A state mostly run by liberal Democrats for years continues to dodge the tough work required for the economy to grow greener.
The other day I was watching video footage of one of Seattle’s emerging leaders, City Councilman Mike O’Brien, as he was training to be a “kayaktivist” in opposing Shell Oil’s drilling rigs docking in the city.
He said something designed to be a rallying cry, but which rang hollow to me.
“We’re protesting the idea of Arctic drilling … the idea that Shell Oil is going to bring its drilling fleet into Seattle and tie us up in their shenanigans up in Alaska,” O’Brien said to Q13 News. “We don’t want any part of it.”
But we’re already tied up in their shenanigans. The reality is Seattle is probably as hooked on Arctic crude as any city in America.
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For going on 40 years, Arctic crude has literally fueled the prosperous growth in this region. If Arctic oil is now the moral equivalent of a drug, and Alaska or the oil companies are its pushers, then we’re the prime junkie.
More than half the crude refined in our state comes from Alaska (another third comes from Canada.) So when we fill up at a Seattle gas station, much of the time we’re pumping gas that started as crude beneath the tundra or the icy waters north of the Arctic Circle.
Years ago, I visited part of this source, the onshore Arctic oil fields, on Alaska’s North Slope. When they heard I was from a Seattle newspaper, the workers would roll their eyes. All this crude is flowing right to you, they would say. But you’re probably here to write about how evil it is.
That long-simmering tension is boiling over today. Tuesday at a hearing at the Port of Seattle Commission, the idea of Arctic drilling was described as the devil’s work, and the oil rigs due to dock here this week as “giant middle fingers” raised to the clean-living people of Seattle.
Do people here really not know that Arctic oil fuels this town — still?
Now I’m of the view that we’ve got to begin weaning ourselves from this reliance. In protesting Shell, the environmental activists are doing what they’re supposed to be doing — agitating about global warming. It’s an ignored issue, so a stink needs to be raised about it.
But the political leaders around here are another matter.
We are a state that has been mostly run by liberal Democrats for years. Yet they have failed in that time to even take a vote on measures that might have begun the work of changing our economy to a greener energy profile. Not the symbolic gloss, but the hard work.
Example: Taxes on carbon or cap-and-trade systems are believed to be the best hopes to drive major changes in our energy use, and to limit greenhouse emissions. The idea is that by taxing the bads (fossil fuels) and subsidizing the goods (alternative energy), there could be a shift over a period of decades to greener energy.
Yet through complete Democratic control when Chris Gregoire was governor, and now partial Democratic control with Jay Inslee as governor, we haven’t tried any of this.
It would mean shared sacrifice — such as higher fuel costs — so it’s not easy. But that’s what bugs me about this Shell No effort, at least now that’s it been joined by the opportunistic politicians at the city and the indecisive ones at the Port of Seattle.
It’s easy to kayak around to symbolically protest an evil corporation. It’s easy to use the permitting process in a political manner, as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray just did, to make a show about blocking an oil rig.
But in the end, so what? It won’t do anything substantive about climate change. It won’t stop that specific rig from drilling.
Most important, it does nothing to drive change here, in the way people and businesses use energy and emit carbon into the atmosphere.
That stuff is hard. This is to make us feel progressive when we aren’t.
“I now hope Shell will respect the wishes of the Port, the City and the community at large, and not bring an offshore drilling rig into Elliott Bay,” Murray said Tuesday.
But psst, can you keep sending us that oil?