Hoping for rain. Working for a carbon price.
By Brian Emanuels
They say that Alaska Natives have twelve different words for snow. Well, in Seattle, we have nearly as many for the different varieties of rain we experience: drizzle, mist, showers, light rain, pouring…the list goes on. We endure these varieties of rain amid drab, gray skies for months on end – from late October until spring or even early summer – because around July 5, our long-awaited, glorious summer arrives. The clouds part, revealing the snow-capped Olympic mountains reflecting off the cold, blue waters of Puget Sound.
But not this year. Or last. Instead, our summer’s blue skies quickly reverted to gray – not due to familiar rain clouds, but due to a thick blanket of smoke from wildfires raging across our state, California, British Columbia, and much of the western U.S.
Itchy, bloodshot eyes. Chalky mouth and throat. Hacking coughs. Coworkers calling in sick. People walking the streets wearing protective masks, wondering when it’ll end. But it’s everywhere, and it’s inescapable. Even inside the McCarthey arena at Gonzaga University, where we celebrated welcome mass Sunday morning before leaving our youngest son for his freshman year of college, a thin layer of smoke hung inside the building under the rafters of Gonzaga basketball’s hallowed hall. It’s depressing. We are – literally and figuratively – living in a haze.
But there is hope on the horizon. We hope for wind to blow the smoke away, and eventually rain to wash out our air and mercifully douse the fires—and the irony of Seattleites praying for rain in August is not lost on us. But we also have hope that a longer term solution is at hand. Because in just over two months, voters in Washington will decide whether to approve Initiative 1631. If—when—it passes, it will be the first direct fee on carbon pollution in the U.S.
Washington state has a long history as a bellwether state. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, Washington has been at the front of the pack, and in 2018, we hope to do so again by putting a steadily rising fee on the biggest polluters in our state, to fund a plethora of projects to clean our energy supply along with our air and water. Of the approximately $1B per year that I-1631 will raise, 70% will be directed to clean energy projects, energy efficiency and transportation options that will directly reduce carbon pollution; 25% will be allocated to protecting our forests and water supply; the remaining 5% will be directed to a fund to protect the communities and workers most impacted by the transition to a clean energy future.
But the road to passing I-1631 won’t be easy. The oil companies have already committed $8.7 million to defeat it. To win, we need to leverage the unprecedented coalition of businesses, environmental organizations, labor unions, organizations representing people of color, low income advocates, faith-based organizations, physicians and advocates for science-based policy making, and first nations tribes to reach more than one million persuadable voters, in person and over the phone, to make our case.
Already, teams of I-1631 supporters are fanning out across the state, knocking on doors of voters, and will soon begin phone banking, with a goal of directly reaching over a million voters before the election on Nov. 6. I’ve completed my first two doorbelling shifts, reaching nearly 160 households, and the results are encouraging: Voters are receptive and appreciative of our efforts, and they’re overwhelmingly supportive. The smoky skies make our case for us that the time for “Clean Air Clean Energy” Initiative 1631 is now!
I’m writing this as we’re driving home from Spokane, past the rows of wind turbines on the banks of the mighty Columbia river. The river itself powers hydroelectric generating stations that provide clean renewable energy to most of our state. That sight is further encouraging proof that clean energy – and eventually, clear skies – are our destiny, not just here in Washington, but everywhere.
But first, there’s more work to do. A team of volunteers is coming to our now suddenly empty nest tomorrow for doorbelling training, and then we’ll head out into the surrounding neighborhoods to canvass for I-1631. We have a goal for CCLers in Washington to knock on 10,000 doors by November, and for our Bellevue chapter to knock on 1,000 – a number I hope and expect we’ll far exceed, as that’s also the number of doors I personally plan to knock on before November! I hope other CCLers throughout our state, and from our neighboring states, will visit yeson1631.org and sign up for as many doorbelling shifts as you can muster, to help us far exceed our 10,000 door goal.
CCLers from further away can also help in a number of ways: by writing letters to the editor of one of our local newspapers in support of I-1631, and/or by joining our soon-to-launch phone banking campaign to call targeted voters. Stay tuned here for information coming soon on how you, wherever you live, can make calls and send texts to key voters in Washington state who will be pivotal to putting I-1631 over the top.
Together, we can help put a fee on carbon pollution—first here in Washington state, then in other states, and soon, nationally, with CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.
Brian Emanuels has been a CCL volunteer since 2017 and lives in Mercer Island, WA.