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Hungry for Climate Justice: Fasting at the Washington State Capitol

There is a vast gap between what science requires and what the Ecology Clean Air rule offers.

I am sitting at the foot of the north stairs of the Washington State Capitol, outside Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. I am one of 17 parents and grandparents who are here in the early part of a three-day fast for climate and our children’s future. We are joined by a number of others fasting at home.

We share many feelings. Grief over the many losses our world faces because our parental generations have not honestly addressed the climate crisis. Deep concern for what we are leaving our children and grandchildren. Even a measure of hope that our modest act of self-denial can have an impact.

I am the father of a 19-year-old, and I know the world she will face when she reaches my age in 44 years will be hotter and more turbulent, no matter what we do now. This is the tough fact we must all face. By increasing the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere to levels not seen in millions of years, our civilization has set our planet on a disastrous pathway. Our task now, as parents and grandparents of coming generations, is to steer our world as much off this course as possible. We must do all we can to leave our kids a world with which they can cope.

We are here on these days because the Washington Department of Ecology has proposed a rule to limit carbon pollution, and will have a public hearing here in Olympia Thursday night. It starts at 6 p.m. at The Red Lion Hotel, 2300 Evergreen Park Dr. SW.

The rule is built on a groundbreaking legal theory, that existing environmental protection laws provide a ground on which to regulate carbon pollution. Inslee last year ordered the rule making under the authority of the state Clean Air Act, which mandates that the state “(p)reserve, protect and enhance the air quality for current and future generations.”

But the draft rule proposed by Ecology doesn’t hit that mark. It’s in the numbers. The essential goal is to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million by 2100. That is the point where the atmosphere stops trapping heat, and climate can begin to recover stability. Currently, the Earth is accumulating extra solar energy at a mindboggling rate equal to four Hiroshima bombs exploding every second. To reach that 350ppm goalpost, dramatic and deep carbon pollution reductions are needed now, in the range of 10 percent annually on a global basis.

Because Washington state has a cleaner economy, our contribution to reaching the global goal is around 8 percent annually. The Ecology Clean Air Rule calls for large polluters which emit two-thirds of Washington carbon emissions to cut at a rate of 1.7 percent per year, amounting to 1 percent against the whole state economy. The effect is even less because therule does not kick in for some polluters until 2020. Offset trading can be used to meet 100 percent of requirements, creating uncertainties about how much carbon will actually be cut. Piling onto that, the rule’s flawed language allows some offsets to count for double their carbon reductions.

Clearly, there is a vast gap between what science requires and what the rule offers. The parents and grandparents out here today are calling on Ecology to strengthen the rule so it actually does what the Clean Air Act requires. We will all be at the hearing Thursday to make that call, and we encourage others to do the same, or to send in comments to this site by July 22, the cut-off date.

The question is whether Washington, or any state, can achieve such deep and rapid carbon reductions. This has everything to do with how we are approaching the climate challenge, as people, as governments, as a society. We are still largely treating climate as just another issue on the plate that we can handle in a business as usual context. Acting as if it is sufficient to alter the course by a few degrees. That is the context of the Ecology rule.

But it isn’t sufficient. Any honest appraisal of the science and theescalating impacts now emerging, from spiking temperatures to melting polar ice, can lead to only one conclusion. We need to very rapidly change the course we are on, or soon a catastrophic level of climate impacts will lock in. Our children will face a world that stresses their capacity to cope. Human societies and economies will crack under the load.

That is why we are committing this unusual act, a three-day climatefast for our children’s future. It is a small way of breaking free from our own everyday lives, sitting in front of the Capitol, the center of our state government, calling on our governor and state officials to themselves break away from the assumptions of business and politics as usual. It’s just too late for anything else.

We need a stronger climate rule that moves as close to science-based carbon limits as humanly possible, and we need a wide range of policies and initiatives to back it up. We need a commitment tomove to 100 percent renewable energy in all sectors as fast as we can. That involves shutting down fossil fueled power plants, electrifying transportation and renovating buildings. This calls for an ambitious climate agenda to rapidly transform our economy, with direct public investments and mandates to drive the process.

Before any of this can happen, we need to change the dialogue, and the context. We need to move beyond the business as usual assumptions that undergird Ecology’s Clean Air Rule draft, and create a comprehensive state climate recovery effort. We need to honestly address what we must do to protect our children’s world, the dramatic change in course this requires us to make.

The parents and grandparents here today are fasting to make this point. We are hungry for climate justice, for our kids and all the youth who must cope with the world we will leave them. Particularly the poor and non-white who will take the hardest hits. Let’s do all we can togive them a fighting chance.

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