The Burning Question | KUOW News and Information

The Burning Question

Seattle leaders have been making a big promise for more than 15 years: that our city will lead the nation in fighting climate change. And yet, Seattle is polluting as much as it was 25 years ago. What went wrong? How can we do better? Explore the stories in our new series, The Burning Question, below.

Meet our reporting team: David Hyde, Amy Radil, John Ryan. Editor: Gil Aegerter.

Ways to Connect

Traffic on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle.
Flickr Photo/Oran Viriyincy (CC-BY-NC-ND)/http://bit.ly/1irsJLd

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has unveiled a dozen initiatives aimed at tackling the city's persistent carbon problem. Congestion pricing, also known as tolls, tops the list.

KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

When it comes to climate change, a small number of us have disproportionate impact. That’s especially true when it comes to air travel, since most humans have never set foot on a plane. 


Amazon employee Andrea Neri stacks boxes in the back of a delivery truck on the ship dock at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle's impact on the climate in recent years could be a lot worse than the city acknowledges.

A new report from C40, a global coalition of large cities including Seattle, says the cities' greenhouse gas emissions are 60 percent higher than previously reported.

Traffic in downtown Seattle is shown on Monday, July 17, 2017, from Rizal Park.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Apples over mangoes. Veggies over steak. Shorter showers and less driving alone. Those are some of the ways Seattle residents say they’re changing their habits as they compete to reduce their carbon footprints as part of the Taming Bigfoot competition.

Jars filled with the garbage that Deb Seymour has accumulated over each month of 2017 are shown at her home on Wednesday, December 20, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Deb Seymour remembers the moment she realized we’re in big trouble.

It was 1970-something, and she was around six years old. Twice a week she would climb behind the couch in her San Francisco home and watch the garbage trucks pull up to collect everything her family had thrown in the trash.

Courtesy of 350 Seattle/Alexandra Blakely

Thirteen kids are suing the state of Washington and its governor to protect their generation from climate change.

The plaintiffs range in age from 7 to 17.


It's not clear how many trees on private property in Seattle have been cut down for development projects.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Tree advocates say if Seattle wants to do a better job counting and preserving trees, it should follow the lead of its suburbs.

In "The Burning Question," KUOW takes a close look at Seattle’s goal of carbon neutrality and what it would take to get there. It turns out a lot of those solutions are right around us.

So, what would it be like to wake up in a Seattle that’s really on track to be carbon neutral? Here are seven snapshots of what success might look like. 

kids drawings
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Compost-pooping robot dog! Smog-cleaning penguins! Treehouses! Wikes (wind + bikes)!!! 

Those are just a few of the fantastic and whimsical ideas submitted to our drawing contest that asked kids to imagine one way Seattle can save energy.

Pedestrians cross the street at Amazon headquarters in Seattle in September.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Carbon emissions by the tech giants that dominate cloud computing are surging, even as companies like Amazon and Microsoft take steps to tame their climate impact.

The Seattle-area competitors — two of the nation’s largest electricity consumers — take different approaches to their clouds' carbon problems. One favors sunshine; the other, secrecy. Internal documents obtained by KUOW break through that secrecy.

Seattle folk singer and restaurateur Ivar Haglund
Courtesy of Ivar’s

Kim Malcolm gets advice from KUOW reporter David Hyde on what seafood to order to lower your carbon footprint as a part of our series "The Burning Question: What would a climate friendly Seattle actually look like?" 

Seafood is displayed at Pike Place Fish Market on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, at Pike Place in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

You’ve got a hankering for seafood, but you’re worried about climate change. What should you eat?


Poet Melinda Mueller
KUOW Photos / Gil Aegerter

What will it take for Seattle to become climate-friendly?  That's The Burning Question this month on KUOW.

In this interview, reporter David Hyde put the question to Melinda Mueller, a Seattle high school biology teacher and a poet, and the author of "The After," a book of poems that imagines the world after humans have gone extinct. 

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Mt. Rainier
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Business at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been booming, and so has its carbon pollution. Airport officials say they can eliminate the climate-wrecking emissions without limiting the airport’s rapidly growing business.

But whether the wonder of air travel can be divorced from the global harm it does — let alone any time soon — is far from clear.


Ash Grove Cement Company is shown on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Yet another building with 400 offices, first-floor retail space, and underground parking is going up in Seattle’s South Lake Union.

One of the primary ingredients for the building is concrete. As each concrete truck empties its contents into the site, a new one pulls up: that’s a truckload of concrete every five minutes.

Pedestrians cross Pike Street in front of the Convention Center on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

You might think that before a massive project like the convention center expansion is approved, Seattle would decide how the city’s ambitious climate change goals might be affected.

You’d be wrong.


There are around 12,000 paid on-street spaces in Seattle (that does not include private parking) .
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Make no mistake: The rising cost and declining amount of on-street parking downtown are part of a much bigger plan to reduce Seattle's carbon footprint.

Parade-goers carry a blow-up planet Earth while marching in the Fremont Solstice Parade.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

OK, you’re a climate warrior: You take the bus, downtown or to California. You eat vegan.

But do you have to be so insufferable about it?

Some people don’t have all of the options that you do.

Nesib CB Shamah drives his Model S Tesla on Monday, December 11, 2017, near his home in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Nesib CB Shamah hits the “gas,” and I’m slammed back into my seat by the brute acceleration. It’s a Tesla Model S, and it’s a glimpse of Seattle’s future — if the Emerald City is really serious about climate change.

Shamah’s an independent filmmaker who lives in North Ballard. He likes sports cars, but that’s not why he got one.


“This is a drawing of a bus that runs on electricity. More people will take the bus.”
Tala, Age 6

Hey parents, families or teachers! Do your kids like to draw? 

Invite them to enter KUOW’s climate-friendly drawing contest. Winners will take home prizes and may have a chance to discuss their ideas on air!

The contest is part of our series on climate change, The Burning Question.

sea levels seattle
Seattle.gov

Jack Block Park seems like an unlikely leisure spot, tucked among railroad tracks and Port of Seattle cranes. But it also provides a panoramic view of West Seattle, downtown and Harbor Island.

In maps created by Seattle Public Utilities, parts of Jack Block Park in West Seattle are colored red. Those are the areas that meteorologist and mapmaker James Rufo-Hill said could someday be underwater as sea levels rise due to climate change.


Ely Thomas, 7, runs from water spilling over a set of stairs that normally lead to the beach during a King Tide at Alki Beach Park on Friday, January 5, 2018, in West Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tom and Marie Cawrse live on the far east side of Port Townsend, on the northeast point of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, right on the beach. 

Since their house was built three decades ago, ice caps have been melting and the ocean's been expanding as it warms up.


Smoke from an approaching wildfire looms over a home near Twisp, Wash., Aug. 19, 2015.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Kim Malcolm talks with Dr. Philip Mote about how climate change is changing Washington state. Mote is director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. Previously, he was the Washington State Climatologist.

To get to zero carbon emissions by 2050, Seattle would have to make dramatic cuts, starting now.
KUOW Illustration by nope.ltd

For more than 15 years, leaders of the Emerald City have been promising that Seattle will lead the nation in fighting climate change.

But the lofty words have been matched by continuing clouds of carbon emissions: Seattle dumps as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the sky today as it did 25 years ago.


KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

More electric vehicles. More charging stations. More transit. Congestion pricing for cars. Funds for affordable housing. And lobbying for a statewide carbon tax. Those are just some of the ideas Mayor Jenny Durkan and her supporters are considering to help Seattle meet ambitious carbon-emissions goals.