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Jewell Visits Mount Rainier, Discusses Climate Change At UW Roundtable

"The best classrooms are the ones without walls," said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, standing inside a classroom at the University of Washington, her alma mater, on Tuesday.

The former CEO of Seattle-based REI spent two days at home this week, wrapping up her visit with a roundtable discussion about the president's Climate Action Plan and the local impacts of climate change. 

To illustrate the need to reduce carbon pollution, Jewell visited Mount Rainier National Park and toured areas affected by climate change.

“We snowshoed out to the Nisqually Glacier to an overlook where we could see where the glacier had been receding,” Jewell said.

Most of Mount Rainier’s glaciers are about 20 percent smaller than a century or so ago. A park service scientist showed Jewell pictures of where the Nisqually Glacier had been, compared to where it is today.

“[The goal is] to understand what’s happened to this dynamic mountain and what are the consequences for all of the Puget Sound are, [for the people] that live downstream,” Jewell told experts gathered at the UW. 

According to scientists bolstered by President Obama's policies outlined in his recentState of the Union address, those consequences include not just shrinking snowpack, but also increased flooding that washes out roads and salmon habitat and closes camp grounds.

The secretary convened the UW roundtable to get the big picture. Experts and researchers from all over the Northwest are trying to predict the impacts of climate change and how people can best adapt.

Jewell says going to the parks helps her see some of the smaller answers, too, like letting nature take its course at Mount Rainier and leaving the flood-prone road to Ipset Creek Campground closed.

"Because it has continued to wash out," the secretary said of the campground. "But, as we learned from folks in Mount Rainier, it’s changed the use. So now, they allow biking into that section of the park, and people are still enjoying it. They’re just enjoying it in a way that’s different from what they did before.”

It works for now, but with increased threat of wildfires and tree death looming, part of addressing climate change adaptation is also encouraging different behaviors in cities as well, especially through energy conservation, which is how people can currently have the biggest impact.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to