) and been reducing carbon emission for the last 30 or so years. Instead, as history has shown, we have suffered a propaganda campaign orchestrated by oil companies. With enough of the population brainwashed by science-for-hire with the false claim that the climate crisis is a hoax, we sadly have ignored Hansen’s advice and wasted valuable time. Meanwhile, our atmosphere collected more and more CO2 and methane, and more and more heat. We have no more time to waste.
The third principal is that local efforts matter. That is the essential ingredient of global cooperation and innovation. It is best when national and international policies provide good direction, of course. But locals always have to be on board and do the work toward a goal, in order for any policies to succeed. When people solve intractable problems in their own region, it is always a welcome example to others. People follow the lead of success. The actions of Governors Jay Inslee, Andrew Cuomo, and Larry Hogan have all enabled other governors and local leaders to deal effectively with the virus, regardless of the misinformation, false accusations, and lack of leadership provided by Trump and Fox News.
Renewable energy – primarily solar and wind – has become less expensive to produce than energy from fossil fuels. Oil is currently cheap due to lack of demand; but more and more of us realize that sunlight and wind are free, and do not have any of the “external” costs of fracking or deep sea drilling, not to mention global warming. Electric cars have become competitively priced and are significantly cheaper to maintain and operate than internal combustion cars. These successes have happened not only because individuals have made those choices – solar panels and a Leaf or a Bolt – but, more importantly, because local communities and more and more corporations have adopted policies to use those energy sources, and succeeded. The political will and the economic demand are tipping the balance, despite Big Oil’s continuing lobbying and propaganda, because of local efforts.
The Covid-19 crisis is not over. It will continue to wreak havoc on our lives and our way of life, in Skagit County and all over the world. But we know it will end sooner rather than later, as long as we do what works: good science, clear decisions, and local action. If we also follow those steps with the climate crisis, we will put it exactly where it belongs, at the top of our priorities. We can start today with two simple steps that are overdue, and will put Skagit County in line with existing policies of the State of Washington and the Department of Natural Resources .
1 – Write to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners* and tell them to IMPLEMENT the long-shelved Skagit County “Climate Action Plan” from March, 2010. Tell them we also need to publicly review and update that sadly-neglected plan. We need to put those policies to work, and then make them work better. In my two and a half years on the Planning Commission, I have never heard it mentioned once.
2 – Write to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners* and to the Skagit County Planning Commission** and tell them to add a dedicated climate crisis policy to “Countywide Policy Planning.” This is up for discussion soon on the County calendar.
Like Covid-19, the climate crisis is a dangerous, global threat to human life. But, we all know what to do. We’ve been trained.
* Email the Skagit County Board of Commissioners at: firstname.lastname@example.org
See more about the Board of Commissioners here.
Mark Lundsten lives on Fidalgo Island, south of Anacortes, and is a member of the Skagit County Planning Commission. He worked for many years as a commercial fisherman in Alaska.