Presidential hopeful Jay Inslee says climate change isn’t just one issue, it’s every issue
By Bliss Bowen
“My daughter brought you to my attention, and she’s 12,” a father informed Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s made the climate crisis the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. The occasion was a Q&A session hosted by the Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and West L.A. Democratic Clubs. “Every day she asks, ‘How’s he doing?’ My question is simply this: How are you gonna win this thing? Because I gotta tell you, I have no question if it’s you against Trump, you’re gonna wipe him off the map — but I’ve been environmental since I was a kid, and that’s never won big. It’s not even a major part of the Democratic Party’s [platform]. You got a plan?”
This was one of several blunt questions lobbed at Inslee by the multigenerational crowd that filled the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club last Monday afternoon. Audience members greeted him enthusiastically when he took the stage and lined up for photos afterward, but they vented concerns regarding the environment, jobs, Iran, ICE, homelessness, impeachment and beating Donald Trump. Inslee, who served a cumulative 15 years in Congress before being elected Washington’s governor in 2012, wasted no time pointing out that he’s positioned “where Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were when they started their campaigns.”
“Nobody’s ever been elected on climate change before? Nobody elected an African American before Barack Obama either. We’ve gotta get out of the timidity. … There is no middle ground on the climate crisis. It’s time to stand up and move on this subject. I can’t guarantee you that I’m gonna win this. But I can guarantee you that I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
Climate has long been an impassioned fight for the 68-year-old Seattle native, who earned economics and law degrees before launching his career as city prosecutor in Selah. In 2008 he co-authored a book with Bracken Hendricks, “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy,” outlining the logic of growing the economy with sustainable “green collar” energy jobs. His speech enumerated ways he’s successfully put those ideas into practice as governor, along with passing the country’s highest minimum wage, a public health care option, teacher pay raises, pay equity for women, and a Net Neutrality law.
His New Deal-scale Evergreen Economy Plan (jayinslee.com/issues/evergreen-economy) — the most granularly detailed blueprint for tackling the climate crisis offered thus far by a candidate — entails job creation, climate justice, education, rebuilding unions, a “G.I. Bill” for fossil fuel workers and communities displaced by transitioning into clean energy technology, and a Climate Conservation Corps modeled after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
“Of all the things Donald Trump has been wrong about, he’s most wrong about this: wind turbines do not cause cancer, they cause jobs. My plan, conservatively, will bring eight million union jobs to the United States. Clean energy jobs today are in fact growing twice as fast as the rest of the industrial sector. We can have economic growth because we want to defeat the climate crisis, not despite our efforts to defeat the climate crisis,” he insisted. “We’re doing it today.”
During a brief interview before his speech, The Argonaut talked with Inslee about rebuilding versus relocating after climate-related catastrophes. In Paradise, Calif., permits are being issued to homeowners rebuilding after November’s Camp Fire inferno. New Jersey’s Blue Acres Buyout Program essentially pays homeowners battered by successive hurricanes to abandon property so nature can reclaim it. A HUD grant is relocating small tribal communities inland from coastal Louisiana, where that state’s master plan predicts a two-foot sea level rise over the next 50 years and the United States Geological Service estimates a football field of wetland erodes every 100 minutes. Would Inslee’s administration expand such programs?
“We know that we are in for climate change increasing over time,” Inslee replied. “We have to be able to help communities respond in a meaningful way, and that’s different according to the circumstances of each community. We want to help adaptation. We want to adopt fire-wise programs to reduce the threat of forest fires. We have to do river management in the Midwest for the flooding. We’re gonna have to deal with inundation of shorelines like in Staten Island and Manhattan, where they’re building [sea]walls.
“But it’s critical to say that there isn’t enough money in the world to save us from this. We have to go to the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is carbon dioxide and fossil fuels. We have to defeat that. That is the only survival mechanism we have long-term. The Earth will in some sense become uninhabitable in certain regions if we do not act to defeat the climate crisis at its source. [We shouldn’t] be lured into some false sense of security because we can build a wall somewhere around one island.”
Would his administration create a cabinet-level department, akin to Homeland Security, to coordinate climate-related actions across the government? Inslee said he prefers to “embed a climate mission” throughout the entire administration.
“I would have a central organizing principle at every agency responding to this crisis,” he explained. “The Department of Agriculture has a role here to try to help farmers sequester carbon dioxide in topsoil, and timberland owners and U.S. Forest Service respond to sequester carbon dioxide. The Pentagon and Department of Defense has an enormous role [with] procurement power to purchase green goods and services. This is a health issue. There’s an educational component, making sure children understand the sciences.”
Describing Mother Nature as “the most important educator,” he said citizens in flooded, burned, heat- and drought-stricken communities nationwide are demanding response: “Elected officials need to catch up with the public. The public wants action on this.”
At June’s debates, Inslee rightly got his ass handed to him by Sen. Amy Klobuchar for his remark that he was the only candidate onstage who had actually “passed a law protecting a woman’s reproductive rights in health insurance.” (Klobuchar reminded him “three women up here … fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”) Yet Inslee, who made headlines in 2017 when he and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the first lawsuit protesting the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, also landed a solid punch at Trump, calling him “the greatest national security threat to the United States.” Inslee’s readiness to spar with the president he charges with “lying to the American people daily” is yielding some media momentum, though his poll numbers are in single digits. (His speech included an earnest request for dollar donations to his campaign, which accepts no fossil fuel or corporate PAC money, so that he can qualify for September’s debates.)
The Community Climate Justice piece of his plan (jayinslee.com/issues/climate-justice) that he teased last week was released this Monday — the same day as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris’ Climate Equity Act, which similarly addresses climate’s effects on low-income communities. Among Inslee’s numerous proposals: establish an Office of Environmental Justice; transform the White House Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Environmental Justice to guarantee “front-line voices” input into federal policy; track “pollution hotspots, economic inequality, and climate change impacts” with a federal “Equity Impact Mapping” initiative (modeled after California, New York and Washington state programs); ban PFAS chemicals nationwide; expand the Housing Trust Fund to confront the housing crisis; and create a Universal Clean Energy Service Fund to help reduce the monthly burden of energy costs on working families.
“We need a president who rallies the best energies of the United States, who will make defeating the climate crisis the No. 1 priority of the United States,” he said before reverting to his folksy grandpa stance.
“If it’s not job one, it won’t get done. And I’m convinced that this is a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren. I’m running for president because on my last day on Earth, I want to be able to look at my three grandchildren and say, I did everything humanly possible to save them from climate change.”