When we sat down for a chat with the Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, we expected that he would be as pro-science as he is anti-Trump – but we weren’t expecting him to combine both facets with such ease into single sentences.
“I think there’s only one person in the world that’s done more to inspire climate activism, and to inspire scientists to speak out more than Al Gore, and that’s Donald Trump,” Inslee tells IFLScience.
“His rejection of Paris was a bell in the night; it has inspired so many people to come out and stand up.”
Then, rather mischievously, he adds: “Except for the eradication of smallpox, there hasn’t been anything that humanity has been so united on.”
Comparing the President to one of the most dangerous diseases in human history is something most American politicians would shy away from – but it’s not a disingenuous comparison at all.
When the President announced that he was to pull the country out of the Paris agreement, the entire world certainly reacted in dismay. Democrats, Republicans, scientists, academics, figureheads, prime ministers, chancellors, and presidents made their protestations very clear very quickly. Even North Korea gave Trump a bit of a ribbing.
Things didn’t end there, however: The world moved on, forged new partnerships and agreements, and vowed to double-down on their efforts to make this planet great again.
It’s fair to say that America as a whole isn’t leaving the Paris agreement either. Shortly after the decision was made, the Climate Alliance was born. Co-founded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, this bipartisan group of states aims to stick to the goals of the Paris accords, no matter what the federal government does.
At the time of writing, 14 states plus one territory (Puerto Rico) have joined the Alliance: California, New York, Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota, and Delaware.
“This isn’t just symbolic. There is a practical point to this,” Inslee stressed.
“We thought it was really important to demonstrate to the rest of the world that there are millions of Americans that are willing to move forward with climate change prevention.”
“It’s really important that the rest of the world doesn’t lose heart. It’s wonderful that you’ve not seen a single major voice that has followed Trump off the cliff. We wanted to make sure they know that we’re still with them.”
The group does hold considerable sway over the direction the country takes on the issue. Together, the Alliance represents 31 percent of the US population – over 100 million people – and 36 percent of the entire US economy.
Along with the fact that around two-thirds of the US population support the Paris agreement, it’s clear that America is divided, but not in the way you might think. The White House is looking very lonely on this issue; an island where the rising tide of change is threatening to wash its occupants away.
“Donald Trump cannot stop the efforts we are now engaged in to stop us joining the rest of the world in climate change. There’s no need to go around him because he doesn’t have the constitutional authority to block local decision-making processes.”
He explains that Washington, like many of the states in the Alliance, is leading the way on clean energy as they have done for several decades now. His state has the “only absolute binding carbon cap, an economy-wide cap, in the United States,” along with a Clean Air Law.
“We have a clean energy institute working on new technologies, a clean energy development fund working very closely with businesses large and small, we are electrifying our transportation system – making it easier for electric cars,” Inslee notes. “We are moving forward on a whole spectrum of clean energy policies.”
“The point is that we are entirely free to execute measures like that in conjunction with the rest of the world, and there’s no need to go around that because the President doesn’t have the capability to create a blockage to it.”
Inslee sees the President as someone who isn’t fighting against climate change science and preventative measures, but rather someone who has simply given up the fight before it’s even begun. “He’s run up the white flag of surrender for climate change,” he tells us, before making another characteristically vivid comparison.
“We know that he’s taken rank with the flat earth society – so we in the Alliance can control our own destiny.”
Inslee has always been avowedly pro-science. He speaks of how, when he was still a member of Congress, he managed to get appropriations to help fund LIGO, the groundbreaking facility that confirmed the existence of gravitational waves for the first time back in 2016.
Climate change has always been on the radar, and he’s even penned a book on the subject, Apollo’s Fire, and what can be done to push back. His co-chairing of the Alliance, then, was a no-brainer.
Our conversation confirms he has both a profound respect for scientists and a deep technical knowledge of the science they work on. Citing study after study and his talk at the Seattle chapter of the March for Science, it’s clear he’s as fascinated by the facts as he is unnerved by them – and that this coalition of the willing is a chance to act on climate change in as influential a way as possible.
“We want to work in tandem with the world,” he explains. “We can share technologies, push renewable energy across state boundaries, help to influence carbon markets. We can explore commonality in the social cost of carbon.
“The group is just a few days old right now, so there’s still plenty to do,” he says.
Importantly, recognizing that they are under unprecedented attack, Inslee sees the Alliance as a way to defend scientists themselves.
“Scientists: Do not be intimidated by those that want to silence you. Share the knowledge with the public. The more you share, the better a scientist you are.”
“I know that there will be a lot of efforts to intimidate you, but we will have your back. You will not be alone; we will stand with you, and if they come for you they will have to go through us.”
As aforementioned, the public supports the Paris agreement by a margin of as high as 3-to-1. Despite what certain sections of the media may tell you, support for scientists among the public is considerably high – and it’s certainly a lot higher than the trust people have in their politicians.
That means the Alliance, by default, has a lot of support on the ground, something that Inslee recognizes.
“The public is already scientifically informed. They show a strong support for the consensus on climate change, to restrain carbon pollution. We are winning this battle, we are winning hearts and minds on this issue,” he tells us.
“The problem is that there has been a narrow subset of politicians who have harkened to the requests of the fossil fuel industry and not the requests of the public. It’s been more of a political problem in my view, and this is the $64,000 question: Why is the GOP the only conservative party in the world that has not brought a positive voice to this discussion?”
It is no coincidence that the Republicans that refuse to act on climate change are often those who are heavily lobbied by the fossil fuel industry or come from states that rely more on coal and oil drilling than others.
Inslee suggests that many of the GOP lawmakers that deny climate change aren’t ignorant at all, and they actually know what they’re saying publically isn’t backed up by the evidence.
“It’s not a problem of scientific literacy,” he tells us. “It’s a problem of political identity or ideology – and we’ve got to help them get over that.”
When we suggest that a certain subset of Republican politicians will never stop denying the basic science of climate change, Inslee speaks of the upcoming midterms in 2018 and suggests that the public, as ever, hold the power.
“You can either change the minds of the members or you can change who’s sitting in the seats,” he says. “Both of those work.”
Seems to us it’s a good time for scientists to run for office.