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Original Essays

The Yin and Yang of Global Warming

by Jay Inslee
  1. Apollo
    $10.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Set in a frame of optimism and urgency....The authors' sweeping and attainable vision for America's energy independence shows we can once again reach for higher goals and succeed." Robert Redford, actor and director

    "[A] brilliant, inspiring book....It is beautifully written, exciting, and hopeful. It's a must read for every American who wants to save the planet." Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers columnist

Over the July Fourth holiday this year, I encountered both the yin and the yang of global warming. More accurately, I ran into the yin of global warming in the mountains and the yang of the clean energy revolution down on the shores of Puget Sound. One was a chilling sample of the threat of global warming and the other was a promising example of how to stop that problem from engulfing us.

On Saturday, I had the joy of getting away from the tumult of Congress for a day to hike up 3,000 feet into the Alpine Wilderness area in the Cascade Mountains, one of the most pristine areas in our national forests.

My climbing partner and I were attracted by the sapphire blue waters of Robin and Tuck Lakes, two gems tucked into a rocky tarn overlooking the magnificent glaciers of broad shouldered Mount Daniels across a waterfall studded valley. We were not disappointed by the serene vision of these delights surrounded by snow covered bowls and hedged by newly flowered pink and white flowered heather.

But we were also confronted with a most disturbing sight.

On the way down, we walked under miles of dead and dying firs, all savaged by one-inch budworms that had stripped these evergreens of their foliage. Budworms have been native to these forests for eons, but have always been held in check by the cold winters that killed most of them. The combination of warmer winters and the trees being stressed by drought had loosed an epidemic of these tree killers.

In my 50 years in the mountains, I had never seen such a troubling vision of an ecosystem out of balance. As we hiked under the trees, the worms literally fell on our heads. As we stopped to talk to a forest service ranger about the problem, he said that it "was right on the brim of your hat," pointing to a worm crawling down my pal's hat.

Global warming is not an abstraction in this maimed forest.

As one who considers these woods a family heirloom, having hiked them since boyhood, this felt like a wound more than a botanical annoyance. I have read much about the thousands of acres of forest ravaged by the bark beetle in Alaska, but now the epidemic may have hit home, right in my backyard. Here was global warming come home to roost.

The next day, I joined 15,000 of my closest friends at the Boeing company hangar in Everett for the rollout of the Boeing 787, the first carbon fiber commercial airplane that reduces fuel usage by a full 20 percent. It only uses one gallon of fuel per passenger for every 100 miles of travel, which is more fuel efficient than driving an average sedan.

This incredible piece of technology will spew out a fifth less carbon dioxide than any other jet on the market. It will accomplish this feat while providing its passengers unrivaled comfort, with more humid cabin air, better air pressure, larger windows and a smoother ride.

Seeing the huge bay doors open to reveal this shining industrial triumph as the jubilant masses cheered, I could feel the tremendous pride Boeing employees felt at having designed and built this state-of-the-art airplane. They had accomplished the feat of creating an airplane that is both markedly less polluting and significantly more comfortable.

If we build more machines like the one I saw rolled out on Sunday, we will see fewer trees go downhill like the ones I saw on Saturday. The optimism I experienced Sunday was the yang that somewhat offset the yin of seeing blighted trees during my hike on Saturday.

The rollout of the 787 was a powerful demonstration of how creatively powerful Americans can be when our energies are directed to building clean-energy machines. If we can build a wonder like the 787, we can build a thousand other green technologies to ensure that our forests remain the wonders of our natural landscape.

Those two days were like it usually goes, one day down, and the other up. I prefer the up day, and I believe it will be the more common if Congress takes action on global warming. That action could launch a comprehensive clean-energy initiative like my New Apollo Energy Act. In coming months, I hope to witness the launching of both the Boeing 787 and my energy bill. They should be quite the takeoffs.

÷ ÷ ÷

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee represents the 1st Congressional District in Washington State. With Bracken Hendricks, he co-authored the book Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy. spacer

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