COMMENTARY: Our planet’s future requires action, not just complaints

Kevin Jones (Courtesy Photo)

As the “shock and awe” strategy of the current presidential administration rumbles forward, it’s hard to keep track of which protections, benefits and safety nets have been rolled back. But one thing is certain: Due to the Trump administration’s Energy Independence Executive Order signed three weeks ago, the layer of environmental protections and climate change commitments that have protected our health and our planet over the last few decades are now things of the past. The good news? There are people on Vashon resisting these policies. I have decided to join them, and invite you to do so as well.

While the current administration may be pining for the “good old days” — a supposed simpler and more prosperous time — let us not forget some of the problems we have overcome and how the solutions to those problems now contribute to our health and longevity.

If you’ve lived here as long as I have you know how “Aroma of Tacoma” became a popular phrase to describe the rotten egg smell that lingered in the air from Tacoma to Kirkland. I don’t want to reveal too much about my age, but back then we worried about the brown haze that would engulf Seattle every August. Would we become the next Los Angeles? Where a day outdoors was like smoking a pack of cigarettes?

On Vashon, we all know about the lead and arsenic that rained down from the ASARCO smelter. Most of us know of Flint, Michigan’s leaded water. Didn’t we expect these environmental abuses to fade into history, remaining only as Superfund cleanup sites?

No more. Somehow our hard-won environmental rules and regulations, designed to protect our health, reduce cancer, allow our children to avoid chronic respiratory disease and our seniors to survive a Sunday afternoon walk, have turned into job-killing regulations. How could they? They seemed so beneficial just a few years ago.

The Energy Independence Executive Order signed on March 28 directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review and essentially roll back the Clean Power Plan. Automobile mileage goals, and the resulting reduction in exhaust emissions, are under attack too. The stage is now set to welcome back pollution. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called this executive order “the single biggest attack on climate action in U.S. history, period.”

From my point of view, it’s not OK for the current administration to now say, “Don’t blame me, I’m only doing what I said I would do during the campaign.” Who voted to abandon accountability in government? Wouldn’t it be nice to know the current administration that is pushing legislation and signing executive orders is also thinking ahead to protect us from the negative consequences of these actions?

Unfortunately, they don’t hear us cursing our TV screens, car radios and newsfeeds. Crumpling that newspaper full of bad news does not draw attention. Tears shed when your child is diagnosed with a lifelong medical condition caused by toxins or pesticide use will not be noticed in Washington D.C.

The moral of this story: Complaining, without action, is compliance.

Those who did not breathe brown Seattle air or suffer arsenic showers on Vashon should not have to experience the polluted water and air of their parents. It is not OK to accept a recurrence of smog warnings, air quality alerts and stay at home / don’t exercise today health preventive measures. Right now, today, let’s form a pact to never smell the Aroma of Tacoma again.

While this situation is unfortunate, there are things we can do. For one, attend the Vashon Earth Day Celebration. Consider walking or biking to Vashon High School on Sunday, April 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. to hear how to protect our important resources and the environment, or join Vashon’s climate action group at VashonClimateAction Group. Together we can remove the equivalent of 1 million cars per year from our roads by encouraging Puget Sound Energy to transition to the renewable energy future envisioned by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

These are exciting times. We did not vote for dirty air, polluted streams or undrinkable water. When the next generation looks back to ask “How did you respond?” make sure your list includes more than crumpled newspapers and ranting at the TV.

— Kevin Jones is a Pacific Northwest native, a 22-year resident of Vashon and an Indivisible Backbone coordinator who prefers clean air and water.