Less than three months ago, a heatwave like we’ve never seen before gripped the Pacific Northwest killing over 1,200 people in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Black, Brown, and poor people were hit first and worst — low-income neighborhoods recorded by far the highest temperatures — but everyone suffered in one of our region’s worst natural disasters.
In an effort to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions, King County Executive Dow Constantine is proposing rules that would sharply limit the use of natural gas in new multifamily homes and commercial developments as well as encourage wider adoption of solar power.
“These updates will save money, they’ll create jobs, and they’ll have an impact on climate change,” Constantine said at a media event Wednesday, Sept. 22, at Yesler Terrace Park.
Constantine declined to provide a timeline for the proposal other than to call it “wildly urgent.” The changes would need approval from the King County Council to take effect.
Indigenous peoples and communities have long used stories to understand the world and our place in it. Seedcast is a story-centered podcast by Nia Tero and a special monthly column produced in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald about nurturing and rooting stories of the Indigenous experience.
Many of us have known for quite a while that climate change, accelerated by human decisions and behaviors, is not only real but a direct threat to life as we know it. While the findings of the IPCC report released in August of 2021 might not have been a surprise, that didn’t make them less alarming. The report inspired urgent conversations not only at planet-focused nonprofits like the one I work at, Nia Tero, but on a global scale and in individual homes: What can we do to heal the planet? What role can we play? Where are the solutions?
The good news is that human decisions and behaviors can also heal the planet, as evidenced by the land guardianship carried out by Indigenous peoples around the world in the form of tending to the land with fire, seed saving, or not taking more than you need. Indigenous land stewardship shows us not only the ways of the past and present but also the ways of the future. As an extension of that work, Indigenous storytelling links a millennium of knowledge with current day action. This is why Indigenous storytelling is an integral part of climate justice today.
Nia Tero Storytelling Fellow Jonathan Luna (Huila) connects Indigenous land sovereignty and narrative sovereignty in this way: “As part of creating the world, a place with more justice and liberation for all, historically oppressed and marginalized people, which include Indigenous peoples, need to create our own narratives regarding our lived experiences, be it historical or contemporary. The role of storytelling in these struggles, in all of its multiple forms and media, is fundamental and necessary; there are no imitations, fast-forwards, or shortcuts. The narratives of the people who dedicate their lives on the frontlines of defending the most biodiverse, water-rich yet fragile ecosystems that contribute to help sustain the world’s climate are the stories that policymakers need to be seeing and hearing.”
Early last week a study released by the United Nations revealed the alarming state of climate change, which is accelerating at a faster rate than we previously thought. The effects of greenhouse gasses are warming up the planet, sea levels around the world are rising (about 8 inches on average between 1901 and 2018), and heat waves and wildfires are becoming increasingly more frequent in areas that historically never had these issues — as anyone living in Seattle in the last few years can attest to.
In an NPR article, Ko Barrett, the vice chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, mentioned a couple of key takeaways from the report: “It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” and “[i]t is still possible to forestall most of the most dire impacts, but it really requires unprecedented, transformational change.”
Did you know that only 9% of plastic is actually recycled? That percentage even includes the wide range of plastics we put in the recycling bin. Plastic bottles are recycled consistently, but everything else — milk jugs, plastic wrappers, the clamshells that package your deli sandwich — ends up in landfills, incinerated, or shipped overseas to stagnate in heaps in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia or the Philippines.
Worldwide, plastic invariably ends up in oceans and waterways, polluting the ecosystem, consumed by fish and other sea animals, which in turn are eaten by us. Even if you don’t eat seafood, plastics are everywhere. In fact, there is so much plastic in the world that we literally eat, drink, and breathe in microplastics. It’s estimated that we could be ingesting up to a credit card-size of microplastics a week. What that plastic consumption means for our bodies is still undetermined, although plastic chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors and could have harmful effects on hormones and reproductive systems. It’s a sobering reminder that we can’t outrun or outsource our waste.
In this installment of our ongoing series on how to reduce our carbon footprint, we’ll take a look at what makes plastics so harmful, what the good news is, and how a group of South End youth are educating their neighbors on plastic waste.
“Smoke season makes for beautiful sunsets.” I remember the first time I said that — watching the sky streak a deep, gritty pink over Lake Washington. Even more vividly, I recall the hot grief that flared in my chest a moment later. And now there’s a word for that. “Blissonance” refers to the experience of enjoying the natural world alongside parallel awareness of threats to it. And even your contribution to those threats.
In fact, there’s a lexicon rapidly emerging to help us express the complex and often horrifying experience of living through rapid climate change and its visceral impacts. “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder” refers to living with a constant sense of imminent and irreversible environmental damage. An “empathetic blench” is the experience of receiving a gift that contributes to environmental destruction (in my world often plastic children’s toys encased in more plastic) from a generous and well-meaning source. “Solastalgia” describes the loss of personally meaningful environments and even weather patterns. With that last one I think of my physical yearning for Seattle’s infamous “June Gloom” during the recent record-busting, and deadly, heatwave.
In the field of counseling, the more common vocabulary includes “eco-anxiety,” “eco-grief,” “climate depression,” and “eco-paralysis.” I learned about these terms at a recent training for “climate-informed” therapists — a professional competency that is, unfortunately, increasingly relevant.
This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its new Sixth Assessment Report on the current scientific consensus on where things stand with regard to our changing global climate. It’s an update on its last report (the Fifth Assessment) from 2013, with hundreds of scientists from all over the world collaborating to provide both assessments of the current climate and also updated models of what is most likely to happen from here.
The new report is 3,949 pages. That is a “long read” even outside of my tolerance, so I’m not going to suggest that you read it. Instead, I’m going to point you to three much shorter documents to read:
For Seattle to meet its carbon-neutral goal, we need to take an honest look at how we get from one place to another. Burning fossil fuels, like gasoline and diesel for motor vehicles, emits greenhouse gasses. In Seattle, roadway transportation makes up 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. For the U.S., emissions from transportation account for 29% of total greenhouse gases. Reducing our reliance on cars and gasoline plays an important role in reducing our carbon footprint. The good news is that everyday choices to walk, bike, scoot, or roll instead of driving can significantly reduce the greenhouse gasses we produce. Earlier this year a study found that ditching the car for one day out of the week can reduce personal carbon dioxide emissions by a quarter. Swapping even one trip in a car with walking or rolling makes a significant impact over time.
Just a few weeks ago we sweated through the hottest June temperature in Seattle’s recorded history. Heat in the triple digits can be dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations and the unhoused. The heat wave prompted the City to coordinate cooling stations — including libraries, spray parks, and beaches — as June 28 climbed to a record 108 degrees, capping a three-day stretch of triple-digit temperatures. The heatwave also affected plenty of non-human life. In Vancouver, B.C., June’s heatwave led to the deaths of 1 billion sea animals. Such staggering numbers could mean dire consequences for ocean life and interdependent ecosystems.
The main reason for Seattle’s increasingly warming temperatures (overall, Seattle has warmed by 2 degrees since 1900) is climate change. Climate change happens when greenhouse gasses trap heat and warm the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency: “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.”
A carbon footprint is a calculation of how much greenhouse gasses a person, or population, generates. You can calculate your own carbon footprint at The Nature Conservancy. (It’s super-interesting!) Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades, and although there is much to be done on a global scale to change the course of the climate crisis, the decisions we make in our everyday lives are some things we do have control over.
The Emerald is exploring changes that South End residents can make to reduce our carbon footprint in a new series of articles. In this first installment, we’re looking at how eating low on the food chain is not only more sustainable for the planet, it also plays an important part in the health of our communities and food-justice movements.
The last time the Emerald spoke with State Sen. Joe Nguyen, we profiled him soon after he announced his candidacy for King County executive. Now that it is well-known that the incumbent, Dow Constantine, will face a significant challenge from Sen. Nguyen, we caught up with him again to dive deeper into some of the key issues facing King County.
In this interview, we cover how Sen. Nguyen plans to use minimal cuts from the law enforcement budget to fund much-needed services like free transit, his three-tier approach to addressing homelessness, his views on the youth jail and police accountability, and the significance of the King County executive choosing the county sheriff and how this position can be leveraged for culture shifts in law enforcement and building trust in the community.