It’s hard to explain to people under the age of, oh I dunno, 200, what a big deal Earth Day was back when it began in 1970. I mean there were parties. Big parties. People across the entire political spectrum were engaged with ‘environmentalism’ in a way that is unimaginable now. There was a unified enthusiasm for working together to clean up the world not seen since the end of World War II.
At the time, the public was fed up. The problems were easy to care about largely because they were so visible. (When I first came to America in 1974, Lake Erie was occasionally on fire. ) Ginormous toxic cleanup sites were everywhere. Airplane exhaust was a thick black smoke. And you think airplanes are loud now?
Now, even with all the politics, the visible state of the environment is so much better, again, it’s hard to recall where we were in 1970. So I think that to a large degree we are victims of all the success we had in dealing with the most obvious problems. We don’t see orange air and acid water now. So it’s harder to get people to see the environment as a high enough priority.
Unfortunately, we have still have many problems. And these problems aren’t just harder to see, they’re often harder to mitigate. For example, commercial aircraft pollute just as much as they used to. It’s just that they appear ‘cleaner’. But the more we study, the more we realize that the invisible emissions are just as deadly. And Puget Sound? It’s frustrating to the people who monitor its health because it looks so nice up top. But beneath? It’s a mess in many areas–and that includes the waters off Des Moines.
The COVID-19 outbreak has given us a unique opportunity. I’m sure you’ve noticed the quiet. And if you’ve been watching any news on TV you’ve undoubtedly seen before/after views of the Seattle area showing how much clearer the skies are now. So what we’re getting is a unique opportunity to see how things were and how they should be now.
Part of the public’s apathy is because so many of you are new to the City and cannot remember what it was like when things were routinely quieter and clearer in Des Moines. Well, this is it. Again, this is how it should be. The other part is that we’ve had such an awful time getting any cooperation or relief from the Port Of Seattle and other agencies that contribute to the problems.
When I ran for City Council, I was clear that one of the biggest long-term challenges our City faces is the noise and pollution from Sea-Tac Airport. And if you know anything about me, you know I spend a lot of time working on that. Last year, for the first time ever, we got some State legislation to help homeowners with Port Packages. And this year we’ll work to get more legislation passed. This will be long game but it’s the only game. We must make incremental gains each year at the local level because we must ensure a cleaner and quieter Des Moines for the next fifty years.
I know some of you tell me, “It’s the County’s problem”, “It’s the State’s problem”, “It’s the Federal government’s problem”. It’s not the City’s problem. To which I reply, “Look, if those agencies aren’t doing the job? It’s our problem.” Someone has to be the steward for Des Moines. So if they won’t? We must.
After all, we’re The Waterland City. I moved here to fish, sail, enjoy the parks. I’m here because of the place. Because though Des Moines isn’t the richest City in dollars, I would argue that it is still one of the richest places in the world. When you view the City from the water, with Mount Rainier in the background you’re experiencing one of the best views on Puget Sound. Which means you’re witnessing one of the best views in America. We are truly blessed. But if we don’t treasure this place we lose what makes us special.
Anyhoo, I know by now you’ve had it up to here with ‘social distancing’. But please take a moment and really look around the City. One last time: this level of quiet and clear air and water is what we should demand. And I hope you will remember that when we re-open and things start edging back towards the levels of noise and pollution to which we’ve become accustomed. I hope you will help me to make this ‘new’ quieter and cleaner Des Moines permanent. We need to make that the highest priority for our City. It’s what we owe to our health and to the future of this beautiful place.