A Letter to Councilmember Earnest Thompson

Mr. Thompson is a member of the Normandy Park City Council and is well-known for his advocacy of HyperLoop technology. This letter was written in response to a conversation we had regarding Towards A New Normal.

Hi Earnest,

Just following up on our conversation.

First, I look forward to seeing your information on HyperLoop.

Second, the reason I steered our conversation away from HyperLoop per se and more towards sociology is because I think it’s key to not only reducing operations at Sea-Tac Airport, but also to -any- permanent solution (like Hyperloop).

Until you can get people -truly- FED UP with Sea-Tac Airport, you cannot get them to accept an unfamiliar solution like HyperLoop. And as irritating as it sounds, I contend that most of the people who -say- they are about ‘Quiet’ whatever really aren’t serious in the way that people involved in other issues are. And -that-, not any technical or legal or legislative hurdle is the reason we’ve made so little progress.

So if I were -you-, my first goal would be to find out -why- so few people who -say- they are for ‘quiet skies’ and ‘less pollution’ are willing to support my letter. Why aren’t there one thousand ‘Likes’? Seriously, this bit of sociology is -the- most important first step and it’s one of the reasons I wrote the letter.

Think about -any- other activism: Guns, Abortion, Immigration, LGBTQ Rights, Black Lives Matter. No one hedges their bets. (For example, during  the AIDS Crisis, did -anyone- worry about how AIDS research might be ‘expensive’? Hell no. Those activists said clearly, “This thing must stop. Now. Regardless of any other considerations.”)

You don’t find that with airport activists. That is why I am so skeptical of so many of the local ‘Quiet’ groups: there seems to some lack of conviction I do not quite understand. For whatever reason, they seem unwilling to do what is necessary: make reducing noise and pollution their single issue. And I want to know why? Because frankly. no one ever talks about motivations, or why they are so unwilling to fully commit in the way that other issue-activists do. I’ve been asking people for four years now: “What are your goals? What are you willing to do?” And no one seems to -have- specifics other than Port-friendly notions like a ‘Second Airport’ which every expert acknowledges will provide absolutely no relief for -us-. As an engineer, it’s maddening to me to see no planning or proposals among people who claim to be ‘activists’. It indicates a lack of seriousness.

I think politicians recognise that lack of seriousness and respond accordingly. So in a way, I do not blame politicians or the FAA or the Port. They are simply responding not to what people say, but to what they actually -do-. IOW: No one in authority acts not because the problems are so intractable but because the activists themselves are not willing to -make- them–as other issue-activists are willing to do (see above).

My letter stated incontrovertible facts:

1. We -cannot- reduce noise and pollution around Sea-Tac Airport for at least 20 (probably 25) years without reducing the number of flights. There is simply no technology to do so in any meaningful way.

2. The economy of the -airport- communities is -not- dependent on the unconstrained growth of Sea-Tac Airport. Put another way, as the number of flights grow, an increasing percentage of the benefits flows north and east. One can argue what the specific ‘break-even’ point may be, but the overall point -is- undeniable.

Perhaps locals do not believe these facts. That point we may be able to fix with education and we’re working on a presentation. (I will say, though, that I’m slightly skeptical. Having lived in Detroit, I’ve seen first-hand how the notion of ‘The Motor City’ persists in the public consciousness, literally -decades- after leaders tried to convince the public that the economic benefits have left. Some myths die hard.)

And even if they listen to facts, perhaps people (and by ‘people’ I mean the ‘Quiet’ people) do not -really- believe that change is possible. They might complain until the cows come home but down deep think it’s like playing the Lotto. And if that’s the case, we’re sunk.

However I cannot imagine that our -real- challenges are any greater than those faced by -any- of the above movements. And yet, they -all- have been able to make significant social change. So again, the question we have to confront is this: What are -we- lacking that those activists have? Courage? Youth? Time?

Now: The ‘Quiet’ people get mad when you ask these uncomfortable questions. They resent being called out. They will feel like they are being attacked and ‘victim blamed’. But like anyone who isn’t getting where they want to go, at some point one has to come to terms with what is holding -you- back before you can make progress. As any shrink will tell you: If you wanna change the world, ya gotta start by changing yourself.

Finally, there is a real possibility that they just don’t want to hear this from -me-. If so, I would again question everyone’s conviction. Does this mean that success is contingent on some unique combination of charm, political savvy -and- technical acumen? Yeah, good luck with that.

I hope you will ask these questions (hopefully much more diplomatically than I) and I hope you will share your answers with me.

In closing, getting -me- on board with HyperLoop is not yer problem. Again, I believe that it is the ‘activists’ you have to convince. -They- have to decide that they are -truly- fed up with the status quo before they will seriously consider HyperLoop. -They- have to decide that change is possible. Me? I’ve been willing to make a shift to -something- different for years. I have no idea if the answer is HyperLoop, but I know it isn’t Jet-A powered aircraft. And I welcome learning more from you.

So find out what the deal is. I know you didn’t set out to become a sociologist. But believe me, that’s a big part of the job.

I wish you all success, sir.

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