Water Matters: No Planet B

With the approach of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day during a global health crisis I wanted to hear what our youth are thinking. They are inheriting responsibility for caring for this great Earth from their elders — many of whom likely protested against water and air pollution 50 years ago.

That first big wave of activism resulted in bipartisan legislation creating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

To take the pulse of this up and coming generation, “Gen Z,” I recently arranged a Zoom session interviewing this year’s officers of Sequim High School’s environmental club, dubbed “No Planet B.” Excerpts of that inspiring conversation follow (edited for readability); a more complete transcription is at www.watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

Ann: First, tell me about the club’s name, “No Planet B” — what statement are you making?

Kjirstin: “I came up with the name because I really believe there isn’t a second option. We have this planet here and Plan A is protecting it. There is no Plan B — we gotta stick with what we got.” Kjirstin said she believes the need to protect our planet “doesn’t occur to people unless they’re directly affected.” And, she said of the club’s name, “It makes people think.”

Logan said they felt “being known as just ‘the environmental club’ is a bit too vanilla and we wanted something that would show exactly how drastic the environmental crisis is.” Logan said he is concerned that in the back of people’s mind they think, “‘Don’t worry, the climate will work itself out.’ But if people don’t actually take action it won’t resolve itself and will progressively get worse.”

Ann: What are your feelings about the pandemic?

Logan: “I think with the virus — in a short time of self-isolating ourselves – so much has happened. Look at the canals [in Venice]: that little bit (of time with normal operations suspended) makes a big difference.”

Kjirstin said, “It hurts to see the non-humanitarian aspect of (the pandemic), like so long as it’s out of sight it’s out of mind. As long as you don’t see it, you don’t have to care about it — when there’s people hurting out there. I feel it’s like that with the planet, too, like ‘I’m not littering so I’m good (with how things are).’”

Alissa (by email): “Not only has the isolation given people some serenity, but skies filled with air pollution have begun to clear, birds can be heard in the streets of cities, and the pressure that civilization puts on the environment has been slightly lifted.”

Ann: Are you sad you’ll miss your last months at the high school? (All except Logan are seniors.)

Kjirstin: “First it was Senior Ball, and then it was Graduation. I remember it was like ‘wow’ — I’ll give myself time to be upset — but I can’t do anything about it.” Then Kjirstin said she realized her generation is about to become the “new age of voters and doctors, and will come with so much knowledge and experience. So, I think that our generation (will be) very empathetic and compassionate, and will come together for the greater good.”

Bryce: “When I first got the news I wasn’t really upset about it; (I figured) I will do more scholarship applications and get ready for college. Looking at it like a longer summer really helps, even though we still have homework and AP testing, but without physically being at school.”

Logan: “This is the first thing my generation has had to overcome, and I think we’re going to learn a lot. We’ve all had to sacrifice something and as long as I have the perspective that it could be worse, I can make the best of the situation. Like Bryce, I’m going to take this as opportunity to better myself, to get to know my neighbors, to pick up a hobby, something like that.”

Wren: “Everyone’s feelings are valid. Being upset is valid. It’s a very unfortunate turn of events for the senior class.” But she said she’s in shock about how much others are suffering, and “I can’t bring myself to be upset about missing Senior Ball when so many people are suffering right now around the world.”

Wren closed with, “In the end it’s a learning experience and the Class of 2020 will be stronger overall.”

On their hopes

Logan: “When we overcome the virus (lockdowns), I think that (signs of positive environmental response) will plant a seed in people’s mind that we are actually doing a lot of harm to our planet (with our usual activities).”

Wren hopes it “causes lawmakers to take a second look at the policies they’re putting in place, to make sure they’re sustainable and can benefit the environment no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.”

Kjirstin said that Club members considered striking with many high schools across the globe last Fall, but explained they wanted “to get our point across clearly and calmly, and not aggressive because that would be offsetting to older generations.”

She said, “I see a generational divide in this, where older generations think we’re the ones not staying inside. But we’re allied during this time, and this club is not just about high school – we’re promoting sustainability not just toward our generation – it’s a whole team effort, not just teenagers.”

Wren: “Also, since our community is mostly retired, it’s a way of showing them we’ll help them and we’ll get through this together.”

Kyle: “Even on a small scale, everything is connected. It doesn’t matter how small or how big, every decision made at a time like this, even individually – like what you do towards the environment — can either help it or be a detriment to it.

“We’re all connected!”

End note

Clearly these are capable, inspired young people wanting to help their community. To join their cause, see www.sequimwa.gov/836/Sustainability for ways to celebrate Earth Day’s 50th birthday on Wednesday, April 22, including taking a pledge to protect your health. After all, what’s good for human health is also good for our community and our planet.

Thanks to Wren Fierro-Burdick, Alissa Lofstrom, Kyle DeSumma, Kjirstin Foresman, Bryce Cameron and Logan Laxson for sharing their perspectives for this column; one other club officer, Samuel Frymyer, was not present. A more complete transcription of our conversation may be found on my blog: www.watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

Geek moment

On water: April 9 may be the date at which snow melt started in earnest for 2020. It feels early, but the sunny, dry weather doesn’t bode well for glaciers. By Friday, May 1, we’ll know if there’s still enough snowpack in the mountains to keep our rivers and farms well watered this summer.

For the 2020 Water Year (started Oct. 1, 2019):

• Snow depth at the Dungeness SNOTEL station, elev. 4,010 feet, as of April 12 = 19 inches (70 percent of normal); Snow Water Equivalent = 8.7 inches (167 percent of normal); Number of days temp. stayed below freezing = 13.

• Rain in Sequim at the Sequim 2E weather station (sea level): Total rainfall = 14.5 inches; High temp. = 63 degrees Fahrenheit on Oct. 16; Low= 20 degrees Fahrenheit in Nov.

• River flow at the USGS gage on the Dungeness (Mile 11.2): Highest maximum daily mean = 1,880 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Feb. 1; Low = 98 cfs on Dec. 16. Range for the past month: 150-200 cfs.

• Flow at Bell Creek entering Carrie Blake Park: ~1 cfs; Bell Creek at Washington Harbor: springtime flow generally 3-5 cfs.

Ann Soule is a hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990, now Resource Manager for City of Sequim. Any opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent policies of her employer. Reach Ann at columnists@sequimgazette.com or via her blog at www.watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

Series on hold

Another lecture in the “Story of Water” series focusing on the Dungeness watershed, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clallam County, was originally scheduled for tonight (Wednesday, April 15). Due to the unforeseeable future, the series is currently on hold. Watch the newspaper and Facebook for updates, or email waterstoryclallam@gmail.com to sign up for project announcements.