Local inaction has global consequences

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a nation consisting of twenty-nine atolls and five isolated islands, about 69-square miles of land scattered over 3/4 million square miles of the western Pacific. Settled by Micronesians about three thousand years ago, the inhabitants have managed to survive German, Japanese and U.S. protectorates, the latter during which their “protectors” detonated 67 nuclear weapons, contaminating a number of atolls with nuclear fallout.

Having survived all that, sometime over the next century or so, the Marshall Islands may disappear completely, swamped by rising sea levels.

Marshall Islands President Kessai Note was in Seattle this week to sign a Statement of Shared Action with King County Executive Ron Sims, the first such agreement signed between his nation and a U.S. municipal government. The agreement calls for sharing scientific and technical expertise, coordinating activities to advise international and U.S. policy makers, and developing a “shared international network of action to help slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas pollution.” It also recognizes shared interest in mitigating the impact of global warming.

But the impact on King County is nothing compared to projected impact on the Marshallese.

Majuro Airport, Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands stand an average 7-feet above sea level, with the highest point on the highest island rising to only 20-feet. In describing the Marshallese relationship to the land President Note stated that “even the loss of a few acres is devastating to every aspect of life.” Even if sea levels rise only a few feet, entire atolls will disappear or become uninhabitable. The 20-foot sea level rise predicted by a partial melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets would completely inundate the nation.

The Marshallese will be amongst the world’s first global warming refugees.

What does any of this have to do with King County?

At the press conference on Friday President Note emphasized that the story of climate change in the Marshall Islands is a story of how both local actions and local inaction has global consequences, while Sims strayed from his prepared text to talk for a moment about the Alaska Way Viaduct. Absent from our tunnel vs rebuild debate, Sims said, has been a discussion of the impact on carbon emissions, the primary cause of global warming. Both of our political establishment’s preferred alternatives are ones that increase traffic capacity. But if we were really interested in reducing carbon emissions — if we were really interested in acting globally — then we should at least be studying how we might meet our region’s transportation needs while reducing capacity and pushing more trips into public transit.

But we don’t have these debates in the U.S., not even in liberal, “metro-natural” Seattle.

Meanwhile, as we find it too difficult to even imagine getting out of our cars once and while, an entire island nation with a three-thousand-year-old culture is about to slip beneath the seas, largely due to our own environmental pollution.

As President Note said, local inaction has global consequences.


  1. 1

    skagit spews:

    Damn, I’m for a surface solution but nobody puts forth one that seems viable. This requires citizen action . . . so who’s going to be the first to step up? Architects, engineers out there . . .

    Good topic for a show, David. Get some transportation experts – some of whom you think are sympathetic to this topic – and lets explore it.

  2. 2


    The people of the Marshall Islands deserve our thanks. 67 bombs exploded over those years… amazing. All so that Americans could sleep at night.

  3. 3

    bill spews:

    Just out of curiosity, since this “Statement of Shared Action” is a commitment to a bit more than an expression of good will, do you think that might get interpreted as being a treaty and thus a violation of article 1 section 10?

  4. 4

    Bad Bob spews:

    There used to be an inland ocean here in North America……. should we work to re-establish this?
    Global cooling clearly caused this ocean to re-distibute it’s water into the ice pack farther north in the hemisphere……….

  5. 7

    skagit spews:

    I know . . . but it is still a cool idea! Can’t you be a little playful occasionally? Such an anal analyst!

  6. 8

    Yer Killin Me spews:


    I think the entire Mississippi was once upon a time many feet underwater. (I know, how could they tell there was a river there?)


    There have also been a number of large inland lakes that could easily qualify as “seas” in our part of the world. Lake Bonneville and Lake Missoula come to mind (there are Wikipedia entries for both). I know I have read about the Great Inland Sea, so if you can find an article, I’d be interested.

  7. 9

    milo spews:

    Just for comparison’s sake: More of Louisiana will disappear next year than the entire land mass of the Marshall Islands.

  8. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The Marshall Islands are still there? I thought we blew ‘em all away with nuclear tests in the ’50s.

  9. 11

    Tree Frog Farmer spews:

    It’s great to travel through the coulee area and observe the scouring that occured when Lake Missoula drained. The scale of action was immense. When the ice dams that pent these waters up broke, it took awsome amounts of time to drain these waters.

  10. 12

    Puddybud spews:

    Goldy: I propose all King County Moonbat!s who voted for Ron Sims fess up and get out their bicycles and ride to work. To cut emissions of course. Otherwise they are hypocrites!

    I wonder if President Note spoke to the Indians and Chinese for them to cut their emissions.

  11. 13

    skagit spews:

    you know, I don’t know if this is true but Pete Hamill said it during a CSpan interview: New Yorkers walk a lot more than most people and they live an average of six months longer . . .

    I don’t know what that means. But, a time could come when we will have to walk/ride bikes/live downtown a whole lot more than we do.

    Eventually, surface transportation will be forced on us regardless of the decisions we make now.

  12. 14

    Yer Killin Me spews:


    I grew up in that part of the world. I remember when I was a kid my dad took us up to see Dry Falls. At the time they had no idea what caused the Columbia to change course and make the Falls disappear.

    It’s interesting to look at the contrast between the eastern and western parts of Washington on an aerial photo.

  13. 16

    reggie spews:

    What if?

    What if it’s just our time to go? I mean the dinosaurs had their rise to power and where are theY? the climate changed and they died. It wasn’t because Dino spent too much time in his Hummer. The only constant with the earth’s climate is that it has been changing since the planet was created.

    I don’t know anymore than any of you do that we are in fact experiencing “Global Warming” Forty years ago I remember reading science papers in college describing the coming ice age we were going to experience. They employed the same “the sky is falling” techniques back then too.

    This does not mean that I think we should continue to drive our cars without trying to find an alternative to fossil fuels. That would promote cleaner air, healthier foods and if it slowed down the alledged Global Warming that would be great. But, I don’t think that anything we could do will prevent the climate of the earth from changing. To me the very idea that we can somehow tweak our climate to stop Global Warming or Global Cooling is laughable.

    If you really want to fuck with someone’s head mention Global Dimming. It’s real, it’s measurable and no one is talking about it.

  14. 17

    Bad Bob spews:

    “skagit says:

    …….Eventually, surface transportation will be forced on us regardless of the decisions we make now.”

    Surely you’ve heard of Sound Transit and light rail.
    In november we’ll get to vote to add onto a system (light rail)that is neither operational, nor a proven success.

    Reggie @15,
    A well reasoned posting….. that’s not going to be well received around here!

  15. 18

    skagit spews:

    “Global dimming?” The dumbing down of the world?

    New York has rapid transit . . . still a lot of people walking.

  16. 19

    Poster Child spews:

    Bad Bob @ 16 says: Reggie @15, A well reasoned posting….. that’s not going to be well received around here!

    I don’t have a problem with the comparison to dinosaurs. Huge Lumbering [vehicles], tiny little brains and no ability to adapt to change. Sounds like a republican to me.

    I already ride my bike to work – the surface alternative is going to make my route to work a whole lot less safe. How about we build a tunnel but no SUVs may use it? suddenly tunnel-lite could actually work!

  17. 20

    sgmmac spews:


    Lots of families in New Orleans didn’t own cars either….

    I wonder if they own them now, since they know how devastating it can be to rely on the city, state, and federal government to send in the buses?

  18. 21

    Art spews:

    As much as government action to help curb the actions of global warming would help, I don’t believe it is the real solution. If global warming can be slowed down, it will take every human being on this planet no matter what political side of the isle they stand on to make relativly small changes in their lives with or without the government leaders actions or laws passed.

    This doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy a hybrid car. There are more cost effective steps you can take like recycling, buying flourecent light bulbs, or taking transit more often that will all cut back on energy use and lead to less CO2 being spewed into the air.

    If global warming is going to be addressed, the Rightwing is going to have to be convinced that this is a serious problem for them as well. I think one way you could do this is by showing the economic impact global warming will cause. You can’t stop global warming with just 50% of the population. If we take care of our country, maybe other countries will step up and take global warming seriously as well. Love or hate the president, he opened the doors just a little more for global warming to cross the isles. Small as it is, at least it’s something.. a beginning hopefully in the RIGHT direction..

  19. 22

    kaisa spews:

    Bill is right to suggest article 1 section 10 will become a major issue… Global warming refugees will become a political/beauracratic nightmare. Meanwhile, the marshallese will drown in ever warming waters.

  20. 23

    ArtFart spews:

    It might be worth noting that the Pentagon’s latest anti-ballistic missle test was launched not from Kwajalein, but rather from Kauai.

  21. 24

    Heathen Sinner spews:

    I am Republican – I lie, steal and cheat when I’m not being a family man (fat Whore) or a crying hypocrit. Hail Hitler!