The recent fuss about the importance of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to our island’s economy is understandable given the outsized percentage of good jobs related to the base.
The community screams, “Jets = Jobs!,” and falls over itself in deference to the base. Yet, astonishingly, does nothing to prevent a much larger threat to the base than the recently-filed noise lawsuit.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just published a peer-reviewed article listing 1,429 cities and towns in the USA that are endangered by climate change-induced sea level rise.
Washington state is home to 30 of these, including NAS Whidbey.
The paper reports that, if greenhouse gases continue to increase until 2050, we will eventually experience an unavoidable rise in sea level of over 10 feet.
Further, if we continue our current emissions through 2100, the rise will be 23 feet.
Such sea level rise presents a grave threat to our air station, the lowest of whose runways sits just 18 feet above mean sea level.
If this surprises anybody in Oak Harbor, it is no surprise at all to senior Navy leadership, which established a Task Force Climate Change years ago specifically to look at threats to Navy operations likely to be brought on by climate change.
Naturally the swamping of coastal infrastructure would force the Navy to consider moving bases to higher ground.
Since air stations are probably easier and cheaper to move than ship yards, they would likely be the first to go.
Ships, of course, will float on the higher water but planes cannot land on submerged runways.
Fortunately, the Academy of Sciences report, authored by Benjamin H. Strauss offers a better way forward.
It predicts that lowering carbon emissions would likely spare hundreds of these towns.
Unfortunately, lower emissions are precisely what the Island County commissioners just rejected when they scrapped a county-wide recycling program.
Increased recycling would have saved a great deal of energy, lowering our county’s contributions to rising sea levels while offering the Navy something more concrete than empty slogans and photo-ops thanking them for jobs.
Oak Harborites who understand “Jets = Jobs” ought to put our money where our mouths are.
If you value the base, you should be frantically urging the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Oak Harbor City Council and the county commissioners to aggressively implement a low-carbon energy policy.
Prove you value the base through steps such as driving less, improving your home’s energy efficiency, purchasing the local utility’s green electricity option, and divesting from fossil fuel corporations.
Even our small local governments can demonstrate national-level leadership on climate change while simultaneously protecting the base through any number of imaginative initiatives.
These might include taxing the pollution (through, say, gas taxes instead of property taxes), setting and meeting extremely high government energy-efficiency standards, tightening building code efficiency standards, funding public transportation and bicycle-commute options and enacting aggressive recycling programs.
Only fools dismiss such measures as tree-hugger sentimentalism.
Climate change is here, and it’s deadly serious, yet we can do something about it.
Those mindlessly driving their gas-guzzling SUV’s and elected officials neglecting their leadership role endanger our sea-level air base much more profoundly than those complaining about noise.
Noise can be reduced, but the sea will not be held back by any seawall-construction measures affordable under foreseeable federal budgets.
No number of “Jets=Jobs” bumper stickers will paper over the danger that wasteful energy habits and small-minded government leadership bring to our isolated economy.