In bad times, an optimist

Trudi Inslee rang up last week, asking if the Review would like an advance copy of Congressman Jay Inslee’s forthcoming book on his vision for a new “clean energy economy.”

Well, of course. So the “Apollo’s Fire” tome proved a brisk weekend read for one of the staff writers, and the fruits of the ensuing interview with the congressman can be found on today’s front page. While the tenor of most forecasts on global warming reports is generally pessimistic – is there a more forlorn image for our times than a puzzled polar bear adrift on a chunk of melting arctic ice? – a pleasantly unexpected quality suffuses Inslee’s work: hope. Grounding his strategies for clean energy development in what is arguably mankind’s greatest achievement, exploration of the moon, the tome is as much a celebration of American ingenuity as a clarion call for investment and change.

It also works in a little political mileage for the party faithful, and nothing we were going to write this week (or probably this year) would be as entertaining as an excerpt from the congressman’s book. Ergo, we relate this passage in which Congressman Inslee recounts a meeting with President Bush at a Democratic House caucus this past February.

After a rousing keynote speech by former president Bill Clinton – he pounded the podium as he called for job creation through the development of new energy technologies – Inslee was called upon by party leaders to address the issues with President Bush in a breakfast meeting the next morning. The appointed hour drew nigh, but by Inslee’s account, the president saw the congressman coming and headed for the door; whether to avoid a harangue or just to hop on his bicycle for a morning workout was unclear.

“Having let him steal my bike and my lunch money years earlier, I pulled no punches this time,” Inslee writes, and proceeded to challenge the president to cap greenhouse gas emissions and pursue clean energy policies on an Apollonian scale. Inslee noted that while eating breakfast that very morning, he and his son had seen a bald eagle flying over the nearby James River; it was there, he said, because the president and Congress of a past generation had “acted on clear scientific evidence to save this majestic bird.” He challenged the president to respond likewise, given the scientific consensus on global climate change.

“I asked for a chance to meet with him on (capping),” Inslee writes, “but he responded by drawing near me and saying, ‘Working that eagle in there was really good. That was really effective,’ followed by the trademark snicker. Whether this president does not understand the magnitude of this threat or simply does not care is unknowable, but either way, our country deserves a response.”

Inslee’s conclusion: “It’s up to all of us.”

Given the magnitude of the global warming challenge, islanders can be heartened to hear our congressman respond with vision rather than resignation. “Apollo’s Fire” offers a jumping-off point for the future.

And as with the quest for the moon, there’s only one direction to go: up.

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