Editor’s Note: Climate of Responsibility

Seattle takes the lead on environmental stewardship

By Rob Smith

Seattle Magazine executive editor, Rob Smith

August 11, 2022

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Jeffrey Linn draws maps. Sloan Ritchie constructs buildings. Heather Trim influences policy.

They have more in common than you might think.

All have made environmental stewardship and responsibility their life’s work. They approach that mission in vastly different ways, but all are after the same thing: a just, equitable and sustainable future that emphasizes responsibility toward the planet in the midst of a global climate crisis.

The facts are not pretty. According to environmental news platform Earth.org – citing various sources – CO2 is at its highest in 2 million years, causing global temperatures to rise at an alarming rate. The last decade was the hottest in 125,000 years As temperatures increase, the Earth is losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Air pollution alone kills more than 9 million people annually.

Closer to home, Linn, a cartographer who creates maps of rising sea levels (see story on page XX) has uncovered a sobering fact: The rise in sea levels could overwhelm the industrial Duwamish River Valley in south Seattle before the end of this century.

Ritchie is also keenly aware of the environment. He goes beyond “green” or “sustainable” building and specializes in passive houses, or buildings that require little energy for heating or cooling. Trim, who has spent a life advocating to reduce waste – including helping ban plastic bags and Styrofoam service products – untangles the myths surrounding recycling and offers tips on how individuals can reduce their own carbon footprints in their daily lives.

Google “climate crisis” and headlines warn of impending doom. But the future, nonetheless, is bright, especially here in the Seattle area, thanks in no small part to the Seattle Aquarium. The massive renovation of Seattle’s waterfront includes the Ocean Pavilion, new space for the aquarium to highlight the changing oceans of the world. The pavilion, which has been called “the crown jewel” of the makeover, will even feature a 350,000-gallon shark tank.

Unbeknownst to many, the aquarium has influenced generations of students to become stewards of the environment. Consider Noah Chesin, Isha Sangani and Anja Malawai Brandon. 

Chesin began volunteering at the aquarium as a teenager back in 1998. He is now associate director of the New York Seascape Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium. Malawai Brandon says a class trip to the aquarium 15 years ago ignited her passion to fight the growing problem of plastic waste pollution. She is now a plastics policy analyst at the Ocean Conservancy.

Sangani, a student at Harvard University, recently cofounded Earth Strategy, a youth-led, climate advocacy organization. She spent more than 600 hours volunteering at the aquarium while in high school. She says she wants to “help heal the ocean” and combat climate change.

As Linn points out, climate change is insidious. It just kind of sneaks up on you.

Yet, as this issue of “Seattle” magazine attests, the region is once again leading the way on a topic that will increasingly continue to impact human health and the very future of this planet.

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