Commentary: Climate Talks Hit Home for Rural, Coastal Communities

The health of the ocean and its coastlines are a constant topic of conversation in rural seaside communities. These regions have a lot at stake in this week’s climate negotiations.

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I am the owner of several coastal hotels and a restaurant, living the dream in rural Long Beach, Washington. Why would I be closely tracking what is happening a half of a world away in Madrid, Spain, at the UN climate talks currently underway?

While you still won’t hear many people in my restaurant’s bar talking about 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide and the “climate tipping point,” concern is growing about rising seas, warming seas, and acidifying seas as we are getting a glimpse of the future, right here and now. The talk in my Long Beach hotel’s lobby can focus on weather – how someone is preparing for road closures from an unusually harsh winter storm or whether a beautiful section of beach outside our doorstep is in danger of washing away. Or I’ll overhear a comment about the oysters on the menu in my restaurant and shellfish growers’ worries about ocean acidification. If you order fish off my menu, it might even prompt a conversation about the most recent odd sighting of a marine species that really shouldn’t be making an appearance in our coastal waters.

We here on the Washington coast love the sea. From the mouth of the Columbia to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the ocean supports us. And that is why I, as a small business owner and a lifelong resident of southwest Washington, want a can-do U.S. presence in the international climate negotiations. Our federal government is failing our country’s rural, coastal communities by failing to act on climate.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s energy policies pose a very real threat for rural, coastal communities like mine here in southwestern Washington, where our economy is closely tied to a healthy ocean.

Back in 2010, we watched in horror as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico devastated community after Gulf community. Given my life and investments near the coast, this hit close to home for me. It has always been my hope, even assumption, that our beloved U.S. coasts were somehow immune from this kind of problem.

Climate-friendly, clean energy policies help us adapt to threats like rising sea levels, more common extreme weather and storm surges that will literally undermine our homes, roads and coastal infrastructure. Backward-looking energy policies – like the federal offshore drilling proposal and foot-dragging on climate – carry nothing but risks for coastal businesses and communities.

Tiffany Turner

At this year’s so-called “Blue Ocean COP” (Conference of the Parties) there will be an effort to lift ocean health to the top of the climate agenda. So, when I see the international climate negotiations on the news, I think, yes, this matters for my home in Long Beach, Washington. Picture a salmon fishing boat, picture a restaurant or a hotel catering to tourists, picture someone’s retirement home on the coast.

The outcome of those negotiations has everything to do with the future viability of my businesses and our rural communities which depend on a healthy ocean, a healthy environment and a healthy climate.

Will the U.S. government listen to the needs of our rural communities, already struggling economically, and deliver a climate plan that can protect us from the worst effects of climate change?

Tiffany Turner is a lifelong rural resident and owner of Adrift Hospitality, a collection of beach hotels and a restaurant in Long Beach, Washington, and Seaside, Oregon.

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