If, however, fires in the rainforest become the new normal, comments Olympic National Park wildlife biologist Patti Happe, "then we may not have these forests."
A team of international climate change and rainforest experts published a study earlier this year warning that, "without drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and new forest protections, the world's most expansive stretch of temperate rainforests from Alaska to the coast redwoods will experience irreparable losses." In fact, says the study's lead author, Dominick DellaSala, "In the Pacific Northwest... the climate may no longer support rainforest communities."
Speaking of the anthropogenic, on our way back, Finis and I stopped in Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. There we noted a Chevron oil tanker, the massive 904-foot Pegasus Voyager, moored in its harbor on the Salish Sea. It had arrived empty for "topside repair." Today, only a modest number of oil tankers and barges come here for repair, refueling, and other services, but that could change dramatically if Canada's tar sands extraction project really takes off and vast quantities of that particularly carbon-dirty energy product are exported to Asia.
That industry is already fighting to build two new pipelines from Alberta, the source of most of the country's tar sands, to the coast of British Columbia. "Once this invasion of tar sands oil reaches the coast," a Natural Resources Defense Council press release states, "up to 2,000 additional barges and tankers would be needed to carry the crude to Washington and California ports and international markets across the Pacific." All of those barges and tankers would be moving through the Salish Sea and along Washington's coast.
And let's not forget that, in May, Shell Oil moored in Seattle's harbor the Polar Pioneer, one of the two rigs the company plans to use this summer for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Arctic Alaska (a project only recently green-lighted by the Obama administration). In fact, Shell expects to use that harbor as the staging area for its Arctic drilling fleet. The arrival of Polar Pioneer inspired a "kayaktivist" campaign, which received national and international media coverage. It focused on drawing attention to the dangers of drilling in the melting Arctic Ocean, including the significant contribution such new energy extraction projects could make to climate change.
In other words, two of the most potentially climate-destroying fossil-fuel-extraction projects on Earth more or less bookend the burning Olympic Peninsula.
The harbors of Washington, a state that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, have already become a support base for one, and the other will likely join the crowd in the years to come. Washington's residents will gradually become more accustomed to oil rigs and tankers and trains, while its rainforests burn in yet more paradisical fires.
In the meantime, the Olympic Peninsula is still wreathed in smoke, the West is still drought central, and anthropogenic is a word all of us had better learn soon.
Subhankar Banerjee is an internationally exhibited photographer and writer. His most recent book is Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. A TomDispatch regular, he won a 2012 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award. He has been deeply involved with the native tribes of the Arctic in trying to prevent the destruction of Arctic lands and seas.
[Note : The four photos in this post were all taken by Subhankar Banerjee.]
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Copyright 2015 Subhankar Banerjee
(Article changed on July 30, 2015 at 11:58)