Unless more determined action is taken in response to climate change now, our children will witness the end of salmon, shellfish, whales and much more in their lifetime.
QUINAULT tribal members can attest to the urgency of climate change from an up-close and personal perspective. We’re being forced to relocate part of our village of Taholah on the Washington coast. Ocean encroachment, increasingly severe storm surges and flooding are forcing more than 1,000 of our people to permanently move to higher ground.
Tribes are not primary contributors to weather changes. Blame it on industrial smoke stacks, thousands of cars that clog the freeways and exploiters who destroy natural habitat. But we’re often the first to feel the impact because of our proximity and connection with rivers, inland seas and the ocean.
The ancient Mount Anderson glacier that feeds our Quinault River and Lake Quinault has now disappeared. We’ve witnessed the desecration of our ocean being polluted by greenhouse gases through acidification, causing the food chain for salmon and other sacred natural resources to dwindle. The glaciers in our mountains not only provide water for drinking and agriculture; they also provide the flow of cool water in rivers that salmon need to survive.
LiveWire on climate change
The Seattle Times LiveWire presents “Endangered Economy: The high cost of climate change,” a forum about climate change’s impact on the Pacific Northwest economy.
A panel of experts, including Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp, will discuss how to protect a sustainable future as climate change threatens local marine life, agriculture, forestry and the billion-dollar industries that depend upon their growth.
The Seattle Times LiveWire series, presented by Microsoft, features meaningful discussions about vital issues impacting our region and its people.
The forum is at 6:30 p.m., May 17, at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall.
For ticket information:
In the face of record high temperatures, massive wildfires and more intense droughts, more people than ever are beginning to understand the realities of climate change, and the urgency intensifies every year.
I recently testified in Congress seeking support for our costly and historic relocation project and to help other tribes seek relief from climate-change impacts. As president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, I have a vivid nationwide view of climate-change-related impacts on tribal as well as nontribal communities. It’s not a pretty picture.
The good news is we know what’s causing it, and some progress is being made toward reducing carbon pollution through clean-energy technologies like wind and solar, as well as electric vehicles. Developing countries, long targeted by fossil-fuel enterprises, are increasingly turning to clean energy alternatives as affordable sources of power.
Thanks to energy advancements beginning to take hold globally, and widespread concerns over the health, safety and economic risks fossil fuels pose, proposed oil- and coal-export terminals are increasingly being viewed as backward choices. That’s good news for our climate, our natural resources and for future generations.
Progress is heartening, but it’s still too slow.
A powerful, often overlooked tool to speed the response to climate change is the public trust doctrine, an ancient law with modern implications.”
A powerful, often overlooked tool to speed the response to climate change is the public trust doctrine, an ancient law with modern implications. It places ownership of water with the people, held in trust by the government, such as the shoreline between high and low tides. It’s a principle enshrined in the Washington state Constitution. which has been backed by state and federal courts.
This doctrine is also supportive of tribal treaty-protected rights, including our right to fish at “all usual and accustomed places,” as we have for thousands of years. In response to a lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of nonvoting-age young people, a King County judge recently upheld that the doctrine also imposes a duty on government to control carbon emissions responsible for climate change.
King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill urged the state “to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming … before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
Let’s put it this way: Unless far more determined action is taken in response to climate change now, our children will witness the end of salmon, shellfish, whales and much more in their lifetime.
The technology exists to safely and affordably transition away from fossil fuels. In fact, pushing the adoption of clean energy and the elimination of fossil fuels would not only vastly improve public health and ecological sustainability; it would open the door to extensive economic and employment opportunities. Tools such as the public trust doctrine and treaty law support such a movement legally and invoke a moral responsibility for faster, more decisive action.
The Quinault Nation and tribes across the country are committed to stopping climate change to avoid the worst impacts falling on our children and grandchildren. We respectfully call on all citizens and the state and federal governments to do the same.