Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Commencement 2014: Thinking About What Sally Jewell Didn’t Say At Whitman College

Commencement 2014, Whitman College
First, a loud shout out to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for a fine commencement address at Whitman College’s commencement this past Sunday. She talked salmon and she talked about and quoted Billy Frank, Jr., who is on his way to an iconic, mythic stature. I just hope the graduates really listened and heard Billy’s words.

She saluted past Whitman graduates from the Class of 1964, who had returned for a 50th reunion, and she looked forward to the time when the Class of 2014 would be returning for its 50th year reunion in 2064.

Heady stuff, commencement addresses. I applauded when Sally urged graduates to tackle the hard, complex issue of climate change both on the big policy level and in their everyday lives. I hoped parents, grandparents and friends also really listened and heard her.

I was coming off a week’s high having learned that President Obama had used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act and designated 500,000 acres of New Mexico public lands as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. [Obama names New Mexico monument, says ‘I’m not finished’]

One parent asked me whether I though anyone was going to show up to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. No one did. I spoke with another parent and we hailed the building momentum for removing dams on our rivers. When we parted, she said she loved the speech and what Sally brought to Interior but just wished she and Obama would come to grips with oil and gas exploration on public lands.

After commencement and the festivities, I didn’t think about what Sally Jewell had said until trying to return to Puget Sound via Interstate 90 on Memorial Day afternoon and sitting and crawling westward in two lanes of vehicle traffic from Ellensburg to near the Snoqualmie Pass summit. I don’t usually drive and sit in rush hour traffic so travel like Monday’s gave me a lot of time to think about the irony of living in the 21st century in our Washington and the United States.

Grandchild is in the back seat amusing herself with a game on the hand-held device connected to the internet. I can look on the WDOT web site to see that the road ahead is bright red, indicating we will be in line for a long, long time. Our families are sitting in three different vehicles crammed full of luggage and household goods cleared out from the graduate’s rental and we’re calling and texting each other about the traffic jam.

Communication-wise, we are traveling at the speed of light. Our petroleum-based technology and infrastructure, however, are still somewhere in the mid-20th Century.

That’s what Sally Jewell didn’t talk about on Sunday. She didn’t tell us that on Monday we’d be returning to Bellingham, Ashland, Corvallis and Bellevue from Walla Walla in a clunky, outmoded fashion that would stand as the real challenge to not only meeting the dangers of climate change but also the decline of America’s competitiveness and productivity.

Build me a way to get around without a car safely, conveniently and economically and I’ll use it. Set up a live and interactive video stream that captures important events like commencements and I’ll log on. Reduce and eliminate the sources of carbon emissions and draw the line at extracting carbon out of the ground and maybe, maybe the Class of 2014 and the grandkid playing on the hand-held in the back seat will be around for the commencement address in Walla Walla in 2064.

--Mike Sato


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. On the Facebook posting of this blog, Al Bergstein commented: "We have the technology to change the situation, from high speed trains, to video streaming solutions avaialble for anyone's laptop. We are the richest country in the world staggering under an inability to execute on anything of any real consequence at the government level. And we are already paying the price."