There is no greater failure than the failure to respond to this ecological crisis. We need a wartime-speed mobilization and a just transition to race to zero greenhouse gas emission and to take carbon out of the atmosphere in order to restore a safe climate. We are called to heroism in this hour of grave consequences. We still have an opportunity to fight for all humanity and all life on Earth to avert the worst of the disaster as it is still technically and economically possible.
— Bill Kucha, founder of 350 Oregon Central Coast
Sometimes being a journalist and fiction writer puts me in a compelling world of everyone else’s narratives and predicaments. Small towns, flyover states, even countries like Mexico and Vietnam where the average Western reader holds some bizarre beliefs about the places and the people. The universal truths, though, abound, especially in small towns. I have a deep well of respect for people I just meet but get to know deftly, and this idea that small towns have small town thinkers is balderdash.
These people I meet on my journey keep me going on, even though I know we are cooked as a society (planet), as well as all modern cultures, because of the convalescing power of 7.8 billion people on earth ravaging, pillaging and trashing the planet in a race for more, more, more incubated in and encouraged by the insanity of religions and economic systems that have cemented the me-myself-and-I egocentricity into each generation, here and now and into those yet born.
I’m in Otis, Oregon, a spit of a town near Lincoln City in the county of the same name, along the Central Coast of Oregon, a most gorgeous and biodynamic place. So breathtaking that these towns of Newport, Depoe Bay, Yachats and Lincoln City are magnets for those dreaded invasives called California Erectus.
Last week (Jan. 14-19) I ended up at a nighttime lecture series at a small community college, Oregon Coast CC, for a lecture by two divergent characters, Bill Kucha, an artist and environmental activist strumming his folk guitar and slide-projecting some of his canvas art, and then first with Evan Hayduk, restoration specialist with the Midcoast Watersheds Council.
Hayduk had his Power Point all warmed up to tell the 50-plus attendees the challenges to this central coast with inundation from melting waters caused by global warming. This lecture was wonky and science driven, a good way to contrast a science team’s work through the auspices of a non-profit environmental group, and the work of the artist, Bill, who had been a teacher at the small community college since 1976.
The entire suite of issues surrounding the impacts of climate change/warming are interesting for many of us who like to drill down into ecosystems challenges/forces/impacts generated by humans as we utilize some heady (and indigenous people’s) systems thinking approaches to figuring just how quickly and messily the impending distruptions to civilization and natural systems will face us down.
Tidal wetlands were part of the main course in this scientific evening, and Hayduk and his small team have looked at the sea level rise (SLR) predictions as they will play out in some of Oregon’s 23 central coast estuaries. These are unique ecosystems that provide so much for humanity, to include the beauty of the varied and strangely adapted flora and fauna, but also the water filtering and tidal surge buffering benefits for all living things.
Evan made it clear early on that two-thirds of shrub and forested marshes have been lost due to human development – farms, homes, roads, industries and logging. The fight – if it is even a legit tussle – is to work on what will happen to the tidal Sitka spruce and forested swamps over the course of 150 years, where the projected (very conservative) sea level rise will be eleven and a half feet (11.5 feet) by 2060 (why the climate scientists always feed us conservative projections I still do not fathom).
These swamps in the estuary life zone are vital to the nursery environment of protected waterways for Chinook, chum, and Coho salmon as well as for sole, anchovy and shellfish when they are vulnerable small fry. Imagine, plowing-over and diking-away these truly amazing ecosystems that are positive carbon sinks, help reduce flooding from storm surges, and provide filtered water from creeks and rivers coming to the sea from higher up and deep in the Oregon Central coast highlands and mountains.
The crowd was compliant and attentive, and again, after more than 40 years in the trenches around conservation-environmental activism and all the other aspects of my life galvanized to social justice, restorative justice, poverty, policing, education and imperialism, I get a déjà vu from the same good people and well-intended projects mired in the cesspool that is corporate control of all ecosystems, all urban and rural planning opportunities, and all of our citizen rights to health, happiness, and safety.
Preaching to the choir is one term people use, and this night it was the choir that was hopeful that some good and dramatic change might occur through the work of guys like Hayduk and the artistic philosophy of Bill Kucha.
The proposal was clear: strategic planning and working with shutting down the harvesting and clear cutting of forests owned by private entities (40% of Oregon forests are held privately). Evan repeated that 35 percent of Oregon’s carbon emissions come about because of the poor forest practices of the state’s mostly evergreen woods.
Carbon released into the atmosphere, and its relationship to melting ice and larger ocean waves and more turgid, unpredictable weather systems is rock hard in the evidentiary trail, even given how ignorant politicians are around the entire climate change issue. It seems baby steps are for this existential crisis, however, here on the Oregon Coast, the Oregon State marine sciences wonks have been studying the Newport line, a geographic pathway from Newport out into the ocean, now going on sixty years. The work is a concerted study of ocean acidification, dead zones (oxygen-free sections of the ocean bottom), parasitic and deadly algae blooms and the amount of non-point pollution coming off roads, industries, clear cuts and agriculture. From an article written Feb. 2018, the reporter is detailing the great work and early beginnings of this Newport Line:
The existence of the Newport Line was critical in bringing to the region the most sophisticated, extensive system of ocean monitoring ever developed. In 2014, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a massive federally funded ocean monitoring program, followed the Newport Line to deploy a section of the Endurance Array, a network of moored buoys, cables and gliders that collects colossal amounts of data.
OOI monitoring data have documented the increasing occurrence and severity of bottom hypoxia (low oxygen) along the Oregon coast in the summertime. Other measurements are now contributing to our understanding of ocean acidification, a result of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Newport Line data helped scientists to identify the “warm blob” of ocean water that lingered off the Oregon coast from 2014 to 2016, wreaking havoc with oceanic food webs.
As oceanographer Angel White jokes, “What do they say about time series? Never start one and never end one.” Some climate phenomena cycle on the scale of decades, so even the Newport Line’s 56-year record might only capture a single cycle.
Regular monitoring is generally regarded as the job of government, not universities, so many local oceanographers feel that NOAA and other agencies should foot most of the bill. White and other scientists who rely on Newport Line data recently submitted a letter to potential funding agencies encouraging continued support. The Newport Line has served as a foundation for studying the impacts of climate variability and ecosystem response … the length and consistency of the Newport time series provide a powerful context for studying ecosystem impacts from unpredictable changes of the ocean and climate variability, they wrote.
I used to teach hundreds of students a year for decades as a community, university and alternative school teacher, and my English classes were always steeped in the issues of the day, and those that are affecting youth when they turn middle aged and old. The planet was always a big part of the courses, and like it or not, so was history and politics. The number of students coming to my college classes who were shocked by the knowledge base of an English prof around technology, science, and engineering was always high. Many students learned for the first time not just what the voices of the people’s history of the United States are (Howard Zinn, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz) but also the voices of Rachel Carson, John Lilly, Lois Gibbs, Tim DeChristopher, Winona LaDuke, et al.
Clearly, PK12 is failing these youth, and their lack of understanding of basic systems – natural, ecological, geophysical, etc. – is not just sad but dangerous. That’s not to say political insipid’s like Reagan or Sen. Inhofe and the heads of Shell, Exxon and PB are any better off intellectually.
At this OCCC lecture (the 32nd in a run of presentations), an on-going series since 1993 called the Williams Lecture series after former professor at OSU and OCCC and a noted revisionist historian, William Appleman Williams, Bill Kucha let the audience know that the Newport City Council, under the auspices of Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, just signed on Nov. 5, 2018 a “proclamation recognizing climate change awareness.”
We shifted to some folk songs and environmental ecosophy by Bill, who was citing Paul Hawken’s latest book, Drawdown—The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.
Bill also walked the audience through the current battle to reshape the narrative on climate catastrophe and paradigm shift away from fossil non-renewable energy. He talked deeply about Oregon’s “100 by 50” proposal of having the state on 100 % renewable energy by 2050. He talked about Our Children’s Trust, groups of youth around the country (but started in Eugene) taking the on the US government by going to federal court to sue them for the irreparable damage done to their futures by their policies at the behest of the fossil fuel giants.
There was talk about the Buddhist philosophy around not arousing “hungry ghosts” and “learning how to become awake” in this big time of change and one where we all are seeing things being destroyed, which for Bill gives us the purpose now of “being a bridge for change. . . . We are the first generation to face climate change and the last one that can fix it.”
There were moments where Bill got choked up, looking at the ways young people might be able to plug into this crisis moment. He talked a lot about finding joy in the world.
Interestingly, the Capitalist world, especially in predatory consumeristic capitalism, the “hungry ghosts” are corporations using propaganda, war on nations, and violence turned on their own people and land to accomplish the ungodly desire of wealth accumulation and unending resource exploitation at any cost.
I might have justified my 60-mile round trip in my 19-year-old three-cylinder Chevy Metro to get to the talk as a necessary journey of enlightenment, both mine and any readers reading this piece, but in reality, I am a male of white privilege, with a vehicle and a place to call home in a country that has invaded other countries and supports the largest war machine ever seen by humankind with millions of deaths since 1945 by direct and indirect soft warfare or direct overt wars. I faced gale force winds and monsoon downpours to get there, but no rain of terror by US-made bombers or drones dropping Hell-fires missiles around me.
There is a luxury embedded in talking about a New Green Deal, carbon taxing and decrying regular poor people for flying in jets to see loved ones or go to Disneyland, when one is living in a country that sells trillions a year in war equipment, bullets and bombs in the name of “never negotiating our lifestyle and exceptionist mentality to anyone or anything.”
I remember giving food offerings to the hungry ghosts at Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam, called Vu Lan day or month. Don’t upset those departed, these living spirits, or else bad luck befalls you, that’s what the scientists from Hanoi joked about, but sort of believed, too.
“Hungry ghost” is one of the six modes of existence (Six Realms). Hungry ghosts are pitiable creatures with huge, empty stomachs. They have pinhole mouths, and their necks are so thin they cannot swallow, so they remain hungry. Beings are reborn as hungry ghosts because of their greed, envy and jealousy. Hungry ghosts are also associated with addiction, obsession, and compulsion.
Guys like Bill have a deep line of hope and look toward times past when many saw the world thousands of years ago as centered around a gift economy, one where commodities were not utilized in trade or daily work was not slave wage labor.
He sees this time of the Anthropocene as hope rising, and he thinks today we have a new face of humanity emerging, one that is “not egocentric, is willing to make contact with nature, and is willing to pray and ask for forgiveness.”
The audience listened to his songs, and looked at his haunting images. What the audience left with from both Evan and Bill is the bearing witness of all these calamities calls for action; and Bill emphasized the very idea of this great turning occurring now – a time unfolding where we are learning what it means to be human and how to ask for forgiveness by being healing, caring and heartfelt.
This shift of consciousness around sustainability is featured in Joanna Macy’s film, The Great Turning. Here is the basic expression Bill was all jazzed up about at the lecture:
In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.
Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way. [source]
Hope is an interesting thing, and I align myself mostly with the Beyond Hope under girder in Derrick Jensen’s essay of the same title:
Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.
To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ’50s and ’60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.
Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? If only we get a Democrat in the White House, things will be okay. If only we pass this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. If only we defeat this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. Nonsense. Things will not be okay. They are already not okay, and they’re getting worse. Rapidly.
My point of going to the lecture and reporting on it and discussing it deeply is not to rain on anyone’s parade, especially those who have the gumption to study the problem and face the challenges of tackling it personally, collectively, politically, economically and spiritually.
But the forces of evil and the force of big energy are grotesque and powerful. Just here on the coast, in Coos Bay, the proposed Canadian fracked gas pipeline terminal at Jordan Cove coming from Canada, Wyoming, Colorado and other states to bring in fracked gas. Over 400 streams and creeks will be crossed, and in Oregon, 230 miles of clear-cut forests (two football fields wide) will take the pipeline which will have 70 percent fracked gas from Canada and 30 percent from Rocky Mountain states from Malin in the southwest part of the state to Coos Bay on the Oregon coast.
The American and capitalist calculus– jobs over safety, income over community health, paychecks over the rights of nature – is a tough formula to beat in a society that is addicted to oil and expects oil prices to be low (compared to Turkey and Eritrea at $10 a gallon!).
What is the Jordan Cove LNG Project?
- 230 miles, 36 in diameter, Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline
- Jordan Cove Project is owned by Veresen, a Canadian Company
- Using all Russian Steel to construct the pipeline
- Will run through 400 streams and waterways including underneath the Klamath River, Rogue River, and Coos Bay
- First fracked Gas Export Terminal on the west coast-Located at Coos Bay, Oregon
- 4 billion dollar project so it’s twice the size of the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline)
- All of the natural gas being exported will be sold to companies in Asia, Japan already having an agreement with Jordan Cove
Why should we care?
- Pipeline would run through traditional tribal lands and burial sites of the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk, Modoc and Klamath Tribes of Northern California and Southern Oregon
- “We live on 10,000-year-old ancestral land along the Trinity River, which is a tributary of the Klamath River. What effects the Klamath affects us.” -Thomas Joseph- Hoopa
- 80 miles of old growth forest will have to be clear cut for the pipeline
- 8 of those acres are home to endangered spotted owls
- 300 landowners will have the pipeline running through their property with the use of eminent domain
- Pipeline comes as close as 200 ft from the front door of some of these residents
- A “leak” with a LNG pipeline would be an explosion with a 600 ft blast radius
- on both sides of the pipeline has to be cleared to ensure that a wildfire won’t heat up the pipe
- Several miles of the pipeline will run through recent wildfire areas
- It is estimated that 2 tankers per week would be needed to maintain the LNG in the pipeline
- Tankers would be crossing frequent migration areas of up to 7 species of endangered whales, including the Grey Whale in their route to and from Japan
- This will spike the level of ship strikes in the whale population [ source]
For Bill and his 350.org Oregon and for Evan who is looking at the effects of sea level rise coming into estuaries, the thought of that methane coming through Oregon is not a happy one. Then, add to that the transfer of that fracked energy into carbon pollution, plus the amount of electricity needed to bring the fracked gas down to minus-260 degrees (Jordan Cove would by the largest user of electricity in Oregon), and we have the quintessential dilemma facing a capitalist world of transnational money, transnational consolidated power in the hands of the .01 percent versus the loss of wildlands, forests, species and even individual land owners’ property.
The Lakota Sioux prophecy states there will be a big black snake (pipeline) that will come to the land and bring destruction to the people and the earth. That big black snake for Oregon is the Jordan Cove pipeline.
Our power comes from our ancestors standing behind us, holding us up to have the strength to face anything. As tribal people, we know that possession of the earth is not an actual thing, so we are using our power to protect the earth and water from the abuse and destruction of greedy corporations. Our stewardship of the earth has been passed down to us from thousands of generations that have done the same.
My little Inupiaq heart is both constricted and expanded for my brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. And I can feel in my bones that the voice of our people will be heard, and every American will join us in protecting the earth for generations to come, by defeating corporate greed and killing the black snake before it ever takes a breath.
— Tara Dowd, an enrolled Inupiaq Eskimo, was born into poverty and now owns a diversity consulting business. She is an advocate for systemic equity and sees justice as a force that makes communities better. [ Inlander]