Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.
KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

'I just couldn't do it:' The ambassador who quit over climate change | terrestrial

Dave Rank was the interim head of the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Now he's in the process of figuring out who he is after 27 years in the foreign service.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn
Dave Rank was the interim head of the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Now he's in the process of figuring out who he is after 27 years in the foreign service.

When I met Dave Rank, he was just a normal guy on a road trip with his wife in a used Subaru. But not long before that, Dave had a very important job. 

He was the head of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, overseeing hundreds of employees in charge of everything from approving visa requests to supporting ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and China following the Paris Climate Agreement. 

The agreement was a feat of international diplomacy. Countries around the world committed to report how much greenhouse pollution they’re emitting and how they’ll reduce it over time. It took decades to negotiate. Years and years of international meetings, summits and scientific reports. For Dave, a lifelong diplomat, it was deeply inspiring. 

“The issue that really unifies the world — you know, 198 countries agree on — is the threat of climate change. There’s nothing out there that unites the world like the need to take on climate,” he said when I interviewed him for our very first episode of terrestrial season 2. 

terrestrial is KUOW's new podcast on the environment. Each episode explores the choices we make in a world we have changed. Hear all the episodes and subscribe here, or join our Facebook group and talk this stuff out with fellow listeners.

Dave was in the foreign service for 27 years, stationed all over the world – from the tiny island nation of Mauritius to Afghanistan to six postings in China. But that career suddenly came to an end in June. 

Dave heard the news that President Donald Trump was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement from an online news site – not from the White House directly. He knew Trump had promised to scrap the deal while on the campaign trail, but he couldn’t believe that he would actually follow through on that promise. 

“You know, it really hit me — wow, we are honestly, you know, doing this,” Dave remembers. 

“What I said was, ‘I'm not going to have any role in the implementation of this decision, and I'm not going to ask people who work for me to do something that I wouldn't do. So I'm not quitting. But I'm not going to be part of this decision because it is wrong.’” 

Soon after that, Dave found himself out of a job and on a plane home to the U.S. 

What changed for Dave? Why would someone who never thought of himself as a “climate guy” or even an environmentalist choose to take this stand, and sacrifice his career in the process? 

To find out, subscribe to the terrestrial podcast and listen to the full episode.