[This post started as a comment to be posted after an online article in the Nation, and kind of grew into something bigger. I’m sharing it here as a way to articulate some of my thoughts about the recent controversy over I-732, the carbon tax initiative in Washington State.]
I was disappointed in this article in the Nation by Heather McGhee and Robert Reich, critiquing Washington’s recently defeated Initiative 732 for various reasons. Although I was a supporter of I-732, I’m agnostic on a number of the key questions about the initiative that divided Washington’s environmental community. Nevertheless, I felt that McGhee and Reich gave a distorted picture of the situation. Here’s a list of the points I found misleading:
A group of scientists have published an open letter to the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and others to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry, including removing David Koch from the boards of those two museums.
As James Powell, one of the signatories, put it on Democracy Now!,
And when you have on your board someone who has gotten the science wrong and who is a billionaire and is sitting at the table when trustee decisions are made, you at least give the appearance that your exhibit might be tainted and might not be giving the best science. And, in fact, with the Smithsonian exhibit that you talked about, I think that’s not just an appearance, but it’s actually the reality—the notion that we can evolve our way out of global warming. I like to say my grandchildren are already here; they’re present on the planet. They’re not going to evolve by the time they’re my age. What is going to happen is that the world is going to be a much more dangerous place.
Today’s Seattle Times has an editorial in which it dismisses as mere symbolism efforts to prevent Shell from leasing the Port’s Terminal 5 for its Arctic drilling fleet.
Here’s the letter I sent in response:
The Times is right that the real fight over Arctic drilling has to be national, where the leases are granted. But it’s wrong to dismiss the Port Shell lease as mere symbolism. What this argument overlooks is that politics is all about symbolism.
Rejecting the Shell lease would dramatically enhance efforts to change those national leasing policies. It would get lots of attention and shift the debate by reminding everyone that much bigger interests are at stake. The economic and other benefits of leaving the oil under the Arctic far outweigh the advantages of extracting it.
I remember when divestment from South Africa was dismissed as mere symbolism. Yet we learned from the activists in South Africa that it was a vital form of solidarity.
Those accident-prone Shell rigs will be traversing Native territory that was never ceded, operating in extremely harsh conditions, threatening whales, seals, salmon, countless other species—and the people who depend on them.
It’s unclear whether Shell could find another port. What’s not debatable is that if we go along, we are abetting the worst crisis humanity faces. As the old proverb says, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll go for anything.
I’ve decided to make a couple changes to the blog, starting today.
First, I’m going to include posts on political topics, especially having to do with climate change.
Second, I’m going to include more short, personal, spontaneous posts about what I happen to be reading at the moment.
In keeping with the first change, here’s what I wrote to the Port of Seattle Commissioners after attending the hearing on the lease to Foss Maritime, which will sublease to Shell for its Arctic drilling operation.