Sizzlin' Seattle likes to think it's one of America's most environmentally conscious cities. But the economic reality shows how hard it is to turn consciousness into action.
People of a certain age remember when Earth Day, coming up Friday, was a big deal. But who needs that for a news hook when Seattle is going through a record April heat wave? It’s going to take all our ingenuity and no small changes in our living arrangements to prevent planetary catastrophe from climate change, something barely imagined when the first Earth Day kicked off in 1970.
At least the Northwest has a robust environmental ethic and even some helpful policies, from taking down dams to, in Washington and Oregon, having a semblance of urban growth boundaries to contain sprawl. But even a cursory look shows that the Puget Sound region’s economy doesn’t quite match our green
• Jet City. Emissions from commercial airplanes account for about 5 percent of warming and they could rise significantly in coming decades. Lacking high-speed rail alternatives, Americans’ biggest carbon footprints are likely to be their jet travel. Jet travel also has a higher climate effect per kilometer. And this doesn’t even factor in other jet aircraft, such as military. Boeing and airlines are working to reduce the problem but it won’t be easy.
• The Amazon Effect. It’s not only Amazon — several other companies headquartered in the region, including Costco and Starbucks — are major elements of a global supply chain that has profound environmental consequences. These are explored in detail by Edward Humes in his new book, Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. This stands in stark contrast to more locally and domestically sourced goods of 40 years ago. Products we now take for granted travel multiple tens of thousands of miles to provide the cheapest deal for consumers — on the surface. The externalities aren’t priced in.
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• Seaports. Both the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have worked to lessen pollution, but they can’t do much about the ships, which burn heavy carbon emitting bunker until they are within 200 miles of the U.S. coast and our environmental rules kick in. Also, see above.
• Refineries. We’ve got ’em, in Tacoma, Ferndale and Anacortes. Unfortunately, they are some of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the state, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Low oil prices have put plans for expansions or new terminals on a slow track, for now. (Statewide, power plants are the biggest emitters).
Happy Earth Day. Think carbon tax (you can see how it worked in British Columbia).
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Bye, Old Hickory
You’re not worth our twenty bucks
While Hamilton sings