Opinion Columns & Blogs

Our port is not thinking of the long term

The frog at the bottom of the well thinks the sky is only as big as what he sees.

On March 2, in an under-reported news event, 1,200 young people marched from Georgetown University to the White House. Nearly 400 of them were arrested for peaceful disobedience — protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and Barack Obama’s lack of seriousness on climate. In an article posted to The Nation’s website on March 7, Wen Stephenson writes that this was the largest civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation.

Stephenson quotes Varshini Prakash, one of the student organizers, who says that the urgency of climate change “means we’re not compromising. We don’t want half-baked solutions. We can’t gamble with false promises. We won’t settle for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy when what this looming crisis demands is a ‘none-of-the-above’ approach to fossil fuels.”

President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy is dangerous. Sold to us as a strategy for “building energy independence,” this policy affirms the use of energy practices that pose serious environmental problems.

Hydraulic fracking is one of them. Not only is fracking associated with water pollution, air pollution and community health issues, but it also results in the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that drives climate change. Increased reliance on hydraulic fracking intensifies the very problems it is supposed to address.

That’s why Olympia Port Commissioner Sue Gunn was right and Commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor were wrong when they voted whether to seek bids for a new warehouse designed to store ceramic proppants — fracking sand. Gunn voted no because she understands the contradiction between acting as a well-informed representative of the public interest and actively supporting fracking.

The Climate Impacts Group of the University of Washington released a report in December outlining the anticipated impacts of climate change in our state. The report begins by noting observed changes in Washington, including long-term warming, a longer frost-free season, more frequent night-time heat waves, sea level rise, increased coastal ocean acidity, declines in glacial area and spring snowpack, and shifts to earlier peak stream flows in many rivers.

We can expect, the report continues, increases in sea level rise, annual average temperatures that exceed the warmest conditions observed in the 20th century, more heat waves, and more severe heavy rainfall events. According to the report, “most climate change impacts are likely to increase the potential for damage and service disruptions to infrastructure in Washington State.” Climate change will likely make it harder to provide normal services (i.e. abundant clean water, consistent sewage treatment, access to highways and roads) and will cost the state and local jurisdictions money.

Why would we want our port to be in the business of promoting the demise of our state and local infrastructure, along with the environment?

An idealist might argue that the port shouldn’t traffic in fracking parts because we wouldn’t want fracking to occur here. We shouldn’t be asking other communities to bear the brunt of something we would oppose.

A pragmatist would say — is the short-term gain, measured in terms of dollars and jobs, worth the long-term cost to all of us?

The only reasonable answer is no. Unfortunately, on this issue, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union 47 is on the wrong side in supporting the proposed warehouse. Not all unions are. The Labor Network for Sustainability released a study last month showing that Maryland workers are already facing serious consequences from climate change and will face worse consequences if greenhouse gases are not sharply and rapidly reduced.

Their report examines the impact of climate change on workers and unions. Among the consequences, the study reports that port jobs and maritime jobs in Baltimore will be seriously affected by flooding and coastal erosion, both of which will affect navigation channels.

The same thing will happen here.

We have to get better, clearer, and louder about the trade-offs between short-term and long-term thinking. We need jobs — but not jobs that hasten our shared destruction. In Maryland, climate protection advocates and unions are collaborating to create new jobs. Why can’t we? And why can’t we get our port out of the fracking business?

Let’s get out of the well and take in the whole sky.

Emily Lardner teaches at The Evergreen State College where she also co-directs the National Resource for Learning Communities. She is a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors and can be reached at emilylardner@gmail.com or @emilylardner.