First Learning Session of WA Climate Assembly

Presenters and Assembly Members of the WA Climate Assembly

On January 16th the WA Climate Assembly held its first of seven Learning Sessions. For three hours, the 80 Assembly Members and anyone who turned into the live stream on YouTube watched dynamic, brilliant presenters speak on a variety of climate change issues as they responded to Gretchen Muller’s question, “How can Washington State equitably design and implement climate mitigation strategies while strengthening communities disproportionately impacted by climate change across the state”.

The six Experts and three Interested Parties shared their passion for managing everything from carbon sequestration, soil health and climate justice to eco-anxiety and climate grief. Assembly Members were asked to listen, ask questions, and submit suggestions.


The first presenter, Preston Hardin, a retired non-tribal employee of the Tulalip Natural Resources Office of Treaty Rights spoke on “Tribal and Indigenous Sovereignty and Climate Change“. Beginning with a Lands Acknowledgement, Hardin explained the importance of this practice, saying, “It’s not just a pro forma statement that you make at the beginning of a speech on somebody’s lands and Tribal culture. When people go onto other people’s lands they are also acknowledging they will respect those peoples and abide by their protocols and their customs.”

Hardin went on to explain that sovereignty is the collective right of peoples and treaties are the supreme law of the land. Tribes are inherent sovereign rights holders and only Congress has the authority to make laws regarding the tribes, not the Judicial or Executive branches of the government. The Federal government also has a duty to protect Tribal sovereign rights. He concluded by noting tribes can be harmed by direct and indirect impacts of climate change.


Georgine Yorgey, from WSU, spoke next on “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Mitigation in WA State (with examples from Agriculture)”. She defined mitigation as “Slowing greenhouse gas emissions and then turning that around to have less warming gasses in our atmosphere”. She explained that while we need carbon to live on earth, we now have an imbalance in our carbon cycle because we have taken what was stored deep in the earth and emitted it into the atmosphere. There are two actions that will help; reducing further emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhancing actions that will pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it elsewhere in our land.

Although WA state has done a GHG inventory, it has limited usefulness because it doesn’t identify the opportunities of where to sequester carbon, and agriculture and forestry are two of the most important ways to contribute to mitigation. In Oregon a consumption based inventory was done and found to be useful. Reducing food waste looks more important when food and beverages consumption were shown to produce the second highest amount of GHG emissions.

Yorgey identified a number of solutions and people who were practicing them in the field of agriculture. These included Ron and Andy Juris in south-central town of Bickleton, WA. They are dry land wheat producers who practice no-till farming, a practice that doesn’t turn over the soil, preventing the usual release of carbon into the atmosphere from traditional farming. They also use a piece of equipment called a stripper header. When they harvest grain, they just strip the grain off and leave the majority of the plant in the field to ensure more carbon returns to the soil.

Another practice is Anaerobic Digestion which is a very well-established technology. This is the process of taking organic waste, such as cow manure, and using a specific set of microbial actors who eat and digest those wastes, thus creating biogas, which is a renewable gas. Efforts around soil health have spanned the political spectrum, so fragmentation is less common than over other climate issues. A review of the WA Soil Health Initiative concluded this presentation.


Ethical Considerations Around Climate Policy and Climate Justice” was the presentation from Shangrila Joshi from The Evergreen State College. Using a review of conversations since 1990, Joshi presented the evolution of different agreements as well as explanations of Climate Justice.

The notion of triple injustice of climate change suggests the infuriating irony that those who have the least responsibility of creating the problem globally, also have the highest vulnerability and the least financial and technological capacity to address the problem.”

–Shangrila Joshi

In Washington state, shared governance between Washington state and Native tribes and nations is another example of taking back the commons and is an example to emulate elsewhere. The importance of this for food security, food sovereignty and ecological sustainability are more broadly seen, such as with the Elwha dam decommissioning project.


Howard Scharfstein and Steve Hollenhorst from Western Washington University presented “Creating a Carbon Conservation Trust Movement” which introduced an opportunity to use the strategies from land trusts and apply them to our relationship with carbon. Adding youth programs for the hands-on physical part would also provide training and education. By starting with a grassroots movement the complications of government would be avoided.

Christi Carey, Phreddie Lane, and Mark Wasche from Extinction Rebellion shared their ideas on Gretchen’s question. They included a video of Mark demonstrating composting to amend the soil.

Cities need to change their coding to allow energy-efficient home and septic systems, gardening, and water catchment, also update codes to include tiny houses with a community garden.


The final presenter, Jennifer Atkinson from the University of Washington discussed “Climate Grief” noting “Eco-anxiety” made the short list for the Oxford Languages Word of the Year. She also introduced the term “Solastalgia” coined by Glenn Albrecht which is “Distress caused by environmental change. It is the pain of watching your surroundings become unfamiliar without ever leaving home”. Facing It, a podcast she made can help one move from despair to action.

All of the presentations can be viewed on YouTube