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Act Now — Turning Decarbonization into Economic Opportunity

Mar 24, 2023

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations collective of multi-national scientists that provide peer-reviewed reports and analysis for governments and policymaking, just released its most recent findings. I’m not going to put lipstick on a pig. It’s bleak. We’re in store for more smoke from wildfires, floods from intensifying atmospheric rivers, and storms that knock out power. Around the world, the changing climate will displace tens of millions of people, as we saw in Pakistan from floods, in East Africa from drought, and in island nations endangered by rising sea levels. In most cases, those most impacted by climate change are those least responsible for it. And if the consequences for people are bad, the impacts on biodiversity are much worse. Climate change is bringing about a mass extinction event for plants and animals.

How do we respond to such grim news? Personally, I’m done with wringing my hands in worry. It’s time to act. Washington has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take action and lead through proven ways to fight climate change. We know that a necessary first step is to wean ourselves off greenhouse gases by reducing our need for them. More energy-efficient buildings, reducing the need for long commutes (i.e., denser cities), circular economies, and less consumerism are all examples of ways we can cut down on energy demand.

But how do we address the energy and economic needs that won’t reduce to zero? This is the question that drives our work across every line of business at the Port of Seattle. We are leading efforts to decarbonize the maritime and aviation sectors through alternative fuels, electrification, and new renewable sources. We’ve made great strides to move our operations towards more sustainable or greener options, but that’s not enough. We’re working with our partners to replace fossil fuels in everything from the ships at port to the planes in the air to the trucks on our roads. We’re also working to change the conversation globally in these industries. At the most recent Conference of the Parties — the UN’s annual environmental summit — we were invited to present on our plans for the first-ever green cruise corridor from Seattle to British Columbia and Alaska.

It’s going to be expensive to transition from our century-long addiction to fossil fuels, but every dollar of these costs is an investment in our communities. Just think about it: rather than filling our tanks with gas we paid to import from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, we keep those dollars local and support a Washington State business installing solar panels in Central Washington or wind turbines on the Pacific Coast. In other words, the transition that the IPCC tells us is urgent and necessary for our survival is also an enormous new economic opportunity for our state and its renewable resources.

Any effort of this magnitude won’t be entirely without impacts on our communities, to be sure. Some in Washington have expressed reluctance to live next to industrial-scale solar farms. Others are concerned about how our world-class sustainable fisheries can co-exist alongside ocean clean energy projects. How will we manage the new waste stream associated with the electrification of cars, trucks, and buses? To be successful, we need to solve these problems as a part of the transition. But those concerns are not insurmountable, and they should not be used as justification to stop progress.

The continued reliance on fossil fuels will have consequences — orders of magnitude greater than any of the concerns raised by these renewable projects. We need large-scale renewable energy installations and a transition for our building and transportation sectors to renewable electricity. Governor Inslee and the state legislature are actively working to streamline siting and permitting laws and regulations to account for the urgency of the climate crisis. We no longer have the luxury of time. If the IPCC report tells us anything, it’s that we must act now.

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