Category Archives: Logging

Diary of a Smoke Refugee

As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

It’s been quite a week here in Oregon. I know there are plenty of other horrors happening in the world. The invisible ones are the worst. Like tens of millions of children in the US going to bed hungry every night in recent weeks, or the tap water in Flint and Gaza continuing to be undrinkable, or the many people every night in Yemen and India dying alone at home of disease, knowing it’s pointless to go to a hospital that has no medicine and no equipment. The visible horrors are more dramatic, more newsworthy, and also deadly for some, devastating for many – Sudan and Alabama underwater. Siberia, California, and Oregon on fire.

The fires here in Oregon have further exposed the deep divisions in this society, as have all the other previous or ongoing catastrophes, from the 2008 financial crisis to the current global pandemic. They have also further exposed a government that, at every level – federal, state, county, and municipal – is deeply entwined with both corruption and incompetence. To be clear, I say this not to disparage the heroic efforts of firefighters and others in the course of this ongoing tragedy. As with the one thousand medical workers who have lost their lives in the course of their efforts to respond to the Covid-19 crisis in the US, the firefighters and others on the ground doing all kinds of mutual aid also suffer the consequences of corruption and incompetence higher up, for which they are by no means responsible.

Putting the broader current reality into some bit of context:

Huge swaths of the western US are made up of land that is controlled by the federal government, either by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. The job of the Forest Service is to make the forests available for corporations to profit from logging it all, and then they use federal tax money afterwards to deal with the resultant erosion, mudslides, mercury poisoning, and destructive fires that result. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes federal land available for corporations to drill for oil and mine for coal, uranium and other things.

While old-growth forests also burn, the forests aren’t destroyed by them – on the contrary, they need fire to prosper. But over a century of reckless logging practices throughout the region and beyond has resulted in a patchwork of tree farms, which are very vulnerable to being completely destroyed by fire.

The land that’s not controlled by federal agencies is controlled by more local authorities, and, of course, much of it is privately owned. Real estate investment, speculation, and development are a huge part of the country’s economy, along with property management. In the same way that the main job of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is to facilitate the exploitation of the land and forests by private corporations, the main job of local government authorities, it seems, is to facilitate real estate transactions.

After decades of government dis-investment in housing and the ongoing deregulation of the housing market, coupled with successful corporate-led campaigns to ban the practice of rent control in 48 out of 50 states, including Oregon, housing has become increasingly unaffordable in cities across the country, very much including all the major urban hubs of the west coast. The unaffordability of housing has resulted in people moving ever further from the urban centers, into areas that were undeveloped, as they say, until recently. First Portlanders unable to stay in their city were moving to Gresham and Oregon City. Then they were moving further out, to Molalla and Estacada, once the idea of the commute taking over an hour became a concept people were ready to swallow, if it meant the possibility of being able to afford decent housing.

Putting the past two weeks into the context of more recent events:

Since the videotaped murder of George Floyd by clearly sadistic police in Minneapolis on May 25th, Portland has been one of many cities across the US and the world where people have been protesting in one form or another, usually in multiple parts of the city at the same time, every day, against police brutality and racism, and increasingly around related issues that disproportionately impact the poor and people of color, such as access in this society to things like housing, health care, and, increasingly, food.

The protest movement here in Portland involves people from all walks of life, of all ages, from all the various racialized groups, genders, etc. The protests have been continuously met with massive police brutality. As time goes on, people are becoming more and more organized, with different networks becoming well established, taking on crucial responsibilities such as providing protesters with food, water, and medical care. Other groups take on the responsibility of making sure there’s a clear barrier around the gatherings, to make it harder for people to drive into the ranks of those assembled with motor vehicles. Others try to provide some semblance of security, keeping a lookout for suspicious characters laden with assault rifles and American flags, such as the member of Patriot Prayer who was killed in the course of the extremely tense atmosphere of the violent Trump Cruise that came to Portland on August 29th, during which time the police largely absented themselves, and allowed uncontrolled combat between fascists and antifascists to take place in the streets of the city. Michael Reinoehl was involved with doing security at the protests, and had been for a long time. Five days later, unmarked police vehicles pulled up at the apartment where Michael was staying, outside of Lacey, Washington, and executed him right there, in a hail of bullets.

Oh and, of course, then there’s also the pandemic, the various societal impacts of which probably need no introduction by now.

On the first weekend of September, a week after the deadly, 600-vehicle Trump Cruise, another Trump Cruise was planned. Hundreds of pickup trucks with over-sized US flags on the back of them, making them look a lot like those pickup trucks that get rigged up as mobile rocket launchers by groups in Afghanistan or Libya, were back in the Portland suburb of Clackamas, a county named after the Indian nation whose unceded land we are occupying now. So soon after they invaded Portland, so soon after the execution of Michael Reinoehl, this time they went from Clackamas to the state capital of Salem, bypassing the regional center of resistance that Portland has become.

By September 7th, the extreme wind event teamed up with the years of so-called drought, downed power lines, a multitude of dry lightning strikes, a century of terrible forestry practices, and decades of the cancerous suburban expansion caused by the exponential rise in the cost of housing over that time, all came together to cause the massive fires already ravaging California to do the same in Oregon. I was in Cathedral Park, where one of the last events related to Black Lives Matter was taking place, before all protest activities basically took a solid week off to focus on the apocalypse.

Mic Crenshaw and other great local hip-hop artists were performing, after the speeches were over. Several hundred were gathered beneath the very high bridge that is above the park, and the sky was completely shrouded in smoke from the fires that had begun burning around much of the state. Several people were talking from the stage about threats from fascists that people had been getting, folks threatening to come to the park and be violent. The decision was made to end the event early, but it continued, with a sort of “stay at your own risk” caveat. Some people left, but most stayed until all the performers on the sound truck were done.

I think there was one other, very scarcely-attended protest after that, before priorities really shifted. As large parts of Oregon were under evacuation orders, those being evacuated needed all kinds of assistance. The groups who had been providing food, water, medical care, and other things, generally began mobilizing to do what they could to help out with the broader effort that various elements of the government, churches, the Red Cross, and so on, were involved with, in terms of providing for basic needs.

The Trump Cruise elements of society were surely involved with fighting fires and feeding people, I’m just assuming, but some of them were and are also involved with setting up illegal roadblocks in various parts of the state, looking for people they consider suspicious, which seems to include anyone wearing black, and people of color with big cameras, such as OPB photojournalist, Sergio Olmos. One road block mentioned in the news was in Corbett, east of Portland, where I have recorded most of the albums I’ve put out since I moved to Portland 13 years ago, at Big Red Studio, which was even closer to being evacuated during the Eagle Creek conflagration of 2017.

As fires were increasingly burning in the less populated areas of Clackamas, threatening the biggest towns in the county, leveling some of the smaller ones, and threatening the main urban center of the state, Portland, just to the north of Clackamas County, local officials here in Multnomah County and in the city of Portland were very active on Twitter, and presumably in other media, encouraging us all to download an app called Everbridge, so we would make sure to get emergency notifications related to the spreading and uncontrolled fires, and possible evacuation plans.

Dwelling on this point for a moment: when a child is abducted and is being transported in a car, or when Portland was under a curfew because of what they call riots, my wife, my teenage daughter, and I all receive text notifications on our phones about these things. They come in with a loud noise, and then you have to look at the message before you can do anything else with the phone.

Given that the state seems to obviously have the capacity to send push notifications to residents of the state with phones, why do we now need to download this app? Who knows. But what can quickly be ascertained by anyone with half a brain are the following: on the Google Play store, the app has been downloaded 500,000 times or more, which is also an indication that it has been downloaded by fewer than a million people. Reviewers give the app a 2.3 star rating, with widespread complaints that it just doesn’t work. Since County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury was encouraging everyone to download the app, I did so, as did my wife, Reiko. She has an iPhone, I have an Android. We’re both proficient at this sort of technology, and neither of us could make the app work. Neither of us have ever received a notification from this app since we downloaded it and registered ourselves with it to the best of our abilities. Neither of us have received any other notifications on our phones regarding the ongoing fires through any other means, either.

In Jackson County, in southern Oregon, where the cities of Medford and Ashland are, and where the suburb of Phoenix used to exist, incredibly, the existing emergency alert system that interrupts local radio and TV programs to tell us what’s going on, was never used. Also never used were the emergency text notification system that has been used before in the state of Oregon, as I mentioned previously. The only notification system they were using was this app, Everbridge, which we were all supposed to have downloaded by now. But as you can see on the app store, even if close to a million people may have downloaded the app, that’s only a fourth of this state’s population. And the app doesn’t work, as anyone who tried to use it might have discovered long before this catastrophe.

My friend Jason Houk was one of thousands of people in Oregon whose homes were completely destroyed in the fires. His home was in Jackson County.

By the weekend of September 11th, the air quality in cities up and down the west coast was the worst in the world. All of us who have for months now been getting a crash course in epidemiology have lately been learning about the existence of something called the Air Quality Index. As the business press has had to discover new adjectives to describe the catastrophically dire state of the economy, so the meteorologists have had to start inventing new categories of bad weather. For the first time, that weekend the local air was no longer being described as “hazardous.” It had now graduated to a new term: “smoke.” It was no longer being called a type of air, it was a new gaseous substance with a different name altogether.

I looked upon my wife and teenage daughter with a combination of admiration and horror as both of them expressed a lack of interest in getting out of the city for a while. Fires were raging in the county just to the south, the air was virtually unbreathable, all activities that any of us had been involved with had been canceled for the time being, such as my protests, such as the toddler’s preschool, the teenager’s rock gym, my wife’s tennis sessions. But out of a sense of solidarity with the majority of the population of the city that was unable to get away from the smoke because they were too busy trying to keep their jobs or couldn’t afford a hotel room, they didn’t want to leave.

Admiration aside, I had different priorities. When two of my aunts teamed up to offer to pay for us to get a hotel room anywhere where the air quality was significantly better than Portland, until things improved, I insisted we leave town. Which worked with my wife and our youngest children, but not with the teenager, who insisted on staying in Portland with her other mother, sealing the doors and windows, and staying inside.

The four of us bailed last Sunday and headed to Astoria. I had studied Air Quality Index maps and fire maps, which all confirmed what I already suspected. In Oregon, the main fires were in the massive valley that goes up and down the state, on the other side of the mountain range that is beside the coast. The climate has always been much drier to the east of that mountain range, and then to the east of the next range, it’s desert. This is the case in all the three western states. This thin strip along the edge of the continent is kept moist and foggy by big weather patterns that tend not to change much, even in recent decades. The mountain range keeps the fog on the west side of it, and the hotter it gets east of the range, the more that keeps the fog from spilling over, thus trapping it along the coast. The northwest tip of the state of Oregon, the city of Astoria, has weather very reminiscent of the west coast of Ireland, for the same sorts of reasons having to do with what happens when trade winds meet land masses.

If you watched the weather reports, you would have thought the air was terrible throughout the western US. If you looked more closely, you’d see there were exceptions. My aunts, and others, were encouraging us to fly to the east coast – to the northeast, specifically, where I grew up, which thus far is well insulated from fires, if not from floods. Good that we didn’t consider that option, out of a combination of fear of flying during an out-of-control pandemic and various other considerations, because the airport soon closed to most flights anyway, due to the smoke.

We drove on the sparsely-populated streets, past the countless tents and the increasingly gray faces of the people still living in them, to the highway that leads north and west, and ends where the continent ends, in Astoria. As we got to the other side of the last of the mountains, the grass and all the other vegetation got greener, and soon we were at the ocean, enshrouded in fog which smelled only slightly of campfire. A slightly smoky fog, rather than just billowing, orange-tinged ash, passing as air.

The real refugees are those whose homes were destroyed. We were just temporary refugees, and very privileged ones. We had a sponsor paying for a hotel room. But this is also the case with refugees from Syria or Honduras or anywhere else. The ones with the means to escape are the lucky ones. The ones who can escape, in a private car, to a hotel room, are luckier still.

To compound the sense of guilt I was already feeling, as we settled into our hotel room, I heard from other folks who had already escaped to Astoria or some other town on the north coast, but who were heading back into the smoke because they could no longer afford the extortionist rates the hotels were charging. During our five days in Astoria, other folks joined us who hadn’t been planning to leave Portland, but who just couldn’t stay in the smoke any longer.

As has been the case for a very long time, I’m glued to news coverage in various forms. Hanging out with small children, as I’m usually doing in recent years, this takes the form of listening to radio and podcasts through an ear bud in one ear, while I’m at the playgrounds and such. The governor has been holding daily press conferences, which I’ve been listening to.

I’m sure they have a decent air filtration system at the capital, but I had an immediate sense of respect for the woman, if only for the fact that I think she was addressing us from Salem, which at the time had some of the most toxic air of any city on Earth. When we left Portland, the AQI was over 500.

The most notable thing about the governor’s press conferences was the fear of public speaking that you can hear in her voice and in the voices of every member of her staff. You can hear when the governor tries to sound like she’s emoting, and puts this breathy quality in her voice that we’re supposed to understand as empathy. Maybe she feels empathy, I’m not saying she’s a sociopath, necessarily, but the empathy fails to come through. At least she was audible, which was not the case with any of her staff members, speaking on Zoom or something, from their various locations. At the first conference there was nobody playing the role of host, so there were lots of awkward transitions, until the governor realized midstream that she better play that role herself, if no one else was going to do it. Which was good, because she was the only one who seemed to be using equipment at her office that allowed her broadcast to be audible through OPB’s feed. With a good headset on, listening on my phone to OPB, I could just barely hear the other speakers, such as the guy managing the overall fire response, who seems to have moved to Oregon quite recently from somewhere in Maine. What really shocked me was that day after day, the audio quality of these press conferences never improved.

The continually poor production values of their little fireside chats were compounded by much of the stuff they were saying, when you could figure out what it was. Apparently the Oregon Employment Department is starting a new Disaster Unemployment program, in addition to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, PUA. But after six months, tens of thousands of people in Oregon who qualify for PUA have yet to receive a dime from the Employment Department, which is running on 1980’s technology and has suffered from a Covid outbreak within the ranks of the staff, as well as having offices closed due to the fires. And now we’re supposed to believe any of us will receive timely assistance from them now? The governor made no mention of this reality, preferring her fantasy version, where she’s at the helm of a functional state.

Listening on many national news reports to the governor of California’s press conferences, while also making efforts to coordinate a response to the ongoing emergency, he has blown much of his hot air in the form of partisan political diatribes aimed at President Trump and the Republican Party.  Candidate Biden has done the same, inferring that if we want to avoid more such fiery calamities, we’d better not vote for the “climate arsonist” Trump, which Biden is apparently not, despite a long political career pointing to his culpability in our current ecological collapse.  Governor Gavin Newsom wants to blame climate change on the catastrophic situation, and federal policies around climate change, and thus deflect the lion’s share of responsibility for this mess, which lies at the doorstep of the capitalist system, and the real estate investment and unregulated real estate development that underpins it, from which he and most of his colleagues in government throughout the west coast profit from personally and politically.

If the exurbs such as Molalla and Paradise are the most vulnerable areas in this brave new climate, let’s be very clear that the biggest victims of these fires are the people who couldn’t afford to live in the places that get most of the firefighting resources, the places where most of the residents commute to to work, the bigger cities.  And any efforts to mitigate this situation with better forest management will suffer the same fate as efforts to solve the housing crisis through little band-aid solutions they come up with for that — they will fail, certainly as long as the underlying problem of unregulated capitalism that drives the ever-expanding exurbs to keep expanding as they are doing.

Roaming the streets of Astoria, on the boardwalk and in the outdoor seating areas of the cafes on the piers, we observed, met or overheard conversations of many different people. It’s a town with two centuries of history as an international hub of fishing, canning, and trade, there at the mouth of the gigantic Columbia River, which leads to the sprawling ports of Portland, through which much of the world’s trade has long passed on a daily basis. The canning and fishing is nothing like it was once, but there’s a big Coast Guard presence in town, along with some functioning industry, lots of fishing boats and other sorts of boats, and it reeks of history, with many of the buildings that played a prominent role in the labor wars of the early twentieth century still standing as they were, such as the Finnish social center, and the American Legion hall, with the river still filled with functioning, though soggy-looking, wooden pilings, with large buildings atop them, with cars and trucks and cafes and canneries and little ad hoc museums.

With this backdrop, the sidewalks and grassy knolls are filled with a wide variety of people. Some of them are to be found there in Astoria year round – like the middle-aged women frequenting the cafes in the morning, talking about goings-on at the arts center, and the many people living near the trolley shelters, drinking cans of beer, and the gothic-looking teenagers who clearly have no appreciation for the fact that they live in paradise, and wish their parents would move back to Portland, where there are protests and night life.

Then there are the visitors. Some of them are actual tourists, which Astoria would normally have more of this time of year, but for the pandemic. But most of the visitors were playing the role of tourist because they were smoked out of their towns. Many families crammed into pickup trucks with several dogs and too many suitcases. Along with them, guys who looked like they hadn’t left the pot farm in years, but were being put up there by the Red Cross, and had no idea what “a card for incidentals” meant, when asked for one by the hotel clerk. I felt like a snob for even noticing that interaction, but when you are a frequent traveler, it becomes easy to spot folks who have never stayed in a two-star hotel before, or who have never been through an airport security line.

Other visitors were clad entirely in black, like I generally am. In large urban centers throughout the world, this is a very common way to dress. Outside of those centers it’s less common. Less common still are people clad entirely in black, who also have visible tattoos, piercings, and white, punk rock or political slogans on their clothing. There were many people who fit this description around town, more than on previous visits to Astoria, and I got the impression that many of them were smoke refugees like us. I also got the impression that all the American flags around this Coast Guard town was making them uncomfortable. I wondered if anyone had yelled at them, as had happened to me in recent weeks, when postering in certain Portland neighborhoods east of the 205. I was pushing a stroller around Astoria, insulated from those types of interactions by the small children. The only comment I heard was a suburban-looking woman commenting to her friend that all the articles of clothing I was wearing were the same shade of black. They were clearly entertained by this, which made me smile.

Having returned to Portland, with the AQI at a much more reasonable level, back to the usual rating in the high double digits, the mayor’s ban on CS gas has proven to be the farce that it obviously was, since he didn’t ban the use of chemical weapons by the police, but only this particular one. As the air became breathable again and the fires were becoming contained, the protests resumed. Adding fuel to the fires of the ongoing social unrest in this country, news of ICE’s apparent forced hysterectomy ring inspired renewed efforts at abolishing that particularly onerous agency, along with the police in general. Copious clouds of tear gas and other forms of wanton police brutality have characterized the past two nights on the streets of Portland. As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

The post Diary of a Smoke Refugee first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Fish Do Grow on Trees

You’ve got to start thinking about this as an ecosystem. All these plantations might as well be growing corn. But if you want clean water, salmon, wildlife, and high-quality lumber, you’ve got to have a forest.
— Mike Fay, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence

Seeing a pair of bald eagles, a possum and a black bear just minutes into my trip to an interview is, to say the least, icing on the “Eco Cake.”

Especially now, with so many people in various stages of isolation and paranoia — restricting time outdoors has a double-whammy effect on our mental health, but also on the health of a community who expects in-person participation and face-to-face debate.

Virtual bird watching and online hikes just don’t cut it.

My assignment is to catch a 30-something scientist — coordinator of a non-profit — doing what he loves best: hands-on, in-the-field work, coordinating with landowners on projects to restore river refugia.

I met Evan Hayduk, 35, with Mid-Coast Watershed Council when I first moved to the coast from Portland. That was Jan 2019 at Oregon Coast Community College for a dual presentation as part of the Williams Lecture series.

“Shedding a Scientific and Humanitarian Light on Climate Change” was a one-two punch featuring Hayduk alongside Bill Kucha, well-known artist and founder the 350 Oregon Central Coast.

That night unfolded as a contrast in personalities, age and emphases. Kucha is a 70-plus-year-old two-and three-dimensional artist who also composes and performs his music, guitar in hand. Hayduk opened up the talk with a detailed PowerPoint that emphasized the power of natural tidelands/wetlands to not only purify water for species like salmon, but also as natural mitigation for carbon dioxide absorption from fossil fuel burning.

Tidal wetlands are important habitats for salmon and a diversity of other fish and wildlife species. They also trap sediment, buffer coastal communities from flooding and erosion and perform other valued ecosystem services. — Hayduk

This is a story about a man, about his passion, about his vision to see a better world through several lenses, not exclusively through biology.

The first personality to greet me on the private land near Lobster Creek was Hayduk’s loyal two-year-old Australian shepherd, appropriately named, “Tahoma.”

“The original name for Mount Rainer,” Hayduk emphasizes. In fact, “Tahoma” is the Puyallup word for “Supreme Mountain,” and according to others, Tahoma translates to “the breast of the milk-white waters.” Or as Hayduk has heard, Mother Mountain.

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Before his gig here with Mid-Coast Watershed Council (MCWC) starting 2016, Hayduk worked on Tahoma (Mount Rainier National Park) running the restoration crew at its native plant nursery.

Today, we are on one of four adjoining 40-acre chunks whose landowners have granted Hayduk and MCWC access to flood plain habitat and Little Lobster creek to “help restore once was a healthy complex riparian ecosystem.”

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All water flows downstream

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. — John Muir

While the Alsea River is the mainstem of salmon runs, tributaries like Lobster Creek play a crucial role in salmon health. We are in an area known as Five Rivers, 25 miles east of Waldport. Alder, Cougar, Buck, Crab and Cherry creeks make up those five tributaries.

Within the Alsea Basin, the Lobster/Five Rivers watershed provides an important contribution to the populations of native fish. However, water quality problems, relating to stream temperature, have been documented in several sub-watersheds and along the main stems of both Lobster Creak and Five Rivers. The level of disturbance in the watershed has contributed to the degradation of quality habitat. [So states a 227-page scientific paper, from the Bureau of Land Management, “Lobster/Five Rivers Watershed Analysis.]

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Hayduk is “eyes, ears and feet/hands on the ground” coordinator of this project. The day I show up, he has 164 home-propagated lupines and a couple of dozen Camus bulb starts. Zach and Casey from Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District (LSWCD) soon arrive as part of their regular brush-clearing duties to fight back the canary grass and Himalayan blackberry bushes, both pernicious invasive species in our ecosystem.

They have an auguring machine to dig holes for all these pollinating plants Hayduk and his wife, Jen, grew in their Waldport home garden. Jen is the interim director of LSWCD.

Team players

The husband-wife team met in 2008 when they both worked for a backcountry conservation crew near Port Angeles. She’s from Pennsylvania, and Hayduk grew up in Woodinville (near Seattle) with his two older sisters and parents.

My dad was a general contractor in Seattle. My family had 1.5 acres and turned it into a formal English garden, so I spent a lot of time with plants.

He tells me he always knew he’d be working with plants as he got older. He did an undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University. He graduated from the Evergreen State College in 2012 with a master’s in Environmental Studies. One of his more unique programming experiences as a student was contributing to the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) in school in Olympia.

I gravitate toward the prison work he did more than eight years ago. On SPP’s website, the goal is clear: “SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.”

Hayduk’s work now is all about conservation, restoration and replicating the natural systems that contribute to streambeds and streambanks gaining structures that make them prime refuge for young salmon and other species to blend into a natural ecological community, or web.

Stream Fish, Flora

Now there are some things in the world we can’t change — gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and wellbeing. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere, for example.

–– Canadian scientist and TV series producer David Suzuki

It goes without saying rehabilitating an ecosystem like a Coastal Range temperate forest is much more complicated (and complex) than sending a projectile into space.

Evan Hayduk is one of these “forest triage experts” — he sees what 150 years of headstrong resource exploitation, unchecked razing of ecosystems and overharvesting have done and how difficult it is to put it all back together.

I met up with him on the land where he is rehabilitating riparian and river systems. This article was precipitated by my interest in Hayduk’s association with Mid-Coast Watersheds Council, most notably the monthly guest speaker series, “From Ridgetop to Reef.”

He also has just received an impressive laurel: American Fisheries Society’s 2020 Rising Star Award. This is a recognition of Hayduk’s work as someone early in his career through a partnership with NOAA and the National Fish Habitat Partnership:

“Hayduk was recognized for the quantity and quality of his restoration projects and his cooperative work with agencies and landowners.”

He sent me the entire package — the award, the letters of recommendation, projects he has worked on, his college transcripts. As I’ve learned in the Deep Dive column reporting/writing, we have some real gems on the coast. Hayduk could be a superstar in a larger non-profit and in a bigger demographic.

His job with MCWC — promoting freshwater and coastal fish conservation — is one-part grant writer, one-part field expert, one-part people manager, one-part public engagement/relationships impresario. He told me that he goes to landowners with those streams, creeks and rivers run through their properties in order to find ways to encourage stream health and restoration mitigation.

My time with him in early June focused on the process of dropping 60-foot trees into streams, crisscross fashion. This might seem counterintuitive as a best practice for stream health, but in fact, it’s a dynamic natural way to rebuild stream beds and create a functioning healthy floodplain and wetlands cohesion.

He tells me this replication of an ecosystem’s natural hydrodynamic process creates these weirs and in-stream structures that “spread the creek out,” keeping gravel beds intact all the while connecting cold water refugia to the floodplain.

The most challenging aspect of these projects comes down to humans.

“We need to work with land owners,” he tells me. “I sort of see myself as the glue between everybody.”

He shows me this riparian floodplain near the Upper Little Lobster Creek where he and his crew of volunteers have planted conifers, including cedars, and other plants to help revitalize the power of those trees to hold in soil. When the deciduous alders age out (around 60 years), they have a tendency to fall. Conifers live longer and they too will fall and act as natural “damming structures” to replicate what a natural stream should be: a haven for salmon and other aquatic species.

I study all these saplings growing inside “cages” that protect their early growth from deer.

Wood Wide Web

“The wood wide web has been mapped, traced, monitored, and coaxed to reveal the beautiful structures and finely adapted languages of the forest network. We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trespass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community. These discoveries have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system. Ours is not the only lab making these discoveries-there is a burst of careful scientific research occurring worldwide that is uncovering all manner of ways that trees communicate with each other above and below ground.” ― Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World”

The connection between healthy rivers, functioning floodplains, and healthy fish, Evan emphasizes while putting planting riverbank lupine (Lupinus rivularis) in clusters of four, is trees. I learned much of these interlinked processes while teaching and living in Spokane, working on issues around the Spokane River, a highly urbanized and suburbanized river. Those forested watersheds have much higher water quality. Trees also provide a wide variety of ecological services.

Hayduk sources logs from many places, including Georgia Pacific other for-profit outfits, land owners and from projects on BLM, State and National Forest lands.

While the tree canopy lessens the erosive impact of rain and slows the velocity of stormwater flowing towards the river, trees trap sediments that build the floodplain while the roots stabilize the riverbanks.

I jump into some “ponding” water just below one of the crisscross tree structures Evan and his volunteers had dropped into this moving water refugia, Little Lobster Creek. I was presented with nice stretches of fine sand and cul-de-sacs of great pebble beds, perfect habitat for salmon redds. Hayduk showed me fresh water mussels. Crayfish were scrambling in the shallows piercing the shadows underwater.

Hayduk emphasized that there are some healthy stream systems in our area where past disruptive logging practices and snag clearing have not been so impactful and permanent. However, the cost for this sort of project Hayduk is heading up tallies to $28,000 per acre, with invasive species, brush clearing and salvage log/wood placement as the large chunk of the bill.

The tree species that best work for the log weirs and dams are conifers, like Doug firs and cedar, that latter species having the added benefit of not rotting for decades while submerged.

It’s a no-brainer trees also provide shade for maintaining water temperature. To carry the analogy to the end point, we see fallen leaves, limbs and branches support food webs by providing food and habitat for insects that are food for fish, Hayduk states. Clean, cool water with more food equals bigger fish.

Nuances like growing alders on the flood plain or marsh plain encourages other species of trees to grow on the decaying fallen alder.

Looking at the ecosystem from a centuries-versus-a-few-decades perspective is important in understanding what Evan and others of his ilk are attempting. “Big conifers that fall help with grade control. Water tables rise. Conifers in the riparian areas can grow from 100 to 200 years before they fall into the creek.”

This concept of a “messy” stream refugia as being the most healthful for all species is anathema to the way most humans have thought about rivers. Scientists like Hayduk know fish get through any of the hurdles a natural stream environment presents them — even with huge logs and entire trees with root balls integrated into the water flow.

Big enough wood simulating log jams buy time to get refugia back to an interconnected vibrancy. Thus far, in this area, 28 structures have been laid on 2.4 miles of stream, Hayduk stated.

Fragility in a huge forest

He shows me areas where logging trucks came in and now the stream is bare of trees and also where channel incision had “down cut” incisions into the bedrock, not a healthy Coho or chinook refuge.

Again, this is a fragile complex system Hayduk and his cohorts work on. The flood plain is many yards beyond the actual stream channel. So, a 30-foot creek flood flow necessitates a 60-foot log or fallen tree.

The connection between fish, trees and rivers is now poised emerging in our urban areas as sound ecology and ecosystem management. Many cities, large and small, are recognizing the benefits of reestablishing the physical and emotional linkage between river, trees and the human community. For instance, San Antonio has its iconic River Walk, Chicago has just completed its riverfront, Washington DC has its Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, and Pittsburgh has reconnected neighborhoods to its three rivers via a network of urban trails.

We talk about the high turnover rate for positions like his own, as well as his wife’s at the Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District.

His wife Jen knows the connection of little things put back into an ecosystem having global ramifications. She obtained her master’s degree at OSU in marine resource management.

Back to the glossary: Jen Hayduk could explain the power of blue carbon, which is elegantly illustrated by this marine plant species she was studying — seagrass (Zostera marina). These seagrass habitats provide important “ecosystem services,” including their ability to take up and store substantial amounts of organic carbon, known as “blue carbon.”

Again, the couple not only understands the fragility of homo sapiens as an individual species in a time of COVID-19, but how the cultural and economic activities can so easily be disrupted.

No more volunteers out in the field, Hayduk tells me, and many projects are on hold and grants stalled/delayed because of the lockdown.

The lack of human traffic might be temporarily beneficial to such threatened species as the Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) and Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), but Evan Hayduk would rather spend time in the field with people throwing in to help him with his work with river and wetlands restoration.

His background in human rehabilitation through ecological health started with people locked out of society, in tiny prison cells.

“The effects of nature on incarcerated individuals is powerful,” Hayduk tells me. His mentor was Nalini Nadkarni, Ph.D., Founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. “Prisoners spend limited time outside. But the program demonstrated they are good with plant stuff. It’s a powerful therapeutic tool, working with the Oregon spotted frog raising them from tadpoles all the way to adult frogs and releasing them into the wild.”

For individuals like Hayduk, “the cure” is being outside, working with/within nature, and with people (Homo sapiens), who are also part of the ecosystems, whether we recognize it or not.

Right now, Jen and Evan are tending a huge Waldport home garden, pickled goodies like carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Jen has even gotten into exotic plant growing, selling one of her “children” on etsy.com for a pretty penny.

They are self-sufficient, well-traveled, share visions and know how to grow food. Traits we all might need when the you know what tied to global warming hits the fan.

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Q&A: Evan Hayduk Style

Hayduk is a busy fellow, having put in 63-hour work weeks and rushing to harvest tons of garden produce and preserving them, an undertaking he and his wife Jen have been doing for several weeks. Still, though, Hayduk put down some compelling responses to my intrusive queries.

Paul: What are the three things you suggest citizens can do to help folks like you and nonprofits like MCWC do what you have to do to protect salmon habitat/refugia?

Evan: A. Help and protect beaver on the landscape. This is #1. Beavers do a better job to create and maintain salmon habitat than we could ever hope to. Tolerate beavers if you live on a property that has a stream. There are beaver solutions that make it easier to “live with beaver.” Inform your neighbors about the importance of beaver and join efforts to stop trapping and killing of this ecosystem engineer.

B. Get involved! Volunteer your time helping at a MCWC event (when we bring them back after COVID-19). If you live on a river or stream clear invasive species and plant natives. Or give us a call and we can help.

C. Donate! Donations to the MCWC are tax deductible! They go directly to helping us get projects on the ground that protect and improve salmon habitat. For a non-profit like ours, just a little goes a long way.

Paul: Who are two of your biggest influences in this work, in your life?

Evan: I think I’ll separate that out into two categories life/work.

Life: My parents. I grew up observing an absolute model of love, hard work and kindness. My dad worked his way from a carpenter to owning his own construction company. This instilled a work ethic that I couldn’t shake even if I tried. I spent weekends growing up working in our 1.5-acre garden, working with my dad to turn bare land into formal English gardens. If I don’t put in a good amount of time in any given weekend now, I feel like my weekend was wasted.

Work: I’ve been lucky along the way to have some great mentors. I mentioned to you Nalini Nadkarni, who I worked with at Evergreen with the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Nalini is the most amazing person I have ever been around. Her energy is contagious, and when she is in a room there is an electricity that is undeniable.

During my time at MCWC, I also have had amazing support from some Oregon Coast legends. Before retiring in November 2018, Wayne Hoffman was an absolute encyclopedia of information. I could walk into his office, ask about any given creek on the midcoast, and Wayne could ramble on forever about the stream, current conditions, past projects, habitat potential, etc. Fran Recht and Paul Engelmeyer, who started the MCWC back in the late 1990s, are both dedicated stewards of the environment and have devoted their lives to the midcoast. My success at MCWC is due in large part to Wayne, Fran and Paul, and the rest of the active MCWC board and community.

Paul: If you were to present to a high school class, what would your elevator speech introduction be to them.

Evan: Salmon and people aren’t that different. We all need cool, clean water to survive. The actions we take to restore salmon habitat — replacing bad culverts, placing large wood in streams, planting native trees and shrubs — all do more than just restore salmon habitat. These actions restore the natural systems and processes that give us idyllic images of cold-water streams rushing through lush, green mountain terrain. We are focused on salmon, but the work we do touches everything that lives on the landscape — from birds, to bees, to you and to me!

Paul: Ocean forest range here and Olympics are some of the best places on earth to capture carbon. What makes your work out here so vital to that part of the picture?

Evan: Carbon storage is story of our lifetime. We have pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that we have offset the balance of the system. Protecting and restoring old growth forests, sinks for carbon, is vital. Restoring salt and freshwater marshes and wetlands is also crucial. We can keep carbon locked up in estuary mud or in a 10-foot diameter cedar tree, but if these systems that support these processes are not protected and restored, we are headed down a bad path.

Paul: What are two of your most observable successes thus far in your work here?

Evan: In the last couple years we have tackled some very big projects, though any large wood placed in a stream, any tree planted, or invasive species removed is a success. By far the most observable success was the North Creek culvert project. This project was completed in 2019, restoring full aquatic organism passage to 13 stream miles of pristine habitat on US Forest Service managed lands in the Drift Creek (Siletz) basin. The undersized culvert, installed in 1958, not only blocked adult and juvenile salmon from accessing habitat upstream, but also ceased river processes and degraded habitat above and below the culvert site. The complex project in a remote location was difficult, and 60 years of “Band-Aid” solutions failed because they didn’t address the real problem: the culvert itself.

Paul: A “land ethic” by Aldo Leopold says a lot — riff with it, as in these two quotes:

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Evan: We as people often see ourselves as other, as separate from nature, but this couldn’t be more incorrect. We not only breathe the same air as all other beings on this earth, we have by every measure had a greater impact than any.

Paul: Again, if you as director got a $5 million check from nonprofit for your work, no strings attached, what would you use that for?

Evan: Well, a boy can dream, can’t he? I think acquisition of important habitat areas would be high on the list (other than just hiring other staff to help!). Though, giving a better wage and benefits package to our staff and work crew would be a no-brainer.

Paul: Give the young reader some spiel on why they might want to pursue a degree or degrees in the general field of environmental sciences tied to ecology during a time of COVID-19, dwindling budgets for these sorts of jobs and more and more tuition expenses.

Evan: I had a professor at Evergreen (Gerardo Chin-Leo) who liked to say one of my favorite expressions: “Science is the painful expression of the obvious”. He also liked to say “Ecology isn’t rocket science; it is way more complicated than that.” Everything in this world in inextricably connected, the clues are in the interactions of flora and fauna on the landscape. Uncovering these connections and understanding how the work we see today has evolved through millennia of interactions is incredibly enthralling (to me!). These times are hard (COVID), budgets are being slashed in this field, salaries in this line of work have never been great. However, the folks that choose this line of work have a greater calling. Understanding this complex world which we are a part of and working to restore ecosystems is more rewarding that any paycheck could ever be.

Paul: Wood wide web — In your own words, explain this concept, if you have any input around how this concept ties to what you are doing in the “preservation” field.

Evan: This gets at the complexity (it isn’t rocket science!) of the natural world. Above ground we see large trees, growing individually across the landscape. What we don’t see, is the complex system of roots, fungi and microbes below the soil that supports this vast forest. Tree talk to each other, conspire when drought is near, and share resources/nutrients through the fungal networks that have co-evolved with them over millennia. This is the original “community”, and our communities could get a lot of good out of better understanding how to work together towards a shared goal.

Paul: You are working in restorative ecology. Explain that.

Evan: We are working with a degraded landscape. We are also dealing with shifting baselines. Bad enough is the direct impact on habitat over the last 200 or so years, this has gone further to disrupt ecosystem processes that maintain what we think of as a functioning system. Restoring these processes is difficult, but if successful, process-based restoration can reset these systems to be self-sustaining. Though the impact can be quick, the restoration can take centuries. When we plant a tree for long-term recruitment of wood to a stream, it’s full impact won’t be felt for 100 or 200 years.

Paul: Then, you were working in a sort of restorative justice program at Evergreen tied to sustainability in prisons. Expand.

Evan: This is where I lean on the words of Nalini: the power of nature. Everyone who works with SPP sees the power of fresh air and getting your hands dirty. Working in a prison can be a dismal setting — windowless cells, limited outside time, fluorescent lights. This is not a restorative situation. There are major problems with the criminal justice system in this country, I don’t claim to be an expert on this. But I have seen the impact that building a greenhouse in a prison yard can bring. What the nurturing of a tiny plant from seed to flower can do for a person. We worked with prisoners to captive rear Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies and Oregon spotted frogs in Washington. Watching these “hardened” criminals hand feed and raise these tiny creatures in a prison setting was restorative, for me, and for those individuals. The guys that raised the frogs made hats with “Cedar Creek (Prison) Frog Crew” printed on them, they wore them around the prison like badges of honor.

Paul: Where do you see yourself in 15 years? Location-wise, intellectually speaking, emotionally, and politically?

Evan: Oof. I’ve been so busy lately I’ve just been able to take it day by day. In 15 years, I’ll be 50. I have no idea where this world will be at that point, so I really can’t say where I’ll be either. Long term dreams are important, but right now I’m just thinking about how to get my projects on the ground for this summer…

Note: First appeared in Paul’s column, Deep Dive, in Oregon Coast Today.

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Decimation of the Rainforests and the Money Men

During August thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia. Some are still burning. In the wet ecosystem of the rainforest fires are not a natural phenomenon, they are started by people, mostly well-organized criminal gangs that profit from illegal logging and land clearance.

Brazil’s right-wing President, Jain Bolsanaro, took office in January; since then deforestation in the country has doubled, there have been 87,000 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2010. Funding to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBAMA, has been cut by 25%, including monies allocated for prevention and control of fires, which was slashed by 23%, he has publicly attacked organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Guardians of the Forest (made up of indigenous people), and turned a blind eye to environmental crimes.

By dismantling “all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” Alfredo Sirkis, director of the Brazil Climate Center, says Bolsonaro is inciting environmental crimes and facilitating deforestation; through his words and deeds he is complicit in the environmental crimes being perpetrated. A spokesman for Guardians of the Forest told Human Rights Watch, “If we were to wait for the authorities to act there will be nothing left.”

80,000 acres a day

The World’s rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They soak up greenhouse gas emissions, affect wind currents and rainfall patterns and produce the oxygen we need to survive. They provide habitat for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and tens of thousands of plants: around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients found in rainforests.

In 1950 they covered around 15% of the earth’s land surface.  Now, due to intensive deforestation, it’s down to just 6%. According to Scientific American, “most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, 135 plant, animal and insect species are disappearing every day………as the forests fall.”

In 2015 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) claimed that “over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent”.  However, according to the World Resources Institute, that trend has reversed; 2018 “was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016. The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.” If this unimaginable level of carnage continues unabated it is feared that in less than 40 years there will be none left.

The consequences of a world bereft of rainforests are too horrific to contemplate, but one thing is clear: it would then be too late to do anything meaningful about climate change and the environmental calamity more broadly. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation rank as the second highest cause of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the total. As the children of the world have been rightly demanding, radical action is needed now, not in twenty-five or thirty years’ time, but now.

The causes of deforestation

There are various causes of deforestation; while logging is an issue, particularly in Indonesia where 80 percent of timber exports are illegal, the major cause is animal agriculture. Huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle, grow feed for animals and for biofuels. Animal agriculture is a principle cause of greenhouse gas emissions – producing, the UNFAO say, 14.5% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that are driving climate change. It also uses approximately 70% of all agricultural land, and is the primary cause of biodiversity loss, animal extinction and water pollution. If deforestation and climate change are to be tackled, reducing consumption of animal produce needs to be a priority. This is something we can all do; it just requires commitment and a sense of social/environmental responsibility.

A recent study into the impact of farming on the planet concluded that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae], land use and water use…it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” it states, “as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The research, which is the most comprehensive to date, found that “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture,” and states that producing 100g of beef “results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.” Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by 75% (an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined), the study states, and we could still feed everyone.

In response to this summer’s fires in the Amazon a coalition of environmental groups came together, which included Friends of the Earth, Action Network, Rainforest and Amazon Watch. They called for a Global Day of Action for the Amazon and issued a damning statement to those responsible for the destruction.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is, they made clear, primarily to blame for the fires and the increase in deforestation since he took office, due to his “regressive, and racist policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business’.” But, it is multinational companies that have created the “conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today’s fires open up the door for tomorrow’s plantations and ranches.” Behind deforestation is big business and the multinational banks.

Global commodity traders are the “key drivers of deforestation in the Amazon”; companies like Cargill, a US based agriculture corporation, or JBS, an American food processing company, or Marfrig Global Foods, a Brazilian beef producer, and, according to their website, “one of the world leaders in the production of hamburgers, with processing capacity of 232.000 tons per year”.

The products these companies make are sold by large-scale retailers all over the world: E. Lecrerc has over 500 shops in France and 112 outside the country; Stop & Shop (the name says it all), a US supermarket chain with 415 outlets; Costco, another American conglomerate, and US mega corporation, Walmart, which has 11,389 stores. Behind these corporations sit the money men. The key players are BlackRock (an American investment management corporation); US investment bank, JPMorgan Chase; Santander (Spanish Bank); BNP Paribas (French Bank); HSBC (UK-based bank) and others. “These financiers not only enable the destruction of our forests – they profit from it.”

The driving force

Behind the banks and corporate traders is the Neo-Liberal socio-economic model; these powerful organizations operate within, and are determined to uphold, the confines of its doctrine, they are driven by the values and motives inherent in the Ideology of Money, and demonstrate no concern for the natural world, or human well-being.

Together with the consumer society that it relentlessly promotes and depends on, Neo-Liberalism, sits at the polluting heart of deforestation and the wider interconnected environmental catastrophe. Under its profit-bound ethos, everything is regarded as a commodity, everyone seen as a consumer. Competition and division are inherent, selfishness and greed, the antithesis to what is needed, are fostered.

Within the present construct and modes of living it is hard to see how the necessary action to curb deforestation could be initiated. In an attempt to halt the carnage in 2008 the UN set up Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). A mechanism through which developing countries are encouraged to improve forest management and developed nations can contribute to a fund to facilitate and support such schemes. It may contribute to encouraging conservation and places a degree of responsibility, albeit voluntarily accepted, on rich nations, but it will not stop deforestation.

A completely new approach to so-called development as part of far reaching systemic change is urgently needed, together with a shift in public attitudes: away from self-centered activity, competition, and the aggrandizement of the individual and/or the nation state. Humanity is one, individual but united. This essential fact needs to be recognized and acted upon. Not as a vague philosophical or psychological catchphrase, but as a principle of truth from which a new socio-economic model can be created; one that serves the needs of all through sharing, encourages simplicity of living, harmlessness and social/environmental responsibility.

Chakras, Subtle Bodies and the Aura

It’s a modest apartment in Newport where I sit with Susan Swift to go over “quite the life” as any listener might say about this feisty, spiritual and articulate, world-traveling woman.

The hitching post Susan and I tie our respective philosophical steeds on is “philosophy” and “fate,” although we could have brought in a whole team of other steeds to pull the conversation toward all spiritual directions.

“I know what is mine to do,” the 73-year-old Swift states early on in our talk. Since her life here on the coast — Five Rivers first — not only started in 1972 as a search for environmental justice, she also fell into a what would be a life-long walkabout as a student of karma, Dharma and the meaning of interconnected “souls.”

Before the Central Coast mountains, Waldport, Seal Rock and Newport, Susan was living the Southern California lifestyle in Compton.

The Alsea basin seems worlds away from her birthplace of Inglewood. Quickly, though, she and her husband and a whole slew of residents became embroiled in cloak and dagger drama, rising to the level of the US Forest Service spraying chemicals on their land, Dow Chemical and their lawyers attempting to wear down citizens’ groups, bugged telephones, and various sundry nefarious things unfolding in a seemingly isolated rural community.

One of Susan’s cohorts has already been featured in my column Deep Dive — Carol Van Strum. For more information on those battles with toxics, bad science and broken promises by officials breaking the rule of protecting public health, safety and welfare, read Oregon Coast TODAY, “A Real-Life Toxic Avenger.”

Sometimes a young life lived produces an amazingly detailed and complex life, for sure. However, in the end, when a journalist runs into a person like Swift, with seven-plus decades under her belt, a series of floodgates open up.

Toxins, Dirty Water, Building Family

Sure, Citizens Against Toxic Sprays is a big part of her foundation, 45 years ago when she was living in the woods, in a teepee and a small shack with Calvin Parker, husband number two (one of three, but who’s counting), and her son Joe Lund from a previous marriage.

C.A.T.S. was created with the organizing skills of Susan and others in the rural community, propelled by fear — the debilitating, permanent and deadly harm being perpetrated by officials and for-profit companies upon adults, children, pets, penned animals, wildlife and drinking water through herbicide spraying.

There’s plenty of newspaper copy and radio clips on Susan’s life out here, her singing, putting on events for the legal battle against the chemical companies and their spraying ways; her work on the Lincoln County Planning Commission and other issues tied to public health. She’s been featured in a November 23, 1980 article in Salem’s Statesman Journal.

What anchors much of what I see while talking with Susan (and in reporting on the people of this area) is best captured in one short passage from that article about Susan written by Kristine Rosemary with the Statesman Journal:

Now, to make any sense of the art of diplomacy as practiced in the hidden rural valleys and insulated towns of the Oregon Coast Range, you must consider this: It is a place of overlapping generations of emigrants, each with its own notions of how to live with the land. Rain and shards of Chinese-looking mists blow into those hollows in a thrashing wind. And writhing vines of domestic blackberry gone feral make a slow triumph of thorns. The children of homesteaders who came to farm these fertile valleys were joined 50 years after, by a second wave of urban exiles.

An emblematic quote and a microcosm of what this Oregon Coast now faces with population influxes, lack of affordable housing, more pollution to contend with, climate change and shifting economic, cultural and generational baselines. What is left out even in this Statesman Journal’s prescient description is what’s not included so many times in countless articles — who was here first.

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh people began settling the coast more than 9,000 years ago. They have probably lived in the same locations for hundreds of generations.

Who knows if that paper mill, hotel or housing development was built on an ancient significant site? Or on top of sacred burial grounds, or over summer root-picking fields or a shaman’s spiritual place?

Coast as Healing Center

Susan Swift, RN, formerly known as Mrs. Parker, Swedish massage therapist, is keenly aware of Native American history as her daughter, Autumn Rayne, is part Cheyenne. What has been germinated from those early days in Five Rivers, then in Waldport, and then to the Valley and even Portland, is a determined septuagenarian who has lived on a wildlife refuge in India, ended up in Egypt on a spiritual journey and has met the Dali Lama.

There are stories layered onto life lessons, like shoots on an old fig tree. Her past, Susan says, is her journey forward. She’s helped Mo and her husband (of the Oregon Coast’s famed seafood and chowder restaurants, Mo’s) get through the last days of their lives as their in-home certified care taker. She’s played guitar and sang with husband number three — musician and instrument maker, and she’s chased elephants out of her garden of succulents.

Iterations of her life include head of the Lincoln County Planning Commission, nursing school, working at a mental health unit in Portland, and now writing, which she’s recently pursued in a memoir workshop at the senior center.

The coast is the healing breath she takes with her wherever she ventures. Susan believes she has past lives (that we all do) to account for and to make amends with, as well as to understand in order to carry forth on a pathway to enlightenment. Ironically, Susan Swift says her gift of energy empathy and nursing came at a young age: “I first learned my hands could take away pain when I was 10 years old.”

Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.

— Thích Nh?t H?nh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist

Do what you love because the universe will support you. Speak and say what you want.

Be specific. Then get out of the way and let the universe take care of the details.

— Susan Swift, July 8, 2019

She laughs because her prayers for a partner were answered, but she wasn’t specific enough — “I didn’t mention that partner should be on the same continent.” That spiritual partner was living in India.

She went to India for a workshop with 45 people from 15 countries. That’s where she met this tall, dark handsome Reiki master. “He was raised Muslim, and I was raised Christian, and we came to the same spiritual place, looking for the same spiritual answers.” That was in 2005. She returned to the USA and had a spiritual awakening with him over the years — sharing emails, letters, phone calls.

“In 2010, I retired, closed up the Vancouver house, put everything I owned into my son’s house in Covington, Washington.” She spent a total of four years in India, on a wildlife refuge: Mudamalli Wildlife Refuge in Tamil Nadu. Her partner was Nijamudeen. Susan was “totally embraced by this huge Muslim family.”

Her travails get complicated as Susan courses back and forth through her own chronological history and these many points of enlightenment in her 73 years. She has a thousand stories floating around her cranium. I fill pages and pages of notes.

How she got to India, with her healing touch on a dog that had been attacked by a black panther, covers all levels of spiritual and geographical ground. She went to Egypt in 2003 on a prayer for peace journey with 250 people from 25 nations. She talks excitedly about going down the Nile and to a resort on the Red Sea. She talks about the guides and hotel charges playing the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, wherever they went since the tour’s theme was taken from the songwriter’s famous piece.

The trip was part of a far-reaching international push to get George W. Bush and his administration to hold off on a violent attack on Iraq, to instead follow international players’ plans to get Saddam Hussein to agree to step down with loads of money.

“I told an Egyptian woman that this was my first use of a passport as an American, and I was ashamed and told her I couldn’t handle it. She held me and told me calmly: ‘America is the world’s great hope for democracy and freedoms. We understand that your president was appointed by the court and wasn’t elected by the people of your country.’”

The Enlightened Being is Really Inside Our “self”

Now rewind to 1982, and Susan Parker is headed for Seaside, to catch a talk by the Dali Llama concerning China’s latest offer to return Tibet to China. “It was quite an entourage. I was at the greeting line. Oh my gosh, there I was telling the Dali Llama I was so honored and most joyful about his visit, with my sandalwood mala in my hand. He leaned in and bonked third eyes with me.”

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A life is not always marked out with milestones set forth in an organized and clear path, but for the sake of brevity, it might be wise to follow our Central Coast resident using a timeline to get through some of her dynamic, compelling life chapters.

She grew up in a working-class family in Compton, and as stated earlier, she knew she had healing hands as a youngster placing them on her mom’s two ruptured spinal discs. The young Susan wanted to be outside playing baseball, “but my hands seemed to know what to do with the muscle spasms the size of my fists.”

Those healing hands more than five decades later would take care of a large tumor on Nami (Namaste), the Basenji dog in India she adopted, and used her healing words to help Gemmee, who has his shoulder gashed after it had outrun a black panther. “Nami never barked, just commented about everything in this yodeling song.”

Back to the Land on the Lam

Back to how she ended up in Five Rivers — she was with Calvin Parker, a Northern Montana Cheyenne she met in Pasadena. He was a sergeant in the US Army, about to be sent to Vietnam. He ended up AWOL, and the couple moved to Five Rivers where his sister was living in an old school house.

They lived in a 15-by-30, cold-water shack heated by a wood-burning-stove. “During this time, I was dreaming of a dark-haired, light-eyed girl.” (which eventually was their daughter, Autumn Rayne)

Susan ended up taking minutes for the local school committee. She found an old mimeograph machine and put together the Five Rivers Run-off Community Newsletter, stuffing flyers into mailboxes. That’s when she took notice of the herbicides issue popping up in editorials inside the Newport News Times.

“I hadn’t gone to school at that point, but I created a health form survey, passing it out door to door, all the way from Highway 34 to the mill. So many miscarriages, tumors and cancers were reported.” That was 1974, and Susan Swift shakes her head as she tells me that a scientist from OSU still advocates there is nothing wrong with 2,4,5-T.

This community of mostly women fighting the forest service and prevailing conservative strains of science worked together to build their adopted family on many levels. Susan laughs again recalling she was living in a teepee with two kids before getting her first place in Waldport. She was a single mom with a three- and 11-year-old. “They were exposed to musicians and artists coming and going all the time.” Joseph Lund graduated from Waldport High in 1985, and did the first video yearbook for the school.

She became an EMT-in-training for the Waldport Ambulance, graduating as the first woman to drive the ambulance. She ended working at a spa in Yachats. In 1978 she was lecturing at Lane Community College teaching different classes on the health effects of herbicide exposure, chemical releases in forestry and the dioxin molecule, diagramming it on the board, showing students how it worked.

She moved into her first house in Seal Rock, and put out her first shingle, “Susan Parker, LMT,” above a Waldport barbershop. The place became a center for healing. Transpersonal healing, encounters with lives, and more would begin to charge her life and encompass her interests.

“No matter what you believe, doing things out of compassion for others is as healing as we can get.”

She moved to Newport in the 1980s, at this point managing the Ocean Food Co-op. She was one of the spearheads to create an Oceana board of directors, hire a paid bookkeeper and charge a $10 yearly fee.

She met Husband Number Three at an open mic session at a local bar and eatery in Waldport. He was a guitarist and “amazingly gifted instrument maker.”

“I bought a guitar for twenty-five dollars cash and twenty-five in food stamps. I taught myself guitar and sang the songs I wanted to sing . . . positive ones. That’s when he said, ‘I like your voice.’” The marriage lasted one and a half years, but they are still friends.

With a belief in past lives, Susan takes many things both in stride and contextualized through transpersonal psychology, but she also has both feet in the waters of transglobal spirituality and multiple contexts for enlightenment and “godliness.”

Healing & Being in the Right Place Spiritually

Fate, she calls it, or her life’s proscribed journey points. She even ended up getting the finances for nursing school after working hard to take care of Mo (Mohava Niemi) who she was with until Mo died in 1992, as well as taking care of Mo’s spouse, Dutch Niemi, until he too passed on.

Dutch (he was a Finnish fisherman) had always wanted to send a child in need to college, but instead after Susan’s healing ways and hearing all the people taking care of his medical needs tell Susan she was a born natural for RN school, Dutch came through. “Dutch said he wanted to help me. That $9,000 helped me pay off bills and made it possible to go to nursing school.”

She worked for Dutch on weekends while she was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. That healing and spiritual medical caretaking continued after nursing school graduation. She worked for a Portland neurosurgeon for three years, and she worked with the Oregon State Mental Hospital Portland campus as the lead nurse for six.

Her first nursing job was at Corvallis Manor, but she also took her caring hands and gifted spirit of empathy to a group home for developmentally disabled adults, Portland’s Eliot House.

“I treated every patient as a precious soul.”

While there was a 20-year absence from Lincoln County between 1994 and 2014, the draw to this area has been strong. She has joined up with Lincoln County Community Rights which just celebrated the two-year anniversary of its successful effort to ban aerial spraying in Lincoln County.

She’s done some driving for Yaquina Cab, shuttling people to and from the hospital. In this interview, Susan and I gravitate back to her story and her natural gifts — her abilities to organize and to start things, and her deep well of beliefs around alternative healing, energy fields on the body, and reincarnation.

These are book-level ideas, sculpted around a life still in the making, but one lived complexly and with mindfulness: with the added hues and tones of adventure, unique healing and death and dying situations painted in. One can hope she will see the light and eventually put down in writing a life well-lived, one where young and old might learn new (or old) meditative and mediation practices.

In our vapid celebrity culture, which is obsessed with putting the limelight on the rich, famous, or infamous, an authentic woman’s gritty and universal story should be compelling, to say the least.

“We have a choice everyday how we think. What you focus on, expands. We can choose how to go through this life. We need to just get out of our own way and begin living.”

•••

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Our Vanishing World: Rainforests

East Creek investigation finds clearcutting rare intact old-growth on Vancouver Island


Rainforests are a crucial feature of Earth’s biosphere. Apart from being critical to Earth’s climate and vital carbon sinks, the major player in Earth’s hydrological (water) cycle, a massive producer of oxygen and home to most of the world’s species, rainforests are the home of a large Indigenous human population. They are also the source of many vital resources, including medicines, used by humans around the world.

However, the vast range of ecological services that rainforests have provided for the 400 million years of their existence, and which have been critical to the survival of Homo sapiens since we first walked the Earth 200,000 years ago, are not measured and valued by accountants and economists. Have you ever seen a balance sheet or set of national accounts that includes an entry for ‘Value of ecological services taken from nature and on which life and our entire production of goods and services depend’?

Because these services have been available without the need for human management or intervention, and given the primitive conception of accounting and economics that humans use, the ecological services of rainforests are given no monetary value. Hence, essential ecological services are treated as worthless by virtually everyone in the industrialized world. As a result, modern industrialized humans have decided to systematically destroy the rainforests in order to extract a vast amount of short-term profit for the benefit of a few and the temporary satisfaction of many. So if we do not value ecological services such as oxygen and water generation as well as climate and weather-moderating capacities, what is it that we do value by destroying rainforests?

A small proportion of rainforest is logged to provide attractive rainforest timbers – such as teak, mahogany, ebony and rosewood – for a variety of decorative purposes, including making furniture, which can last hundreds of years.

However, a much wider range and vastly greater quantity of rainforest trees are cut or burnt down for purposes such as the following: acquiring timber used in construction, clearing land to establish cattle farms so that many people can eat cheap hamburgers, clearing land to establish palm oil plantations so that many people can eat processed (including junk) foods based on this oil, clearing land to establish palm oil and soy bean plantations so that some people can delude themselves that they are using a ‘green biofuel’ in their car (when, in fact, these fuels generate a far greater carbon footprint than fossil fuels), mining (much of it illegal) for a variety of minerals (such as gold, silver, copper, coltan, cassiterite and diamonds), and logging to produce woodchips so that some people can buy cheap paper, including cheap toilet paper.

In essence then: We trade the essential life-giving and sustainably-available ecological services of Earth’s rainforests, also home to Indigenous peoples and countless wildlife, for hamburgers and other processed junk foods, carbon-intensive ‘biofuels’, paper and some building and furniture materials, as well as some minerals. Obviously, some humans are far from clever at ‘making deals’.

But if you think that is bad, consider this: ‘by one estimate, a hectare of livestock or soy is worth between $25 and $250, while the same hectare of sustainably managed forest can yield as much as $850’ harvesting, depending on the location, such products as medicinal plants, rubber, nuts and fruits while benefitting from a range of ecotourism services and research opportunities. Of course, you have to know how to manage the forest sustainably to yield this much income but that sort of intelligence is rare and invariably escapes those focused on destruction for short-term profit.

So how bad is this rainforest destruction? Well, worldwide we are currently destroying rainforests for these unsustainable and mainly short-term products at the rate of 80,000 acres each day.

Moreover, beyond the devastating impact this has on Indigenous peoples, forcing increasing numbers of them to leave their destroyed homes in the rainforest to try to survive elsewhere, this rainforest destruction is also the key driver of species extinctions globally with one million species of life on Earth threatened with extinction. As reported in the recent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services researched and published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – the scientific body which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services this provides to society – ‘Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The IPBES Global Assessment ranks, for the first time at this scale, the 5 direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact. So what are the culprits behind nature’s destruction?’ Number 1. on the IPBES list is ‘Changes in land and sea use, like turning intact tropical forests into agricultural land’.

Let me briefly illustrate the nature and extent of this destruction by discussing rainforests in just three locations (the Brazilian Amazon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia/West Papua) where the destruction of rainforest was greatest in 2018 and which are representative of elsewhere around the planet where even World Heritage listed areas are ongoingly under threat.

The Brazilian Amazon

While the Amazon in South America occurs in several countries, two-thirds of it lie within the borders of Brazil. Unfortunately, since his fraudulent election in 2018, the neofascist, corrupt and insane president Jair Bolsonaro – see the definition of sanity, which Bolsonaro does not come close to meeting, in “The Global Elite is Insane Revisited” – has promptly eliminated years of painstaking effort by committed indigenous and environmental activists to convince previous governments to protect the Brazilian Amazon from the worst corporate and other depredations.

For just a taste of the documentation on Bolsonaro’s actions in accord with elite interests and to the detriment of Indigenous and environmental well-being, see the following articles/report.1

The key drivers of rainforest destruction in the Amazon are soy production and cattle ranching. Brazilian soy accounted for 14.3% of the country’s total exports, generating $31.0 billion in 2017, while cattle exports accounted for about $5.4 billion. Because Brazil leads the world in exports of both of these commodities, it is the world market for these products that is driving these industries to aggressively expand activities to the detriment of the rainforest and Indigenous peoples.

But the Amazon is huge, you might say: Does it matter if we destroy some of it for soy and cattle farming? Well, one recent study suggested that deforestation of 20–25% of the Amazon would be the tipping point beyond which it would cease to be a functioning rainforest ecosystem and this, as you might expect, would be catastrophic. Moreover, recent severe droughts appear to be ‘the first flickers of this ecological tipping point’ suggesting that it is already imminent.

So, to reiterate, the key driver of rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon is consumer-generated demand for certain products in other parts of the world. And while the US and European countries play critical roles in destruction of the Amazon, China is the largest importer of agricultural products from Brazil so its government and consumers are complicit too. For example, as China’s demand for Brazilian soy surges due to the trade war between the United States and China, ‘it could drive further ecological catastrophe: 13 million hectares (50,000 square miles) in the Amazon and Cerrado could ultimately be cleared to meet this additional demand.’

The point then, is this: governments and ordinary people (in their role as consumers) in other parts of the world can play a vital role in defending the Amazon and its Indigenous peoples by choosing what they buy from Brazil. Boycotting rainforest timber, beef and soy bean products are powerful options to consider. But don’t forget, there is no point simply identifying and boycotting Brazilian timbers, beef and soy beans. If you want impact on the total market (to prevent one country’s timber, beef and soy beans being substituted for another’s), then you must boycott them all (unless you can clearly identify the source of the product as local and sustainable). Obviously, this takes commitment. The future of the Amazon depends largely on enough of us making that commitment.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa

The rainforests of the Congo Basin in central Africa are the second largest on Earth. Much of this rainforest lies within the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, crippled by corrupt government for decades and a new president elected earlier this year who has inherited a corrupt and inefficient state apparatus.

Unfortunately, therefore, rainforests in the Congo have long been under siege on several fronts. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rainforests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotami, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the Indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil.2

Unfortunately too, as with rainforests elsewhere, ‘What Happens in the Congo Basin Doesn’t Stay in the Congo Basin’: it impacts on regions across Africa playing a part, for example, in recent droughts in Ethiopia and Somalia causing millions of people to depend on emergency food and water rations.

As with the Amazon, you have some powerful options to consider if you want to save the Congolese rainforests and their Indigenous peoples. Again, refusing to buy rainforest timbers, conflict minerals and wildlife products is a good start but remember that key minerals in your computer and mobile phone are illegally sourced from the Congo so your thoughtful consideration of minimizing how many of these devices you own can play a part too. For a fuller account of this exploitation and its destructive impact on the rainforests and its Indigenous peoples, with references to many other sources, see ‘500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo’.

Indonesia and West Papua

Indonesia has the most extensive rainforest cover in Asia – and is home to hundreds of distinct Indigenous languages and over 3,000 animal species including Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros and orangutans – but the forests are being systematically degraded and destroyed. Rainforest cover has steadily declined since the 1960s when 82 percent of the country was covered with forest; it is less than 50 percent today. The rainforest is being destroyed by logging, mining, large-scale agricultural plantations (especially for palm oil), colonization, and subsistence activities like shifting agriculture and cutting for fuelwood. Much of the remaining cover consists of logged-over and degraded forest although large areas, including of the island of Kalimantan/Borneo (shared with Malaysia and Brunei), have been stripped bare.

Logging for tropical timbers and pulpwood (to make paper) is the biggest cause of rainforest destruction in the country where as much as 75 percent of the logging is illegal. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of tropical timber, which generates more than $US5 billion annually. And more than 48 million hectares (55 percent of the country’s remaining rainforests) are concessioned for logging. Destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia has opened up some of the most remote places on Earth to development: as rainforests in less remote locations have been decimated, timber corporations have stepped up practices on the island of Kalimantan/Borneo and the occupied West Papau, where great swaths of forests have been cleared in recent years. In fact, 20 percent of Indonesia’s logging concessions are in West Papua, despite ongoing resistance by West Papuans.

Unfortunately, the fastest and cheapest way to clear rainforests for plantations is by burning. Hence, every year ‘hundreds of thousands of hectares go up in smoke as developers and agriculturalists feverishly light fires before monsoon rains begin to fall. In dry years – especially during strong el Niño years – these fires can burn out of control for months on end, creating deadly pollution that affects neighboring countries and causes political tempers to flare’.

Mining operations, including for coal, also have a devastating impact on the rainforests and their peoples. By far the worst of these projects, however, is the gigantic gold, silver, and copper mine in occupied West Papua, run by Freeport-McMoRan. As widely documented, the mining company has dumped appalling amounts of waste into local streams, rendering downstream waterways and wetlands ‘unsuitable for aquatic life’. Relying on large payments to Indonesian police and military officers, the mining operation is ‘protected’; this has resulted in many West Papuans being killed.

The waste from the mine, estimated by Freeport at 700,000 tons each day, covers several square miles and Government surveys have found that tailings from the mines have produced levels of copper and sediment so high that almost all fish have disappeared from vast areas of wetlands downstream from the mine.

Like other powerful corporations in Indonesia (and elsewhere), Freeport-McMoRan is well aware that there is little official interest in its abuses of local people and the environment as long as corrupt officials are given sufficient incentive to ignore them. As elsewhere in many parts of the world, therefore, corporate access to resources includes serious human rights abuses and persistent conflicts between companies and local communities which is ignored by corrupt politicians.

Apart from the rainforest itself and the millions of people who live in them, destruction of the rainforest threatens the habitat of iconic species like Sumatran tigers and orangutans, as well as many others, and plays a part in destroying the climate too.

But the damage does not stop with the issues noted above. Forests across the world are being destroyed to make fabrics for clothing we wear every day. Fabrics like rayon, viscose and modal are all made from trees and, every year, more than 120 million trees are cut down to make clothing. This is done by companies such as Forever 21, Under Armour, Foot Locker, Prada Group and Michael Kors. You can join the Rainforest Action Network in campaigning to get these laggard companies to adopt responsible sourcing policies for their forest-based fabrics.

Bizarrely, while its incredible rainforests, along with its coral reefs and beaches, play a part in attracting tourists from across the world to see Indonesia’s charismatic native species – such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Komodo dragons, whale sharks, sea turtles and manta rays – and to experience its adventure and dive destinations, this tourism also contributes significantly to the destruction as rainforests make way for tourist facilities.

So, as with Brazil and the Congo, you can boycott rainforest products from Indonesia and other countries where rainforests are being destroyed. Along with suggestions made earlier, responsible choices about the clothing you wear and the tourist destinations you choose (or boycott) will all make a difference.

The ‘Big Picture’ Fight for the Rainforests: What can we do?

A great deal. Halting rainforest destruction might be a complex undertaking but it is imperative if we are to have any prospect of preserving life on Earth. So I hope that you will consider the many options I have offered above and those I mention now and do as many as you can, even if you are already working on other critical issues such as the climate and the struggle to end war and the threat of nuclear war.

If you want easy options, you can support the campaign efforts of organizations that defend rainforests, Indigenous peoples and wildlife such as the Rainforest Action Network, the Rainforest Information Centre, the Rainforest 4 Foundation and Rainforest Rescue which work closely with Indigenous and local communities while campaigning against the governments and corporations destroying rainforests, as well as the banks and insurance companies that support this destruction.

If you recognize the pervasiveness of the fear-driven violence in our world, which also drives the massive over-consumption of resources by people in industrialized countries then consider addressing this directly starting with yourself and by reviewing your relationship with children.3

If you wish to campaign strategically in support of Indigenous peoples and local communities in their struggles to halt the destruction of Earth’s rainforests.4

The governments and corporations that profit from the destruction of the rainforests are deeply entrenched and not about to give way without strategically focused campaigns to make it untenable and unprofitable for them to do so. This will include convincing key personnel, whether company directors of corporations involved in rainforest destruction, cargo ship owners, trade unionists (in many industries) and the many other agents involved in the rainforest destruction-to-customer supply chain, as well as ordinary consumers of rainforest products, to make conscious choices about the products they supply, use and/or buy. So strategy is imperative if we are to get corrupt and/or conscienceless governments and corporations, as well as people further removed from the source of the destruction, to end their role in rainforest destruction before it is too late.

The big deforestation drivers are timber, palm oil, cattle and soy while mining, oil drilling, clothing and dam construction all play significant roles too, depending on the country. And, as reported by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project): ‘The ABCD (The Archer Daniels Midland Company [ADM], Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus Company) trader companies have a large impact on countless commodity supply chains. For example, they represent up to 90% of the global grain trade. With a wide array of clients that go from Nestlé to McDonald’s, their role in managing deforestation risk is crucial’ and, so far, grossly inadequate.5

Given the strategic sophistication necessary to tackle this complex problem effectively, if you want to view a 15 minute video of (or read a couple of short articles about) the inspirational Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG) that successfully led a national campaign from 1988 to 1991 to halt imports of rainforest timber into Australia, you can view it here: ‘Time to Act.’

In those cases where corrupt elites control or occupy countries, such as those controlling Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and West Papua, it might be necessary to remove these corrupt governments as part of the effort thus helping to restore the political space for local populations to defend rainforests and their rights.

You might also consider joining the global network of people resisting violence in all contexts by signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.’

But if you do nothing else while understanding the simple point that Earth’s biosphere, including its rainforests, cannot sustain a human population of this magnitude of whom more than half endlessly over-consume, then consider accelerated participation in the strategy outlined in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’

Or, if none of the above options appeal or they seem too complicated, consider committing to The Earth Pledge

Out of love for the Earth and all of its creatures, and my respect for their needs, from this day onwards I pledge that:

  1. I will listen deeply to children (see explanation above)
  2. I will not travel by plane
  3. I will not travel by car
  4. I will not eat meat and fish
  5. I will only eat organically/biodynamically grown food
  6. I will minimize the amount of fresh water I use, including by minimizing my ownership and use of electronic devices
  7. I will not buy rainforest timber
  8. I will not buy or use single-use plastic, such as bags, bottles, containers, cups and straws
  9. I will not use banks, superannuation (pension) funds or insurance companies that provide any service to corporations involved in fossil fuels, nuclear power and/or weapons
  10. I will not accept employment from, or invest in, any organization that supports or participates in the exploitation of fellow human beings or profits from killing and/or destruction of the biosphere
  11. I will not get news from the corporate media (mainstream newspapers, television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter…)
  12. I will make the effort to learn a skill, such as food gardening or sewing, that makes me more self-reliant
  13. I will gently encourage my family and friends to consider signing this pledge.

Feeling overwhelmed? Still prefer something simpler?

I wish I could, in all sincerity, offer you that option. If it were still 1990, I would. But the time for simple actions to make a difference is long past and time is now incredibly short.

In essence, you have a choice: understand and act on the crucial importance of rainforests before we destroy their integrity and lose them completely. Or help to accelerate the human rush to extinction as a consequence of failing to do so.

  1. Bolsonaro Caps Natives’ Lands, Pleasing Farmers in One of First Acts,” “Rainforest on Fire: On the Front Lines of Bolsonaro’s War on the Amazon, Brazil’s Forest Communities Fight Against Climate Catastrophe,” “Bolsonaro’s Clearcut Populism. ‘The Barbarism has Begun’,” this report from Amazon Watch: “Complicity in Destruction II: How northern consumers and financiers enable Bolsonaro’s assault on the Brazilian Amazon” and “Amazon Deforestation Accelerating Towards Unrecoverable “Tipping Point”.”
  2. For a taste of the reading on all of this, see “Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush,” “The struggle to save the ‘Congolese unicorn’,” “Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks” and “The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park.”
  3. If you want to understand and address the fundamental cause of violence in our world, see “Why Violence?” and “Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice.”
  4. See “Nonviolent Campaign Strategy.”
  5. See “Revenue at risk: Why addressing deforestation is critical to business success” which contains a long list of hundreds of companies (on pages 39-46) which are making zero effective effort to end their rainforest-destroying business practices.

Dirty, Polluting, Corrupting Money

There is no longer anything sentimental about trying to save a tree or protect an old swimming hole.
— Tom McCall, Earth Day, 1970

It always looks like skin cancer, that 10,000-foot view looking down on Earth. Looking down at Phoenix, or Cairo, or LA, the cancer grows and spreads. This unique perspective shows us how mother earth is not just torn up and concreted in, but the clear cuts and slash and burns show the power of a stupid species, us, as well as the huge plumes of death silts spreading like tuberculosis clouds and chemical rivers decaying watersheds and pushing slicks of death out into the sea.

See the source image

See the source image

This doesn’t mean those invisible-to-the-human-eye killers aren’t just as bad, or worse, to nature and human health, but it’s the dramatic carcinomas of mining and mountaintop removal and clear-cutting that strike something deep in many of us.

When one sees the dramatic contrasts of shifting baselines – like the director and photographer did in the documentary, Chasing Ice, cataloging the shrinking of glaciers over time, or like this info-graphic video on the proliferation of Walmarts, the real power of economies of scale and the scale of destruction come through. This stops at 2010 – now it’s 4,769 Walmarts in the USA, 6,360 Walmarts in international markets, and Sam’s Clubs is at 599 worldwide.

If you had an abscess in your tooth, would you keep going to dentist after dentist until you found a dentist who said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Leave that rotten tooth in”? Or would you pull it out because more of the other dentists told you you had a problem? That’s sort of what we’re doing with climate change.

— James Balog, photographer, Chasing Ice

We know the high price of low cost, so to speak, and if you look at all those communities on the maps that are where the Walmarts have landed like viruses, the spiritual, economic, wages, labor, apartment and housing markets, mom and pop store clear-cutting that economic model holds. Just continue to think about every McDonald’s on every corner killing mom and pop stores. Every Starbucks. Every Amazon.dot.death/com delivery. Multiple that by factors of tens of thousands for all the other chains that are eating away at the very fabric of the nation and other nations.

Those engines that destroy — chain stores and restaurants —  and transnational companies also eat up vast stacks to the moon our natural resources. Looking at the clear cutting just in the small area I now call home – the Central Coast of Oregon – I can extrapolate and then overlay just how cancerous Capitalism is, and that corporate capitalism – not the penny and region capitalism of past – is like skin cancer gone wild.

Here, the clear cuts

While Oregon is the 27th largest state by population, we’re No. 1 in corporate giving per capita. Oregon legislators ranked first in the nation by average amount received from the timber industry, third for contributions by drug companies and fourth for tobacco money.

The Oregonian, the Portland newspaper, did the series, and here, the fourth one is titled,  “Perfectly Legal — The clear-cut rewards of campaign cash.

The reality is – and I had this conversation with a young fellow living out of his car, a 30-year-old intelligent man – capitalism eats not only the land, air, water and natural resources, but it eats its own.  When you look at Amazon or Walmart or Goldman Sachs or Wells Fargo – just name the company – the standard operating procedure is wealth at any means possible. That is the Soylent Green factor, and while having indentured servants and mass incarcerated consumers is profitable, the decay of society is also profitable. Treating the symptom but not the disease, and looking at the broken part but not the absurdly incapacitated whole is what capitalism counts on.

We don’t need Chris Hedges to herald in the End of the Empire or hawk his book,  America, the Farewell Tour to contextualize just what’s wrong with parasitic casino capitalism.  In the Oregonian’s four-part series, we get the insider look at the corruption of our small state’s politicians not only from within the powerful lobbies of the state, but especially from the lobbies outside the state, and some outside the USA.

Every vote never did count when we as a citizenry are faced with gobs and gobs of money. The health of a single child or a thousand children is not contingent on the duty and sworn oaths of public servants to be the defenders, protectors, providers, and enhancers for the public interest, i.e. every citizen of the state.

Rep. Deborah Boone, (D-Cannon Beach) Boone said the companies that logged the watershed were constituents just as much as the townspeople who came to her for help.

“It’s a tough thing to have to decide between,” Boone said. “So I tried not to decide between.”

[…]

She double dipped, using campaign cash to pay bills that taxpayers also reimbursed. There was the $170 dinner during the legislative session, the multi-day $595 hotel stay in Salem, the gasoline and cell phone expenses after the session ended. Charging her campaign let her pocket some of the $10,000 in expense allowances the Legislature provided during her last year in office.

“You know, it’s legal, it’s perfectly legal to do,” Boone told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “I’m not saying I should’ve done it or whatever.”

The failure to limit campaign donations has turned Oregon into one of the biggest money states in American politics, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found. Corporate interests donate more money per resident in Oregon than in any other state. All that giving worked. Oregon now trails its West Coast neighbors on a long list of environmental protections.

As I have continued to harp, what happens in small-town America is what is demonstrably happening to America at large . . . and that community that now has mostly clear-cuts on its east slope with the vast Pacific Ocean on its west, has to deal with the wanton destruction of not only the beauty and the bounty of the forest that was once there, but also the diseased waters, air and fabric of life that clear-cuts produce.

One man with a chainsaw can do immense damage to a forested park. Legions of robotized giant timber-cutting, limb-jacking, log-dragging and stack-hauling equipment can turn vast hundreds of thousands of acres into war zones.

The meeting I went to in Depoe Bay Monday May 13 was attended by the speaker, Jason Gonzales, and a citizen who had worked on the aerial spraying ban for Lincoln County, and another citizen, and then me, citizen-journalist, I suppose. One speaker and three in the audience. That in itself is daunting, really, but the state of participation in America has never been great, and that small number has been dwindling over time because of distracted parents and even more distracted youth and retires; it becomes more than an embarrassment. It is the hollowing out of our critical thinking skills. Add to that no real journalism in small-small communities, and the recipe is the current epoch of Sacrifice Zones.

Especially when it comes to what will render these beach and mountain communities useless when the number of clear cuts ensue and then add up to a tipping point that is a land of no return, as well as a people of no return, with all those tons of Agent Orange knock-offs sprayed.

Known DNA-mutating chemicals, chemicals known for creating Parkinsonian-like diseases, known for deficit-creation in newborns – from nerves, to brain synapses, to hormone disequilibrium, to diabetes, to motor-skills dysfunctions. And known cancers and unknown synergistic ailments rendering in adults – all sprayed on noxious weeds that are the by-product of cutting down dynamic forests and exposing rich soils to wind and sun, ice and cold, weed seeds and entangling vines.

The process of replanting trees is what the Weyerhaeusers of the world do, and for someone like Jason Gonzales, with Oregon Wild, that replanting of monocrops – single species trees that are genetically engineered – is akin to deforestation. Imagine, all those dynamic biological wonders in the soils, the fungi, the under story plants, the multiple species of trees, all home to incredible mammals and reptiles (and amphibians) and a hundred bird species. That dark, shadowy forest covering streamlets and creeks, keeping them filtered and cool, turning them into harbingers of trout and salmon, and the head sources of water that becomes part of larger watersheds that not only feed incredible wetlands and estuaries, but provide human communities with clean drinking water.

Imagine that calculus played out daily in the boardrooms and on the stock exchange floor, negotiating which community will become the next sacrifice zone, which region will be thrown into environmental and economic upheaval for the profit pimps to make their next cool million, cool billion.

Little state politics, little district politics, well, it’s the microcosm of what is happening in DC, in the Quebec, in all those capital cities in Europe.

Human and animal sacrifices. Until we have logging companies owning vast tracks of land, and locking up their roads. Private lands that are locked up for more raping and razing. Private industrial ownership of Oregon’s forests has amped up big time the past decade, overtaking the small family forests that once dominated the landscape of the Oregon Coast Range.

We have a tsunami risk here, big time, and, the high land is only reachable by those dirt roads, and now the timber industry has them all locked up. The amount of insanity in our capitalism is out the roof.

For Oregon Wild and others, the biggest concerns are big ones for sure – siltation of clear streams and rivers; chemicals entering the food web and bio-accumulating; lack of diversity at every level of the biological web of a forest.

The culprit is timber companies, whose warped idea of a forest is replanting clear cuts with one species, spread out evenly; and those tree farms suck up huge amounts of water between the 10th and 50th year of growth. Streams get smaller or disappear. Small unnamed creeks fouled with both silt and desiccating wind and sun exposure.

As more stream flows are restricted in the summer, more salmon failure occurs.

The mentality of the capitalists is “we need more logging and thinning” to prevent forest fires. How’d that work out for Paradise, California? The biggest actors in forests burning are wind, humidity and moisture. Big trees in dynamic forests do incredible things to wind and fire suppression: they protect the forest from devastating fires.

These tree farms are a blasphemy because the helicopters come in with 2-d-4 and atrazine and ghysophate and end up Agent Orange-ing the animals and the hominids. The triple whammy is carbon credits are thrown at timber companies, as they get carbon money for planting trees, and so they cut trees at a younger age to plant more trees. It’s madness.

“It’s no different than those Malaysian palm oil plantations. Converting diverse rain forests into a one-tree farm is desertification. The same thing applies to our Pacific Northwest forests – converting diverse forests into a one-tree farm. We’ve lost so much forestland. Tree farms are deserts.”

So, Round-up is being used on hundreds of thousands of clear-cuts as well as along roadsides, to take out invasive plants, one common invasive being Scotch Broom. It’s the roads – logging roads – where the chemicals get into our streams, Jason noted.

Some of these companies deploy helicopters and this toxic mix of herbicides, with added ingredients, including an indicator additive that will help timber companies cover their tail by seeing where the chemicals drift during application.

A typical clear-cut maxes out at 120 acres as one unit, but there are many exceptions to that proviso Oregon State allows, so there are typically 240-acre stump graveyards, but from 10,000 feet, those clear-cut parcels are almost contiguous, so the patchwork is like some crazed LSD user’s quilt work. Except we are talking millions of acres affected by the chemicals, by the roads, by the species lost, by the micro climate disruptions, by the siltation of rivers, by the new raging fire landscape.

When we are talking about logging communities, those people see trees as dollars, and have no concept of seven generations out, or much longer for maintaining resiliency. Or what about all those people that think uncontrolled growth, uncontrolled fossil fuel burning, and uncontrolled culling of the diversity of species can go on indefinitely, no harm done? These people have no capacity to study micro fungi worlds. Or to understand how important that world is to the forest.

Most people can’t conceive of their own guts and physiology consisting of a finely-tuned orchestration of hormones, biochemicals, brain signals all tied to their guts. Most people have no concept of what an atmosphere is, and what water molecules and CO2 and methane do to the greenhouse effect.

As many intellectuals know, maybe 40 percent of North Americans – that’s 150 million – believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ in their lifetimes, and that pretty group has pretty much sold the ranch down the shit creek. How many Evangelicals really think despoiling the land, despoiling rivers, despoiling air and oceans is a crime against their godhead?

Many in the Reagan through to Trump administrations believe another Faustian Bargain – they are the elite, the top notch, top of the manure heap, and therefore, there is some magical reason for their bank accounts bulging and their companies’ resource plundering and their country overthrowing other countries.

And this leaves me with scratching my head, wondering why the local newspaper in Newport — twice a week hard copy and the same online presence — would fail to want to cover the stories I have been writing about. I was told that I need to write more dispassionately, by one of the editors, who has never met me but has published a handful of my pieces. I am sure the powers that be have already scolded him for having a different style of writer covering those “enviro” topics.

That is the tragedy, yet another one, for a fellow like me with so many years of journalism and writing experience that just listening to most of the J-school people or small-town editors and even the “professors” of the craft I have to hold back deja vu, the trauma of first running into retrograde and conservative thinkers when I was 18 just starting out as a reporter.

Here’s what probably won’t get published in the small Oregon town newspaper.

To Spray or Not to Spray – One of Many Questions Cited by Oregon Wild

An on-line monitoring system gives residents a heads up on herbicide spraying.  

Jason Gonzales lives in the woods located in the Oregon Coast Range, is friends with loggers and lumber mill owners, and wants to know when chemicals are being sprayed near his family or on forests where they camp and recreate.

“People who have lived in areas where aerial spraying occurred never knew it was happening,” Gonzales of Oregon Wild told a small group Monday at the Depoe Bay Community Center. “The monitoring system, FERNS, allows neighbors to see the impact aerial spraying has on watersheds. As soon as people start seeing the areas where timber companies were spraying, they get concerned.”

The tool at hand – in place since 2015 through the Oregon Department of Forestry – is called the Forest Activity Electronic Reporting and Notification System. The on-line notification system allows citizens to create an area of interest map of up to 23,000 acres to assess forest activity in it. Gonzalez has been showing various communities along the coast how to use the system, which is a notification product that gives landowners email notifications when a timber company is applying for road, timber harvest and herbicide spraying permits.

The notifications for active operations/application for permit (NOAP) has to be filed at least 15 days before an operation can proceed.

Lincoln County voted on banning aerial spraying May 2017;  the citizens fought hard to get the measure on the ballot and fought harder on dispelling the anti-ban rhetoric coming from the some of the largest pesticide companies in the USA – through the trade association, CropLife America, an industry group representing major pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection.

One of those citizens, who now lives in Waldport, is Debra Fant, a retired nurse who was also at the FERNS training/presentation.

She stated strongly her position: “How short sighted is it to value money and power without concern or understanding the inherent value of health, nourishing food, clean water and air, and fertility of soil from diversity of organisms that balances the natural systems?”

Taking on the likes of Monsanto is daunting, Gonzales and Fant conceded, but the fact is less than 14,000 Lincoln County voters supported the aerial spraying ban despite the reported $34 per voter spent by CropLife to halt it.

Fant was clear to point out that the chemical stew used to kill so-called noxious weeds includes hormone disrupters. While the goal for a retired nurse like Fant, who has been in Lincoln County 40 years, is to have no chemicals sprayed either by helicopter or by hand, the FERNS notification system gives people the opportunity to reduce exposure to the chemicals and gives them more breathing room to make adjustments when spraying will affect them directly and through watershed contamination.

“Having activists in the area where the clear-cutting occurs and the aerial spraying is proposed can both delay and change the nature of the spraying,” Gonzales stated, as he lives on 160 acres of forest land with neighbors who are highly engaged when an application for clear cutting and spraying occurs.

“Timber companies don’t want the aerial spraying filmed.” In his area, proposed aerial spraying was changed to backpack spraying, which involves not only more direct pin-pointed application, but fewer chemicals.

Gonzales mentioned that March 28 this year, more than 25 people showed up at the Veronia Grange to hear the same talk he gave in Depoe Bay, which is the same presentation he’s given in Florence, Rockaway Beach and other coastal towns.

“My Power Point which usually takes less than 45 minutes was extended an hour,” he stated. “There were six paid timber industry people there challenging almost everything I showed and said.” The Q & A period, the Oregon Wild activist stated, went on for two hours.

Most dramatic in the talk at Depoe are the Google Earth images of the Central Coast, showing over real time the amount of clear cutting that is taking place. “With that sort of photographic evidence, even many loggers at my talks shake their heads and state that, Yeah, that is a lot of clear-cutting I didn’t know about.’ They can’t debate the visual evidence.”

His talk at Depoe Bay questioned the Oregon’s Forest Practices Act, which he states “has the weakest state level logging rules in the region.” In addition, he and his group are looking to make forest laws stronger for “the good of communities, drinking water, and carbon sequestration.”

Debra, who is with Lincoln County Community Rights, mentioned the extensive coverage of the Lincoln County aerial spray ban in September 2018 by Sharon Lerner of the Intercept: “How a Ragtag Group of Oregon Locals Took on the Biggest Chemical Companies in the World – And Won.”

Gonzales ramified media coverage of our forests by highlighting the recent Oregonian’s four-part series, “Polluted by Money: How corporate cash corrupted one of the greenest states in America,” and the March 15, 2019 final story, “Perfectly Legal: The clear-cut rewards of campaign cash.”

“Look, I am the only full-time paid person working on conservation forest issues in the state of Oregon, the only one paid to look at logging laws,” Jason said, emphasizing there are plenty of volunteers and citizen groups throwing in on local issues. He mentioned how Rockaway Beach highlighted in the Oregonian series demonstrates the “complete ineffectiveness of our forestry practices in the state and the dirty money influencing both Democrats and Republicans.”

That watershed provides drinking water to Rockaway Beach and has been logged so extensively in the past 15 years almost all 1,300 acres are clear-cuts.  Gonzales works with residents who complain of sicknesses, chemical odors and silting of the rivers and creeks. These are the same people cited by the Oregonian who say they “struggled to be heard by a local lawmaker [ Rep. Deborah Boone ] who took thousands from timber companies.”

When asked about the current legislative session, Gonzales was adamant: “The Legislature passed up all opportunities to modernize the state’s logging laws. The swing vote, Senator Arnie Roblan (D- Coos Bay) voted against everything that would have regulated the timber and chemical industries.”

To highlight the issue, Carl Whiting of Rockaway Beach Citizens for Watershed protection, recently stated:

The clear-cuts are ugly, but at least they are visible. The layers of chemicals aerially sprayed onto the newly cleared hills and valleys are not. The vast majority of our communities border private forest lands whose bald, brown slopes make up the bulk of our watersheds. Glyphosate and 2-4-D drift downwind to mingle with the Indaziflam and Clopyralid flowing downstream. These chemicals are used to poison every fern, flower and berry bush until only a silent, ecological desert of farmed fir trees remains.

In the Eye of the Crow

You ever wonder what a Martian might think if he happened to land near an emergency room? He’d see an ambulance whizzing in and everybody running out to meet it, tearing the doors open, grabbing up the stretcher, scurrying along with it. ‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of beings,’ a Martian would say. Don’t you think so?

― Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist, April 2002

Respite. Oregon Coast. Tidepools, grey whales, seals and sea lions, puffins and eagles, riotous rookeries and crashing tides, Milky Way and bioluminescence.

One large emotional palette from which to paint new images, and to recharge batteries, reset some clocks, and reflect.

Yet, how can a thoughtful person go minutes or hours or days with a blank mind, or into some levitating meditative state without all those deaths by a thousand cuts eating at the conscience?

Death by a thousand laws, by a thousand penalties, by a thousand codes/regulations/permits; death by a thousand fines/levies/fees; death by a thousand firings/sackings/diminishments of our collective humanity. Death by a thousand tons of toxins in our community’s air, water, soil, education system, legal framework, urban planning. Death by a thousand seconds of celebrity culture, insane fake news, mauling media, lecherous lawyers, junkyard scientists, medical malpractitioners. Death by a thousand broken treaties, broken laws for the One Percent, broken promises, broken bureaucracies.

How can you not wake up, look in the mirror, and be angry? Really angry at the state of the world, at the state of inequities, at the state of billionaires capturing our souls by the gigabytes to the 1,000th power, billionaires foreclosing on our jobs, our schools, our communities, our safety, health, sanity?

John Trudell said a lot about that, waking up angry every single day . . . decrying what whites like to think are the great civilizers of the world (themselves) – what whites think western civilization is:

The great lie is that it is civilization. It’s not civilized. It has been literally the most blood thirsty brutalizing system ever imposed upon this planet. That is not civilization. That’s the great lie, is that it represents civilization.

John Trudell

Think about it: going into tourist space has more curves and dangerous cliffs to negotiate than being in the mix 24/7. The mix, man: fighting for homeless, fighting for the drug addicted, fighting for students, fighting for our people’s health, fighting for clean air, water, soil, money. With each overfed, overpaid/-paying, overly obnoxious and arrogant tourist, with every 30-foot RV with Lexus SUV in-tow, with every Indian Pale Ale microbrewery pitcher consumed and mountain of fried clams gobbled up, well, reflection isn’t just looking at Ursula Minor and Major as the tide goes out and the Dungeness crabs come in.

Reflection is seeing the human species as a cancer. Self-centered, violent, believing there is a dung heap for the rest of the scum and a golden city for the vaunted, valued, human. More specifically, here’s sentiments from Susan Sontag, not to be taken lightly:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Scheme of things, the scale of the glass half full or glass half empty. The hierarchy of needs, and the implosion of those who have and those who do not. Peter Principle of the most incompetent, the most ethically challenged, the most philistine, the most ignorant, the most self-aggrandizing, the most murderous and sociopathic, rising to the top – in governments, parliaments, boardrooms, corporations, militaries, schools, hospitals . . . et al.

A Pacific Coast that was once sane and peopled by Salish Tribes, now one with pink-skinned folks like Gremlins scurrying about to stake out more retail space, more consumer opportunities, more territory yanked from anything left in a fractured “natural world.” Five days of being on the coast, and it was all white people looking for saltwater taffy and goofy expensive humpback whale blown glass monstrosities. Unending kitschy stuff while the Anglo Saxon/Caucasian minds funnel through moving lips to purge out strings of commentary that are insipid, childish, all bundled up in the “where are we going to eat breakfast next and then find a nice seaside table to sip that Pinot while we stay comforted in our great white world?” Not an African-American, Black, Indian, Native American in sight.

The smartest things in the air out here along the Oregon Coast are the corvids and thousands upon thousands of sea birds, falcons, bald eagles and osprey. It certainly isn’t the thoughts, words and actions of humanity here, from Newport south all the way to Golden Beach. We are talking about unending caravans of motor homes with full-sized SUVs in tow, the other traffic feeding a crisscross onto summer home beaches, some of them two-month-stay homes, and a lot of real estate for sale, properties moving from one hand to the next and a world of tourists devoid of color. It’s five days, and no Mexican-American families, no African-American families. It’s as if the US of A is that alt right David Duke land of the white Christian.

Disconcerting, being out here for a respite for myself and my significant other. Tough jobs both of us manage back in Portland, and the getting away from the woods and rivers where we live and work, to the Oregon Coast is a deserving break. But, again, bizarre, really, the lack of diversity as if the USA, with 335 million citizens, is not about to largely (percentage wise) transform into a country of non-white-Germanic-Anglo people.

State of the mind of white Americans tied to their whiteness, their Crypto Christian/Crypto Zionist earth razing and financialization schemes to corner everything we do, see, hope for, dream of, create, think of, believe in, live for, die for, hold dear, propagate as a market, it’s a sickness sent out to all corners of the world through the London School of Economics-Oxford-Yale-Stanford-Yeshiva type of recruiting as slick and effective as any School of the Americas or West Point!

Trump is Obama is Clinton is Bush is Andrew Jackson is Nixon is Roosevelt is Washington. Whiteness is the key to civilization, even with our one outwardly mixed-race CEO. He excels as a man of white civilizers holding the key to final subjugation. Obama, who is like a Stepford Son!

But let’s pause on the sheer demographics and exponentiality of the globe’s racial make-up coming onto the 8 or 9 billion mark:

One demographer, who didn’t want to be named for fear of being called racist, said: ‘It’s a matter of pure arithmetic that, if nothing else happens, non-Europeans will become a majority and whites a minority in the UK. That would probably be the first time an indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority in its historic homeland.’

Lee Jasper, race relations adviser to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, predicted a similar future, telling The Observer : ‘Where America goes, Europe follows 30 years later. There is a potential for whites to become a minority in some European countries.’

In Europe, with its 40,000-year-old indigenous white population, the rise of a non-white majority may not be greeted with such equanimity.

In the United Kingdom, the number of people from ethnic minorities has risen from a few tens of thousands in 1950 to more than 3 million now.
•In Italy, the birth rate is so low that, without immigration, the population is predicted to decline by 16 million by 2050.
•The United States government predicts that non-hispanic whites will become a minority in the country by 2055.
•The United Nations predicts that 98 per cent of world population growth until 2025 will be in developing nations.
•The population of Europe is expected to drop from 25 per cent of the world total in 1900 to 7 per cent in the next 50 years.

— Anthony Browne, The Last Days of a White World, Guardian, September 3, 2000.

No matter how quickly the demographics shift in the US of A, correcting and redressing the past biggest injustices of Native American genocide by the white economists, bankers, clerics, militaries, serfs into this country will never happen. First Nations aboriginal peoples used to have this land to themselves. But now, less than one percent of the population they teeter on complete historical banishment, as the largest growth groups are among Latinos (largely derived from Spain), and Asians, (largely from China and the Philippines).

This state of the world a la Oregon Coast is a state of people not able to get under the skin of how messed up the country is, has been and is continually going. No large conversations about those things, even the ones who adore and lust after Trump, they just move along in a world of retail relationships, one where the food is talked about while eating it, where the weather is detailed beyond absurdity, and where no serious talk about our collective and individual pain ever unfolds.

Whites are lobotomized by debt, depression, deceit, emasculation, Hollywood, F-U Book, the Billionaire Mile High Club of Data Dealers, overeating/under-nutrition, delusions, and dreams of a UFO End Times or New Times.

I attempt to gauge how illiterate folks are along the coast, looking at stuff in museums, people trying to understand the scheme of 70 percent of the globe’s surface (oceans) on all life, and their attempts at trying to understand the clouds above and the winds below.

The corporations-TV-jefes have done a very good job, alongside the schools, media, ignorant politicians, and celebrities, AND scientists, of denuding the western mind of anything real or pressing, anything resembling a solution to the unfolding ills of climate warming, oceans rising, resources dwindling, bodies toxifying, communities eroding.

This vast Pacific Coast is, of course, under the gun as acidification of the waters around Oregon is ramping up due to all sorts of upwellings, smokestack-tailpipe spewings. Species are collapsing. More people are moving into the tsunami belt here, and more woods/forests are being clear cut. More cars, more CO2 pushed out of internal combustion machines and burning of other fossil fuels all the way up the Industrial Age chain our factory technology 12,000 miles away from Depoe Bay. This is a big thing, ocean acidification, and the Oregon Coast is sort of the testing ground for the rest of the world tied to this double-headed monster – climate changing (warming) and ocean acidification.

The Surfrider Foundation is working hard on this project to understand how Oregon’s coast will be affected by lower PH levels. Take a look at this amazing web site and organization, a coalescing of forces that very few tourists and locals alike know even little about. Here, the news not fit to broadcast or turn into a Netflix drama (sic):

Canary in the Coal Mine

Whiskey Creek Hatchery became the ‘Canary in the Coalmine’ for Oregon’s shellfish industry in 2007 when their oyster larvae experienced a massive die off. Scientists determined that the lower pH of the seawater they were pumping in from Netarts Bay was preventing the larvae from growing their shells.

On a map of Oregon, find the coastal town of Newport. Draw a straight line directly west, perfectly perpendicular to the coast, out into the mighty Pacific 200 nautical miles from the blinking beacon of the Yaquina Head lighthouse. You’ve just sketched the Newport Hydrographic Line. Nearly everything we know about the function of Oregon’s coastal ocean ecosystem has been learned from samples collected at these stations between 1961 and … well, last week.

The technology used along the Newport Line has evolved with the times. Since 2006, autonomous underwater gliders (the first two were named “Bob” and “Jane” after Bob Smith and Jane Huyer) have been patrolling it 24/7. At this very moment, two gliders resembling small yellow missiles are swimming their lonely way, diving and surfacing in an undulating path, collecting data on temperature, salinity, water clarity, ocean currents and more.

These remarkable instruments transmit about 10 percent of their data as they “fly,” communicating via satellite when they surface. When a battery gets low, the glider surfaces and calls home. Scientists retrieve it from a boat, switch the battery out for a fully charged replacement, download the full data set and release it. The gliders can be monitored and even controlled via a smart phone app.

Initially, studies along the Newport Line focused on physics — currents, temperatures and winds — in order to understand and characterize the most important oceanographic phenomenon in the region: wind-driven coastal upwelling. This process underlies nearly everything else that happens in Oregon’s ocean, from the flourishing fisheries to the presence of gray whales to the low-oxygen conditions and ocean acidification that have been in the news in recent years.

In a nutshell, summer winds blowing from the north push surface water to the west and drive the conveyor belt of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters into the coastal zone, fueling the Northwest’s food webs.

Sometimes called “climate change’s evil twin,” a phrase coined by Oregon State’s Jane Lubchenco, ocean acidification is an insidious and unseen effect of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. The oceans have always absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere, but as levels of the greenhouse gas have climbed, primarily the result of fossil fuel burning, the oceans have taken in ever-higher amounts, leading to shifts in ocean chemistry.

Organisms from oysters to corals are considered sensitive. Over the past 200 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average ocean-wide pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1. That may not sound like much, but on the pH scale, it amounts to a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. Other researchers have found that highly acidified water can cause calcium shells made or used by many marine creatures to be harder to build or to dissolve. The net effects may be felt up and down the food chain. Animals in the intertidal and near-shore zones, including economically important species such as oysters and crabs, may be at risk.

‘The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,’ says Chan. Here’s why the Oregon coast is particularly vulnerable to acidification and thus an important place to study ocean chemistry.

A Deep-Ocean Conveyor Belt

The summer sun can warm your face, and the air can feel hot, but if you’ve ever been swimming along the Oregon coast, you know how cold the water can get. It gets especially chilly when north winds blow and push warmer surface water to the west. In its place, currents from deep in the ocean rise along our beaches and bays to replace it. This water — delivered by a process that scientists call upwelling — isn’t just colder; it also carries more nutrients that can fuel ocean life.

On the downside, it has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Like the proverbial slow boat to China, it can take decades for deep ocean currents to travel to the West Coast. When it last touched the atmosphere at the start of its journey, CO2 levels were lower than they are today. In the future, the water upwelling along our coast will carry the memory of the annual increases in CO2.

Okay, so I cut and paste a lot here, but again, what are those crab cake bakes and flounder fries really about here along Oregon’s coastal water, which mostly originates in the North Pacific off Japan? Answer: Two cold, deep-water currents, one of which takes a decade to reach Oregon, while the second current brings those waters to the Oregon coast in about 50 years as it follows amazingly serpentine routes around the globe.

Now, here’s the physics and chemistry we don’t talk about when eating our dill-infused, olive tampenade-drenched salmon — cold water holds higher concentrations of CO2 than warmer water, so these circuitous currents start off with increased CO2 levels. Then while making their slow flow toward the U.S. West Coast, the biological activity by organisms living in that water layer — zooplankton, phytoplankton and other microorganisms — constantly generates CO2 until, by the time the ocean conveyor belt of water rises to the surface off the Oregon coast, its CO2 level has increased greatly. Then, as the water is exposed to our atmosphere after decades in the depths of the mother ocean, even more of the greenhouse gas gets absorbed. This is something most Americans can’t-won’t-don’t grasp – chemical changes caused by engines of biomechanics of currents, air, and pollution.

Okay-okay, not all tourists get into this level of science and deeper looks at how messed up the world is because of the Corporate Line and Power (One Percent) and the Collective Delusion of their Compliant Consumers (us). But truly, how can people in 2018 NOT go through the thought process of considering each and every bite we take, each mile we drive, each foot of earth we walk onto, each inch of clothing we buy, every trinket and every product we consume as part of the big picture?

That little oyster stand in Newport has its intended and unintended consequences already built in, all that embedded energy to get to the oysters (metal in the ships harvested in mines/smelted/galvanized; then fossil fuel dug up and piped in to propel those ships to sea); to harvest the bivalves, then to haul them back, and next to process, package and ship them out, and, finally, to attract people from all parts of the West Coast to consume them.

Yes, our own trip to get there and each nibble we make with the squeeze of a lemon, well, the footprint of Homo Sapiens-Consumo-Retailpithecus is dramatic. We are talking about those shellfish, now vulnerable to ocean acidification, all that fossil fuel to propel humans to the parking lot and propel foreign made utensils and plates and equipment to the little archetypal oyster shack, in Oregon, well, consequences are being laid out as I write this on the Cloud.

In a world where everything is a retail transaction, where no thought of how the stuff we stuff into our mouths got from farm to fork is expended, it’s no surprise we are cooked intellectually and as communities of me-myself-and-I cancers. Then, more onion peel pulled back: who are these owners of these small businesses in these small towns on the Oregon Coast? Do they care about the world, or their little zone, little hamlets or beach towns? Do they care about the rampant poverty, the growth of shaky families aging in place, in the death spiral of education and decent ways to be, to be human, in small style, while living in a world of entertaining ourselves to death and make-believe idealism and ideals tied to the rich and the famous or notorious?

Do they care Portland is filled with houseless people, homeless veterans, youth living on couches under an average of $80K in college debt, people like me working our tails off for the underpay the non-profit world of social services spreads like disease across the land? And that’s not just Portland, but Every Town USA. Do they care about fence line communities in Houston or the lead in water in Flint or the lack of electricity in Puerto Rico six months after a hurricane?

Do they care about words having universal meaning, or the poetry in being versus consuming, or the truths of human kind, or the lessons in evolving history, or the potentiality of real revolution, or the bigger power of changing him-or-her-self into a giver, no longer a taker, or being part of the smaller and bigger solution, while still grappling with their privilege, and then finally seeing the future of seven generations out being more important now than ever before?

Respite. Observation. A poem. Sanity:

Contemplating Nine Crows Jumping Mid-Air for Our Trail Mix near Yachats, Oregon

on the eve of partner’s 48th birthday

something about cobalt
tips, wings the black of eclipse
birds smarter than
parking lot humanity
tricksters, crowing along faded lines
jumping, leaping, barely flapping
corvid line of avian
harmonizing with wind
people looking into ocean sky

we asked crows into our lives
two of us tired of heavy
hearts, our own species
cancers, riotous Homo
sapiens, like the cracks
of coast cliffs
beaches we surmount
hoping gulls congregate

we never know when
light from animal brother
inches into our hearts
never know when whimsy follows
us into memory, love
how coal black birds
possess mental might

through tricks, we can’t stop
thinking birds, smarter
than human race, the Oregon
Pacific in the background
creek emptying into swells
we find harbor momentarily
comics like Charlie Chaplin
waddling, marching, the grip
of their sky, somehow
transformed into our world too

Southeast Asia Getting Killed by Logging and Mining

When an airplane is approaching Singapore Changi Airport, it makes the final approach either from the direction of Peninsular Malaysia, or from the Indonesian island of Batam.

Either way, the scope for natural disaster under the wings is of monumental proportions.

All the primary forest of the Malaysian state bordering Singapore – Johor – is now gone and the tremendous sprawl of scarred land, mostly covered by palm oil plantations, is expanding far towards the horizon. The predictable plantation grid pattern is only interrupted by motorways, contained human settlements, and by few, mostly palm oil-related industrial structures.

On the Indonesian side, the Island of Batam resembles a horror apocalyptic movie: there is always some thick smoke rising towards the sky, and there are clearly visible, badly planned and terribly constructed towns and villages. Water around the island is of a dubious, frightening color. The environmental destruction is absolute. Batam was supposed to be the Indonesian answer to Singapore. Indonesia was dreaming about a modern mega city with a super airport and port, dotted with factories, research centers and shopping facilities. But the turbo-capitalist country hoped that all this would be created by the private sector. That was,  of course, unrealistic. What followed was an absolute disaster.

As it is now, Batam is nothing more than a series of ‘Potemkin Villages’, complete with several potholed four-lane roads that lead nowhere. As for the research: there is hardly any science even in Jakarta or Bandung, let alone here. After several attempts to ‘save face’ and to cover up this massive failure, the island has been allowed to ‘sink’ back to where it had already been for several decades: a huge whorehouse for predominantly Singaporean and Malaysian sex tourists; a cheap shopping district selling mainly counterfeit goods, a place notorious for lacking even the most basic public services.

No heads were made to roll for this monumental and thoroughly stupid set of failures. The obedient business-owned media is hardly ever critical of the Indonesian regime and its business ‘elites’. But the impact of the ‘Batam experiment’ is enormous – there is no intact nature left on the entire island.

*****

What goes on in the Southern Part of Southeast Asia?

Is nature of absolutely no concern to the Malaysian and especially Indonesian governments, business conglomerates and society?

The problem here is that everything above and below the ground has been, for years and decades, viewed as a source of potential profit. It is only valued if it can be exploited, if there can be a price tag attached to it. No sentimentality, no thoughts about beauty! Here, greed has already reached insane proportions.

Unbridled logging on Mahakam River, Kalimantan

Like in the West, big companies in several Southeast Asian countries are now running and selecting the governments. They are also controlling the mass media, infiltrating social networks. To criticize great logging and palm oil companies in Malaysia is lethal, literally suicidal, and almost no one dares to do it. In the past, some did, and died. The same can be said about ‘illegal’ gold mining, logging and other extraction ventures in Indonesia, where much of the unsavory mining and logging enterprises are in the hands of the police, military or of government officials (the interests of all three branches are also often intertwined).

*****

Places like Borneo and Sumatra are finished; almost all of their legendary wildlife habitats are devastated. Hundreds of species are gone or almost extinct. The once mighty, primary forests are squeezed into a few national parks, and even those are often being used for commercial farming, and also for palm oil plantations.

It is not just an issue of ‘disappearing beauty’ and biodiversity. Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) used to be on par with Amazonia, functioning as the lungs of the Earth. It is the third largest island on our planet (and the largest one in Asia), and it is fully and some would now say irreversibly plundered. In Indonesia, deadly chemicals used on the palm oil plantations are killing tens of thousands of people with cancer, although you’d have to work deep in the villages to figure out the truth, as no reliable statistics exist and the issue is highly ‘sensitive’, as is everything that is horrible and sinister in this part of the world. Many rivers, including Kapuas, contain ridiculously high levels of mercury, the result of illegal but openly practiced gold mining.

Monstrous coal mine near Samarinda, Kalimantan

To see some parts of Borneo from the air is like observing an enormous, nightmarish and rotting wreck of a ship: black scars, brown scars, and dark zigzagging open veins of what used to be, a long time ago, tremendous and proud, as well as pristine, waterways.

What has been done to Indonesian-controlled Papua by Indonesian companies and by Western multi-national mining conglomerates is indescribable. Apart from committing genocide against the local population, the entire half of this tremendous island, which used to be inhabited by hundreds of local tribes, is now being ‘exposed’, forced open, and literally raped. Of course, as an anti-Communist warrior and obedient pro-business client state, Indonesia is almost never criticized by the West. The genocides it has been committing since 1965 are either sponsored or at least supported from Washington, London and Canberra.

Malaysian and Indonesian logging and mining companies do not stop at committing crimes at home – they go far, to other Asian countries, but also deep into Oceania, places like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I witnessed on several occasions the full destruction of both nature and human cultures; a nightmare which I described in detail in my book Oceania.

*****

I am relentlessly documenting what is happening to Southeast Asia in the books that I am writing (alone and with local authors), as well as in my upcoming films. I’m in the middle of producing a film about the fate of Borneo island, a place which is becoming dearer and dearer to me, the more devastated it gets.

The more I witness and the more I document, the more hopeless I often feel. It is because there seems to be almost no place which is capable of resisting the onslaught.

I am writing this essay on board Malaysian Airlines flights. The first one took me from the city of Miri (a state of Sarawak in Borneo, Malaysia) to Kuala Lumpur, the second from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

Serawak Malaysia, as it used to be

After filming on several occasions in the totally violated Indonesian Kalimantan, I hoped to see something optimistic in Malaysian Sarawak; something that could be used as an inspiration for the future of the incomparably poorer and much more corrupt Indonesian part of the island. This time I drove all around the city of Miri, and then I crossed the border and drove further into Brunei. I flew inside tiny propeller planes over the jungle, or what is still left of it. I took a narrow motorized makeshift canoe.

Yes, I saw few beautiful national parks and traditional longhouses. And I was surprised to find out that the filthy rich but politically and religiously oppressive sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, with its brutal and extreme implementation of Sharia Law, unbridled consumerism and worshipped oil industry, is actually doing incomparably better job than Indonesia and even Malaysia, at least environmentally. It is at least protecting its nature, including the rainforest. Brunei’s untouched, pristine native forest begins just a few miles from the coast, from its oil wells and refineries.

Pristine Brunei prime forest … a small propeller plane

But when I rented a narrow shabby longboat, deep in the interior of Sarawak, I encountered total misery and devastation. The road was great, most likely constructed precisely for moving quickly and efficiently, both timber and palm oil fruit. Several schools and medical facilities looked modern. But most of the locals do not live near the roads – they dwell, traditionally, along the rivers. And there, the situation is totally different: people residing in poor, primitive shacks, children and adults swimming in desperately polluted waterways, while stumps of trees ‘decorating’ stinking, muddy shores.

*****

Some would say that Southeast Asia is not alone. In many ways, the West already ‘rearranged’ its nature decades and centuries ago. In densely populated countries like Italy or Netherlands, very little of the original nature is left today. In the United States, the original meadows and pristine grasslands gave way to commercial fields; to agricultural mass production.

What shocks in Southeast Asia is not the fact that people want to make a living out of their land. It is the brutality of the systematic destruction of majestic mountains and hills, of mighty rivers, lakes, shores as well as the irreversibility of the changes that come with cutting down almost all native rainforest, replacing it with chemically-boosted palm oil and rubber plantations.

Most of those who would be allowed to see those monstrous coal mines dotting Indonesian Borneo would be terrified. Endless sprawls of palm oil (and literally imprisoned villages, squeezed by it as in a straight jacket) could perhaps outrage even the most hardened pro-market fundamentalists, who would bother to visit from other parts of the world.

Or maybe not… The multi-national ‘mining horrors’ that are being described to me by my friends and colleagues, who are presently working in Peru, are somehow comparable. What I saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows the same spite that many Western companies and governments have for the local people.

What I find truly ‘unique’ in Southeast Asia, is the totality of destruction. The number of animal and bird species that are already gone, or are disappearing or have been simply hunted down, or the number of hopelessly polluted rivers; the forests and jungles that are stolen from the native inhabitants.

The speed is yet another shocking factor. It is all happening extremely fast. No wonder that Green Peace put Indonesia on the list of the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest destroyer of the tropical forests on Earth.

What is left of the Indonesian forests is being either logged out or is systematically burning. Thick smog travels, periodically, from Sumatra to Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, creating a health hazard, shutting down schools and tormenting people suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems.

But Indonesia is big, the fourth most populous country on Earth. It does what it wants, and it appears that it cannot be stopped. Or more precisely, its rulers and business elites are doing what they want. And, as long as it fits into the agenda of their Western handlers (and it usually does), the country is enjoying almost total impunity.

Of course, those who are suffering the most are the local people themselves, as well as countless defenseless species, be they animals, birds, fish, trees, or plants.

Soon, nothing original will be left here. Billions of dollars will be made by those very few rich, and the poor majority will be stuck with the coolie’s jobs. The plundering of the environment is creating dependency syndrome and very little advancement for the society. The money flows, but not where it is supposed to flow.

Like in the Gulf, almost nothing or very little is being invested into science, technology, the arts and creative sectors.

Ruined islands and peninsulas will keep producing ‘blood fruits’. Land owners, corrupt politicians, middlemen and traders will keep getting outrageously rich. But the great majority of people will have to get used to living with a polluted and totally unnatural environment. They’d be stuck, in fact, most of them are already stuck, in some sort of depressing concentration camps surrounded by unnatural, hostile crops, and by the chemically-contaminated land.

Those beloved oilwells of Brunei

All this will continue until who knows what terrifying and bitter end, unless, of course, the people of Southeast Asia will finally wake up, and instead of accepting this present turbo-capitalist model, begin to think and dream about the “Ecological Civilization” and other marvelous cutting-edge philosophies that are flowing out from China and other non-conformist parts of the world.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook

To Liberate Cambodia

A long-standing French protectorate briefly occupied by Japan during World War II, Cambodia became independent in 1953 as the French finally withdrew from Indochina. Under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia remained officially neutral, including during the subsequent US war on Indochina. However, by the mid-1960s, parts of the eastern provinces of Cambodia were bases for North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front (NVA/NLF) forces operating against South Vietnam and this resulted in nearly a decade of bombing by the United States from 4 October 1965.

In 1970 Sihanouk was ousted in a US-supported coup led by General Lon Nol. The following few years were characterized by an internal power struggle between Cambodian elites and war involving several foreign countries, but particularly including continuation of the recently commenced ‘carpet bombing’ of Cambodia by the US Air Force.

On 17 April 1975 the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia. Following four years of ruthless rule by the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge, initially under Pol Pot, they were defeated by the Vietnamese army in 1979 and the Vietnamese occupation authorities established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), installing Heng Samrin and other pro-Vietnamese Communist politicians as leaders of the new government. Heng was succeeded by Chan Sy as Prime Minister in 1981.

Following the death of Chan Sy, Hun Sen became Prime Minister of Cambodia in 1985 and, despite a facade of democracy, he and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have been in power ever since. This period has notably included using the army to purge a feared rival in a bloody coup conducted in 1997. Hun Sen’s co-Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was ousted and fled to Paris while his supporters were arrested, tortured and some were summarily executed.

The current main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was founded in 2012 by merging the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. Emblematic of Cambodia’s ‘democratic’ status, more than two dozen opposition members and critics have been locked up in the past year alone and the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, known for his nonviolent, politically tolerant views, is currently imprisoned at a detention centre in Tboung Khmum Province following his arrest on 3 September 2017 under allegations of treason, espionage and for orchestrating anti-government demonstrations in 2013-2014. These demonstrations were triggered by widespread allegations of electoral fraud during the Cambodian general election of 2013.

On 16 November 2017 the CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s highest court and 118 of its members, including Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy, were banned from politics for five years.

Cambodian Society

Socially, Cambodia is primarily Khmer with ethnic populations of Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham, Thai and Lao. It has a population of 16 million people. The pre-eminent religion is Buddhism. The adult literacy rate is 75%; few Cambodians speak a European language limiting access to western literature. Most students complete 12 years of (low quality public) school but tertiary enrollment is limited. As in all countries, education (reinforced by state propaganda through the media) serves to intimidate and indoctrinate students into obedience of elites. Discussion of national politics in a school class is taboo and such discussions are rare at tertiary level. This manifests in the narrow range of concerns that mobilize student action: personal outcomes such as employment opportunities. Issues such as those in relation to peace, the environment and refugees do not have a significant profile. In short, the student population generally is neither well informed nor politically engaged.

However, many other issues engage at least some Cambodians, with demonstrations, strikes and street blockades being popular tactics, although the lack of strategy means that outcomes are usually limited and, despite commendable nonviolent discipline in many cases, violent repression is not effectively resisted. Issues of concern to workers, particularly low wages in a country with no minimum wage law, galvanize some response. Garment workers are a significant force because their sector is important to the national economy. Land grabbing and lack of housing mobilize many people but usually fail to attract support beyond those effected. Environmental issues, such as deforestation and natural resource depletion, fail to mobilize the support they need to be effective.

Having noted that, however, Cambodian activists require enormous courage to take nonviolent action as the possibility of violent state repression in response to popular mobilization is a real one, as illustrated above and documented in the Amnesty International report “Taking to the streets: Freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia” from 2015.

Perhaps understandably, given their circumstances, international issues, such as events in the Middle East, North Korea and the plight of the Rohingya in neighbouring Myanmar are beyond the concern of most Cambodians.

Economically, Cambodians produce traditional goods for small local households with industrial production remaining low in a country that is still industrializing. Building on agriculture (especially rice), tourism and particularly the garment industry, which provided the basis for the Cambodian export sector in recent decades, the dictatorship has been encouraging light manufacturing, such as of electronics and auto-parts, by establishing “special economic zones” that allow cheap Cambodian labour to be exploited. Most of the manufacturers are Japanese and despite poor infrastructure (such as lack of roads and port facilities), poor production management, poor literacy and numeracy among the workers, corruption and unreliable energy supplies, Cambodian factory production is slowly rising to play a part in Japan’s regional supply chain. In addition, Chinese investment in the construction sector has grown enormously in recent years and Cambodia is experiencing the common problem of development being geared to serve elite commercial interests and tourists rather than the needs (such as affordable housing) of ordinary people or the environment.

Environmentally, Cambodia does little to conserve its natural resources. For example, between 1990 and 2010, Cambodia lost 22% of its forest cover, or nearly 3,000,000 hectares, largely to logging. There is no commitment to gauging environmental impact before construction projects begin and the $US800m Lower Sesan 2 Dam, in the northeast of the country, has been widely accused of being constructed with little thought given to local residents (who will be evicted or lose their livelihood when the dam reservoir fills) or the project’s environmental impact.

Beyond deforestation (through both legal and illegal logging) then, environmental destruction in Cambodia occurs as a result of large scale construction and agricultural projects which destroy important wildlife habitats, but also through massive (legal and illegal) sand mining, poaching of endangered and endemic species, with Cambodian businesses and political authorities, as well as foreign criminal syndicates and many transnational corporations from all over the world implicated in the various aspects of this corruptly-approved and executed destruction.

In the words of Cambodian researcher Tay Sovannarun: “The government just keeps doing business as usual while the rich cliques keep extracting natural resources and externalizing the cost to the rest of society.” Moreover, three members of the NGO Mother Nature – Sun Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang – recently served nearly a year in prison for their efforts to defend the environment and the group was dissolved by the government in September 2017.

Cambodian Politics

Politically, Cambodians are largely naïve with most believing that they live in a ‘democracy’ despite the absence of its most obvious hallmarks such as civil and political rights, the separation of powers including an independent judiciary, free and fair elections, the right of assembly and freedom of the press (with the English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily recently closed down along with some radio stations). And this is an accurate assessment of most members of the political leadership of the CNRP as well.

Despite a 30-year record of political manipulation by Hun Sen and the CPP, during which “Hun Sen has made it clear that he does not respect the concept of free and fair elections”, which has included obvious corruption of elections through vote-rigging but also an outright coup in 1997 and the imprisonment or exile of opposition leaders since then, most Cambodians and their opposition leaders still participate in the charade that they live in a ‘democracy’ which could result in the defeat of Hun Sen and the CPP at a “free and fair” election. Of course, there are exceptions to this naïveté, as a 2014 article written by Mu Sochua, veteran Cambodian politician and former minister of women’s affairs in a Hun Sen government, demonstrates.

Moreover, as Sovannarun has noted, most Cambodians still think international pressure is effective in keeping the CPP from disrespecting democratic principles which they have violated up until this day. Right now they wait for US and EU sanctions in the hope that the CPP will step back. He asks: “Even assuming it works, when will Cambodians learn to rely on themselves when the ruling party causes the same troubles again? Are they going to ask for external help like this every time and expect their country to be successfully democratized?”

The problem, Sovannarun argues, is that “Cambodians in general do not really understand what democracy is. Their views are very narrow. For them, democracy is just an election. Many news reports refer to people as “voters” but in Khmer, this literally translates as “vote owners” as if people cannot express their rights or power beside voting.”

Fortunately, recent actions by the CPP have led to opposition leaders and some NGOs finally declaring the Hun Sen dictatorship for what it is. But for Sovannarun:

Democratization ended in 1997. The country should be regarded as a dictatorship since then. The party that lost the election in 1993 still controlled the national military, the police and security force, and the public administration, eventually using military force to establish absolute control in 1997. How is Cambodia still a democracy?

However, recent comprehensive research undertaken by Global Witness goes even further. Their report Hostile Takeover “sheds light on a huge network of secret deal-making and corruption that has underpinned Hun Sen’s 30-year dictatorial reign of murder, torture and the imprisonment of his political opponents”.

So what are the prospects of liberating Cambodia from its dictatorship?

To begin, there is little evidence to suggest that leadership for any movement to do so will come from within formal political ranks. Following the court-ordered dissolution of the CNRP on 16 November 2017 at the behest of Hun Sen, “half of their 55 members of parliament fled the country”. And this dissolution was preceded by actions that had effectively neutralized the opposition, with two dozen opposition members (including CNRP leader Kem Sokha) and critics imprisoned in the past year alone, as reported above, and the rapid flight of Opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua on 3 October after allegedly being notified by a senior official that her arrest was imminent. But while Mu Sochua called for a protest gathering after she had fled, understandably, nobody dared to protest: “Who dares to protest if their leader runs for their life?” Sovannarun asks.

Of course, civil society leadership is fraught with danger too. Prominent political commentator and activist Kem Ley, known for his trenchant criticism of the Hun Sen dictatorship, was assassinated on 10 July 2016 in Phnom Penh. Ley was the third notable activist to be killed following the union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 and environmental activist Wutty Chut in 2012. But they are not the only activists to suffer this fate.

In addition, plenty of politicians, journalists and activists have been viciously assaulted by the security forces and members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and/or imprisoned by the dictatorship. In fact, Radio Free Asia keeps a record of “Cambodian Opposition Politicians and Activists Behind Bars” for activities that the dictatorship does not like, including defending human rights, land rights and the natural environment.

Moreover, in another recent measure of the blatant brutality of the dictatorship, Hun Sen publicly suggested that opposition politicians Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha “would already be dead” had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the highly disputed 2013 national election result. He also used a government-produced video to link the CNRP with US groups in fomenting a “colour revolution” in Cambodia.

In one response to Hun Sen’s “would already be dead” statement, British human rights lawyer Richard Rogers, who had filed a complaint asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Cambodian ruling elite for widespread human rights violations in 2014, commented that it was simply more evidence of the government’s willingness to persecute political dissidents. “It shows that he is willing to order the murder of his own people if they challenge his rule”. Moreover: “These are not the words of a modern leader who claims to lead a democracy.” Whether Hun Sen is even sane is a question that no-one asks.

So what can Cambodians do? Fortunately, there is a long history of repressive regimes being overthrown by nonviolent grassroots movements. And nonviolent action has proven powerfully effective in Cambodia as the Buddhist monk Maha Gosananda, and his supporters demonstrated on their 19-day peace walk from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh through war ravaged Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia in May 1993, defying the expectations of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) coordinators at the time that they would be killed by the Khmer Rouge. However, for the Hun Sen dictatorship to be removed, Cambodians will be well served by a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy that takes particular account of their unique circumstances.

A framework to plan and implement a strategy to remove the dictatorship is explained in Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy with Sovannarun’s Khmer translation of this strategy here.

This strategic framework explains what is necessary to remove the dictatorship and, among consideration of many vital issues, elaborates what is necessary to maintain strategic coordination when leaders are at high risk of assassination, minimize the risk of violent repression while also ensuring that the movement is not hijacked by government or foreign provocateurs whose purpose is to subvert the movement by destroying its nonviolent character as well as deal with foreign governments (such as those of China, the European Union, Japan and the USA) who (categorically or by inaction) support the dictatorship, sometimes by supplying military weapons suitable for use against the domestic population.

Sovannarun is not optimistic about the short-term prospects for his country: Too many mistakes have been repeated too often. But he is committed to the nonviolent struggle to liberate Cambodia from its dictatorship and recognizes that the corrupt electoral process cannot restore democracy or enable Cambodians to meaningfully address the vast range of social, political, economic and environmental challenges they face.

Borneo: Island Devastated, People Oblivious

She was just standing there, in the middle of burning land, surrounded by stumps of trees, fire everywhere, smoke rising towards a hopelessly gray sky. The expression on her face was mischievous, almost girlish. I had no idea how old she was: she could have been 28, just as she could easily have been 55.

This island, this village, this charred land: it all looked like hell to me, but obviously not to her: it actually made her laugh, burst with pride.

After all, it was her island, not mine; it was her land, her trees, and it was all getting royally fucked. She was personally participating in this carnage of nature – she, as well as her husband, her entire family, her neighbors.

Bu Elvi

Her name was Bu Elvi. ‘Bu’ means mom, or mam or Misses, in Bahasa Indonesia. Her scorched land spans near the village of Dusun Terusan, and Dusan Terusan is near Sintang, in the heart of Borneo, on the largest island in Asia, which is also the second largest island in the world, on what we habitually call ‘our Planet Earth’; although frankly, this moonscape of Indonesian Borneo/Kalimantan has very little to do with what used to be the ‘blue planet’.

“I follow stock exchange regularly”, Bu Elvi brags, boastfully.  “I know that prices of rubber went down at least three times, lately. Now we will burn all this down, since the government refuses to give us any substantial compensation… and then, we will plant some vegetables, at least for a while.”

“And then?” we ask. “What if the prices of rubber go up again?”

“Then, well…” she hesitates, but for just a few moments. Regaining her bearings, she declares, defiantly: “If that happens, we will burn the vegetables and reintroduce the rubber plantation.”

Now it is all black around her. It is desperate and depressing. But she doesn’t look suicidal, miserable, or even guilty. She does precisely what she was told to do under General Suharto’s military dictatorship, which was sponsored by the United States and the rest of the West. She does what she was taught to do right after the dictatorship collapsed (at least on paper) – in the present era of savage capitalism and unbridled thieving, which has also been clearly supported from abroad. She is making money. She is simply producing dough. She does not rely on anybody, she is well aware of the bottom line: nobody will give her anything. Even if she were starving to death, she would get nothing. And so she opts to be ‘independent’, as well as strong, aggressive, arrogant and, observed from some distance, mildly insane.

She is, of course, religious, as everyone in this country is forced to be from his or her childhood. Most likely, she doesn’t give a damn about this life, as there is, she believes, something much better, ‘somewhere else and big’, right after this suffering on Earth.

She is a tough woman, a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of person, in short a ‘new Indonesian’.

Can one blame her? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. She has to live, to survive in this inhuman, savage system, designed and injected from somewhere, from far away.

Still, the land is burning. Here and all around Sintang, all around Borneo, and in all corners of this entire Indonesian archipelago.

Would she opt for the independence of her island, if such an option were to be available?

She doesn’t need to think; she is suddenly absolutely certain. She clenches her right fist, grinning at us: “Merdeka! Independence!”

I am wondering whether it matters, whether it matters at all, who is ruling over this island. Fascism, savage capitalism, as well as the collaboration with foreign powers and institutions, has created a monoculture in this once great archipelago whose motto stated proudly: ‘Unity in Diversity’.

If there is merdeka, and if Bu Elvi rules, would the land stop burning?

*****

I spoke to a woman near the city of Samarinda, in Eastern Kalimantan. She was selling some fruits and crackers in a small store, predominantly serving workers from the immense plantations located literally behind her back. No primary forest was left anywhere in the vicinity. Everything in the area was black, or green, but if green it covered by sawit, the Indonesian word for palm oil.

Palm oil processing factory near Singkawang

Her business was so-so, she said, nothing spectacular. Frankly, she was hardly making ends meet, and she had no health insurance, no housing subsidies, and no financial support from the government. Despite all this, she appeared to be content. Or at least she said that she was:

We don’t have any fires around here, anymore. Before, when there was still some tropical forest left, there were constant fires. Now it is all quiet.

“Isn’t it because the palm oil companies and mining multi-nationals finally got what they always wanted?” I wondered. “Now they do what they desire. They cut down everything. Why would anyone burn things now? Forest is gone… Island is totally ruined. Palm oil, open mines and rubber plantations are covering almost entire surface of it…”

Poisoned land after gold mining in Borneo

She stares at me, blankly. She does not understand what am I talking about, what am I hinting at. She is confused. No one speaks like this, here. No one thinks this way. No one thinks, anymore, full stop…

*****

“I used to come here every weekend,” whispers Ms Mira Lubis, a professor at Tanjungpura University in Pontianak city:

“It used to be so serene, so beautiful. This beach… My beach… My father was a doctor. He worked very hard. When he got tired, he took us all here, an entire family. I used to play in the pristine sand, with my brothers… I used to swim here. Now just look around…”

She shows me her childhood photos. I can see ‘her beach’, as it used to be, decades ago. I can see it now. She has tears in her eyes.

I look around. And it is all ruined: someone poured concrete over the sand: terrible job, thoroughly amateurish. Ugly stalls are everywhere, like sores. The sand area was reduced to just a couple of meters. Some huts and ugly, crumbling structures double as a ‘seaside hotel’.

The beach appears to be totally abandoned and forgotten. The only thing that is never forgotten in Indonesia is an entrance fee; charging random visitors for entering anything, even this devastated place. In this country, nothing is public, nothing is free, and nothing is for the people. Even destruction is promoted as an attraction, as a ‘tourist destination’. You stop your car near the emergency room of a hospital: you have to pay… You enter a disaster area, a place ruined by a mining company somewhere in East Java: you are forced to pay. Scarred nature, ruined land quickly becomes a sightseeing attraction! You essentially pay for everything in Indonesia, especially if you are dirt poor.

Mira is walking slowly along ‘her beach’. She is deep in thoughts; she looks devastated. Her calm childhood memories are now confronted by reality, which appears to be simply monstrous. Her green island inhabited by ancient cultures and thousands of species of animals, birds and plants, now resembles a computer-generated image from a second-rate horror film.

She specializes in water communities, but the water is poisoned, mighty waterways polluted.

Far away, there is a brilliant, purple-red sunset covering the entire horizon. The sun is setting down behind a cluster of offshore islands. It is a brilliant, stunning sight. Borneo used to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But now, only contours are left; contours, memories and bitterness.

*****

Again, I work; we work – filming, photographing and talking to local people. I don’t need any data. There is no need for theories. This is all clear, raw, absolutely indisputable.

Everything can be ‘explained’ and ‘neutralized’ by complex and ‘scientific’ theories, by going round in circles, by blurring the reality. Indonesian ‘science’ and academia, after 1965, has produced nothing useful for the country and for humanity, but they do one thing well: ‘muddying the water’, confusing and complicating things, making sure that what is obvious from the first sight, is squarely disputed, denied. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of PhD’s are made this way and for this very purpose, annually.

Gold mining in Borneo

And the island is burning. Filthy chemical streams are everywhere. There is “illegal” gold mining on the land and in the middle of the mighty but horrendously polluted rivers of Borneo; mining is visible from the air and surface, but controlled by ‘influential individuals’, even by armed forces, and therefore untouchable.

Borneo is now synonymous with mining and logging, as well as with terrible plantations that have already cannibalized most of the land. Nothing is being produced, but everything has been extracted.

Borneo after mining

People are losing their land. They are losing health, even lives. The world is losing its ‘lungs’ – the tropical forests – or more precisely, it has already lost them all around this unfortunate archipelago.

Savage capitalism, moral and financial corruption, multi-national companies on the loose; this is a sad, even horrifying reality of the country, which totally lost its bearing.

Soon all will be gone

Borneo, it appears, is nearing the end. The entire Indonesia is nearing the endgame, but it is considered ‘politically incorrect’ to mention it in the West, particularly in the mainstream media. Indonesia is, after all, ruining itself, so the West can prosper. It was like that during colonialism, and it has been like that, again, ever since the US-sponsored military coup of 1965.

I work feverishly in Borneo: I film, I write and photograph. Others are standing by me, trying to help. Are we going to achieve anything? I hope we will; we have to, otherwise, soon, here and elsewhere, everything will be finished, privatized, commercialized and eventually destroyed.

I also work in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and in several fully ruined countries of Africa. Everything here, in Borneo, appears to be extremely familiar. Is it really peace that is reigning here? I’m highly doubtful. To me it looks like a war, like an extremely brutal war. It looks like the war of people against their own people, the war of people against nature, against all living beings and species; a war against the forests and river, and even against life itself.

It looks like a neo-colonialist nightmare. It once used to be the most beautiful place in Asia, now it is scarred, charred and in terrible pain. But it is still breathing; it is alive. And what is alive is always worth fighting for.

• Originally published by NEO (New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek