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caption: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during an event at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2019, during an event where he unveiled part of his plan to defeat climate change.
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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during an event at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2019, during an event where he unveiled part of his plan to defeat climate change.
Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Fear and action: Jay Inslee says we need healthy doses of both on climate change

Be afraid. Be very afraid: That’s the message that teen activist Greta Thunberg has delivered on climate change (see the video below).

Washington Governor Jay Inslee embraced climate change in his presidential campaign, but the theme didn’t seem to resonate enough with voters.

News outlets around the country are providing special coverage this week of climate change. KUOW will have stories and interviews on the crisis and what to do about it. #ClimateCoverageNow

KUOW’s Angela King: Do we need more fear?

Jay Inslee: The other thing that Greta has said is that we need action. We don't need just hopes and prayers.

And I think the challenge that we all have is to simultaneously be acutely aware of the incredible catastrophe that is unfolding before us, and at the same time use that as a prod towards movement and taking very aggressive action, as opposed to sort of passivity and getting into a fetal crouch and thinking that we can't do something about this.

But the youth of the world is speaking with a very powerful voice because they speak from a moral standpoint that cannot be denied.

A Pew Research snapshot from earlier this year found that the top five issues among Americans were the economy, health care, education, terrorism and social security. Climate change was second from the bottom. What is it going to take to push climate change higher up that list?

When you think about it, all of the issues you just mentioned are wrapped up with a ribbon … and that's climate change.

In fact over half of Republican voters now are recognizing that we need action on climate change, so there's no reason to accept defeat. This is a nation and a state that has led the world and I believe we can do it again if we have that sense of aggressive optimism that we deserve.

But your message didn't take with voters. Why was that?

In my presidential race I was never able to really introduce myself to enough voters. We did not have the financial resources to become well-known.

But I do believe that the campaign had a really beneficial impact and I think many people have recognized that we move the needle dramatically on climate change and the debate.

You saw the other candidates rushing to embrace this message. Senator Warren certainly embraced my call for regulatory action to require clean energy.

So who's going to get your vote, and are you going to be a single issue voter?

I'm talking to and watching the actions of the candidates. I've talked to probably a half dozen of them. They are now seeking my advice, which I appreciate. I haven’t made an endorsement yet.

You had an ambitious plan to defeat climate change as a presidential candidate. But our state's carbon emissions have gone up during your time as governor. So if you get re-elected, will you go as big on the climate here in Washington as you wanted to go nationally?

Well I have gone as big as possible.

This is not a royal system in the United States. We don't have a king. We have a governor and we have a legislature and a judicial system and I don't control that entire government of the state of Washington.

But I will be very active in this realm and I hope the legislature will join me in some further efforts as well.

What responsibility would you say people like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and other CEOs of our largest employers here in Washington state have to fight climate change?

All of us have a role in this fight. It is one where at any station of life you can be a hero.

Certainly we have business leaders today who are doing some good work. Microsoft has actually imposed an internal price on carbon, which is quite impressive.

I do hope that some of our businesses in the state of Washington become more involved in the public policy debates.

We've done some great things in our state, but we do need to take some additional steps, as you indicated, to drive down our carbon emissions, and that requires some additional legislation and we could use their voices to help us do that.

Amazon employees plan to walk out this Friday and they want the company to become carbon neutral by 2030. So is there anything you would do in your third term as governor if elected to force companies like Amazon to do just that?

We passed four out of the five bills essentially that I suggested in the last session (of the legislature). We have one more to go and that would help decarbonize our transportation system.

That would apply to everyone, including businesses in the state of Washington. And it's the right thing to do because we do have technologies today to essentially get carbon pollution out of our transportation sector.

So I would welcome business leaders helping to pass that bill and I hope we get it done this next session.

This interview has been edited for length.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story. Read the rest of our stories here.