Journal of the San Juan Islands


Cherry Point: ground zero in battle against climate change | Guest Column

August 18, 2013 · 8:13 PM

Steve Ulvi / Journal file photo

By Steve Ulvi

When the future horizon of expectations seems impossibly foreboding unexpected events can inspire hope.

Nothing is simple anymore—if it ever really was. Modern human relations with the natural world often lack any semblance of restraint and humility. We have long relied on government to enforce reasonable regulations in order to protect the public commons.

But precautionary safeguards rarely stand when big money, self-serving regional politics and the illusion of permanent jobs subverts the public trust to allow corporate interest to run roughshod over the collective public interest.

As an all too common example, the Department of Ecology (DOE), has hit bottom in terms of violating its affirmative legal responsibilities under the Public Trust Doctrine to protect waters and natural resources owned and relied upon by us all. DOE sticks by the absurd notion that the average consumption of local saltwater fish amounts to only a couple of pieces of sushi per month for each of us.

Let’s see now… they have allowed so much water pollution that fish flesh can only be safely eaten in small quantities, then claim that sketchy “consumption data” shows we only snack on the stuff anyway, and then conclude that corporations can dump more pollutants.

This is a tragic farce parading as agency oversight.

But last week we learned of the unexpected decision by DOE and agency partners to listen to the hundreds of thousands of public comments castigating the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal.

They will expand the scope of analysis to include unprecedented source-to-smokestack impacts on human wellbeing and the natural environment. That kind of cumulative impact scope and analytical rigor was clearly the Congressional intent in the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, but is rarely seen.

Now the sovereign Lummi Nation, as one would hope, stands up to oppose the further destruction of the Cherry Point landscape, saltwater resources and the natural resonance of place.

Climate change is not a theory but an expanding grim reality with the dots being connected by new peer-reviewed data every day. This unprecedented situation should deeply concern anyone who cares a whit about our post-WWII generation’s legacy, our grandkids’ lives or the all-important ecological services of the natural world.

Forty years ago we felt the seismic power of peaceful civil disobedience as people of all stripes strode arm in arm to confront the unacceptable status quo; Jim Crow racism, the Vietnam quagmire and rivers that burned.

Now as one would expect, deeply entrenched government and industry interests are unwilling to respond to the rising temperatures and cascading effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Citizens, once again, will have to force the necessary transformation.

We are among the most fortunate people to have ever lived and to pay forward a reasonable expectation for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will require our best minds, sacrifice and collective efforts. The 1960s post-sputnik space race times ten, and a redefinition of American Exceptionalism.

The Northwest is uniquely situated—geographically, socially and politically—to stop the madness and lead the U.S. in transitioning from dirty fossil fuels to new sustainable economic strategies, lasting “clean” industry jobs and protection of this incredible region by rejecting numerous mega-port developments and transportation corridors.

Leaving most of the rest of our fossil fuels in the ground would be a great leap forward.

— Editor's note: Steve Ulvi retired from the National Park Service in interior Alaska in 2006. He and his first wife, Lynette are settled in on San Juan Island with a homestead near completion.


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