Gov. Inslee, you’ve had an impact, but it’s time to come home

Dear Gov. Inslee,

Congratulations on an exemplary performance at last Wednesday’s Democratic presidential candidate debate. We liked the way you took on Joe Biden, and thought you made a strong case for the urgency of bold national and international climate action to avert catastrophic global suffering and an unimaginable human death toll by the end of this century.

We agree with you that climate disruption will profoundly affect our national security, cause massive conflicts, and produce waves of human migration that make the current problem at our nation’s southern border look minor in comparison.

We share your frustration over how much time we’ve wasted. Our government and our scientific community have known about the frightening trajectory of global warming for many decades. Governments around the world were warned about this coming catastrophe at United Nations conferences in the early 1980s. And yet emissions of global warming gases continued to increase. Fossil fuel producers ran what can only be called disinformation campaigns and hired hordes of lobbyists to minimize the threat, and they were too successful for too long.

Even your friend Al Gore and the growing ranks of environmental activists have been unable to persuade the American people and our political leaders to wake up and confront the existential threat of global warming and take action commensurate with the scale of this challenge.

As we’ve watched the smallness and incrementalism of past climate plans, our fear about our children’s and grandchildren’s futures has made us ever more anxious.

In our state, you’ve led a big effort to save wild salmon and our shrinking population of orcas, but we know that without major climate action, all we’ve invested in those efforts cannot succeed. No matter how many salmon-blocking culverts we fix, no matter how many riparian areas we reclaim, warming rivers will not support the salmon that orcas eat. And oysters, clams and crabs won’t grow in a warming, acidifying ocean.

Last summer, our skies were filled with wildfire smoke. There were forest fires even on the Olympic Peninsula. Yet people here still worry that as the climate crisis worsens, Western Washington may be inundated with climate refugees because our region will be less damaged and less unlivable than other areas of the United States.

For all these reasons, we were glad to see you take on the quixotic quest of running for president to ensure that climate change – which was almost wholly missing from the last presidential campaign – would be front and center in 2020.

You have had an impact. In both recent debates, you’ve issued calls to action that challenged other candidates and deepened the public’s understanding. You have made plain the need for American leadership to avert global calamity.

But now it’s time for you to come home.

There is little chance you will qualify for the next round of debates. And both the previous debates made it clear that climate change, while a central challenge of our time, is insufficient to be what you’ve called the “organizing principle” of our nation’s agenda in 2020 and beyond.

We have critical challenges that are largely unrelated to climate change: Systemic racism, campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, affordable housing and health care come immediately to mind.

While your single-minded focus on the climate has been productive, the truth is voters will not and should not elect a single issue candidate to our nation’s highest office. And in 2020, our first organizing principle must be the restoration of our democracy and the dignity of our presidency.

The people of Washington elected you as our governor. You have an obligation to us. Your presidential campaign has likely raised your prospects for serving on the cabinet of a Democratic president if the country elects one. We’d be happy to see you in charge of the federal Environmental Protection Agency one day. But right now, it’s time to turn the page, and get back to your day job in Olympia.


The Olympian Editorial Board