Water Matters: Truth or dare

Remember the kids’ game where you had to choose between confessing a truth — most likely the name of your crush — or brave a dare?

That kids’ game reminds me all too much of standard operating procedures in larger sectors of today’s society, where some leaders repeatedly ignore the truth, risking the dare.

Every four years about this time I’m reminded of my naivety when it comes to politics and big business, having gravitated toward the sciences in college and continuing to seek literature on new research and discoveries. I shouldn’t be surprised, but find myself alarmed once again by the fantastic gap between the facts and figures of my reality and the political twists that drive society.

With this column I strive to bridge that gap … to encourage interest in touchstones to the environment with local stories and the “Geek Moments” following each article. Facts and figures. Data. Geeky — and real. This week, however, I’m walking a fine line (while also jumping around if that’s possible) between what’s real here, what’s real to me and what’s happening in the broader world.

I suppose we’re all captives to some degree of the worldview we conceived in our 20s, whether framed around the natural world, the cosmopolitan or somewhere in between. Study of the earth sciences coaches one into seeing the big — really big — picture. Once your outlook includes the Earth from its core to its atmosphere, you can’t go back.

For example, having learned years ago that ash layers in rock formations around the world can be tied to specific volcanic eruptions over millennia, it’s not a huge leap to understand that some of the acidity and mercury found in alpine lakes here can be tied to industrial emissions in Asia.

It’s also no surprise that carbon dioxide emissions accumulating in the atmosphere contribute to rising average global temperatures, which leads to higher rates of glacier melting and sea level rise.

What has surprised me is the continually increasing rate of change.

Denial and sidestepping of science and scientists is more than curious to those of us who’ve put in the time, whose very lifestyle is rooted in tested methods of experimentation and data analysis. Yes, we get pretty darned geeky about new discoveries — and excited by policies based on science.

It’s not any different than geeking out about a sports team or a profitable move on the stock market.

(Indeed, my inability to appreciate making large sums of money is comparable to the inability for many others to appreciate the geologic time scale. Perhaps if fifth-graders always had been taught geology, we wouldn’t be in the global warming mess we’re in and an early business class would have benefited my current assets.)

As society gets older, are we getting wiser? Shouldn’t we be taking the accumulated knowledge of the way the world works to heart and applying it to the drafting of policies that affect not just our nation but the entire world and all future inhabitants? Shouldn’t proven technologies that mitigate the consequences of our impacts be favored?

The “Information Age” sparked by the Internet has pretty quickly become the age of infotainment, with sound bites on social media (along with friends’ commentary) sometimes the extent of popular exposure to big issues. Mainstream media finds the need to apply a double standard and portray controversy among scientists even when there is often far more agreement than disagreement.

This misrepresentation (or omission) of scientific findings by the media makes it even harder for elected officials — particularly at state and national levels — to base their decisions on facts.

Where public health, safety and the environment are concerned, policies should be based on cumulative, real data. As a proud civil servant whose career so far has been with relatively small Clallam County and City of Sequim, in my experience it seems that elected officials at this level are accountable more directly than larger governments; they listen to what their neighbors present.

In many cases they take time to learn the science behind their choices — geographically limited though they are.

As sure as the moon affects our tides, disregard for truth in government erodes public trust on a deep level. Leaders choosing the dare are risking it all, but it’s not a kids’ game — and they’re not the brave ones.

Geek moment

For the 2017 water year (started Oct. 1), cumulative rainfall in Sequim = 2.83 inches — twice the long-term average!

Cumulative snowpack at the Dungeness SNOTEL station (at 4,010 feet elev.) = 0 inches as of Oct. 11

Streamflow in the Dungeness River at River Mile 11.8 on Oct. 28 = about 800 cubic feet per second and dropping (tail end of rain shower)

Streamflow in Bell Creek at East Washington Street = 0 (dry); near the mouth at Schmuck Road = 1.2 cubic feet per second

Ann Soule is a licensed hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990. She is now resource manager for City of Sequim. Reach Soule at columnists@sequimgazette.com or via her blog of Gazette articles @watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

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