From deckhand to climate change manager

Alex Adams on bridge of Water Taxi

What Alex Adams saw in the waters of Southeast Alaska, and closer to home in Elliott Bay, impressed upon him the urgency of confronting climate change.

“It became clear to me that globally, we’re in deep trouble, and we need to work collectively to change the course we’re on to ensure our oceans continue to host a diversity of species, and to ensure people on land are able to lead productive, happy, and healthy lives. The direction in which we’re headed is putting those things in jeopardy.”

Adams was recently named Climate Change and Energy Program Manager in the King County DOT Director’s Office, where he will coordinate all of DOT’s work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, increase the efficiency of our buildings, and prepare for the impacts that a changing climate will have on our transportation services and operations.

Christening ceremony for the new Sally Fox Water Taxi. 3/28/2015

Alex worked as a deckhand and a relief captain aboard the Sally Fox and other Water Taxi vessels for five years. 
(Ned Ahrens, King County)

Adams went to school in New England, and taught sailing up and down the East Coast on tall ships, but it was while traveling through Seattle en route to summers as a hiking and fly fishing guide in Alaska that he first fell in love with the environmental ethic of our region. He stayed to earn a Masters of Marine Affairs degree at the UW, with a focus on climate change policy and marine technology.

While still in graduate school in 2010, Adams was one of the first hires for the King County Water Taxi—first as a deckhand and then as a relief captain. Over his five years in the Marine Division, he worked on every boat on both the West Seattle and Vashon routes. “I recognize almost everyone who rides those boats,” he says. “I think of many of them as friends.”

Now, as climate change manager, Adams works with all the divisions in DOT to advance the King County Strategic Climate Action Plan – in particular to analyze fuel use and emissions, leverage grant funding to advance climate change priorities, and coordinate resource efficiency projects in our buildings and facilities. For Metro Transit, this means working with groups to evaluate lower-carbon alternative fuels, advance the use of electric vehicles, and support the purchase of all-electric battery buses — the next step towards the goal of a zero-emissions fleet.

For Roads and the Airport, Adams works to leverage funding opportunities and County resources to achieve building and vehicle efficiencies, support decision-making, and coordinate training. Adams also works closely with Fleet Administration to identify and evaluate new technologies that reduce fuel use, especially now that so many electric vehicles have a much greater driving range.

vesselmaint002For the Marine Division, Adams established an employee “Green Team” that comes up with ideas to save energy at our Pier 48 maintenance barge and on the Water Taxis. In the maintenance shop, the Green Team is installing programmable thermostats in offices and storage spaces, LED lights, and a new heating system which reduces energy use and improves comfort on cold winter days.

Our new Water Taxi vessels, the Sally Fox and the Doc Maynard, have the cleanest engine technology available, and thanks in part to Adams’ help, use Ultra-Low Sulfur diesel blended with 20-percent biodiesel. The Marine Division’s biodiesel is special since it comes from used cooking oil and waste grease collected from over 10,000 restaurants in Washington and Oregon. Since the biodiesel is locally sourced, there are fewer emissions generated from transporting the fuel from its source to the boats. The biodiesel reduces the amount of fossil fuels used by the boats, is a non-toxic petroleum alternative, and supports growth of a cleaner fuel economy in our region.

Adams also works closely with the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C) where he coordinates grant funding opportunities and shares strategies to help cities achieve their climate change commitments.

“My understanding of science and policy, and my ability to communicate complicated issues to a wide variety of audiences, is key to helping DOT confront climate change. This is an issue that affects us all,” he says.