Category Archives: Pollution

Like a Rowboat in a Typhoon: Why 2020 Center-Right Yankee Election Outcomes are Dead in the Water

Image courtesy of our comrade Hermit

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed up the world….
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats, 1919

ORIENTATION 

How dare you?

“Oh, great, that’s all we need. A cynical radical leftist who is so out of touch that you would jeopardize losing the elections to Trump out of some purity. Noam Chomsky thinks this is the most important election in U.S history. How can you be so apathetic at a time like this? We have to get Trump out of office or we will have fascism. If Trump wins there will be blood on your hands. I can’t believe any radical news site would even publish this article. Up yours.”

My claim

First of all, I am not cynical in general. I am, however, cynical that any capitalist party can keep Yankeedom from collapsing. Secondly, this article does not tell anyone whether or not to vote or which party to vote for. My claim is that both Yankee political parties have already demonstrated for the last 40 years they are incapable of managing to reconstruct or repair deep ecological, infrastructural and structural problems that are engulfing us right now. Yankeedom is collapsing and it will continue to collapse regardless of who wins this “election”. Thirdly, fascism is already here and it will continue even if Trump loses the election. Though I don’t make a case for socialism, I will say that our choices are either fascism or socialism.

WHAT IS POLITICS? RULING VS GOVERNING

One of the root meanings of the word “politics” is to steer. In other words, deliberative political bodies ask themselves big sociopolitical questions like – “where have we been based on past practice and where are we going, based on future plans?” Steering is something like the word “governing”. In cybernetics, to govern is likened to a heart in the human body.  It is the grand central station in which all subsystems of the body meet. These subsystems are integrated and monitored for feedback about the system’s past behavior and fed forward, anticipating where the system is going. No subsystems are left floating on their own, freely determining their own direction.  Applying the words “governing” and “steering” to politics in human societies, the sad truth is that with the possible exception of hunting and gathering and simple horticultural societies, agricultural state civilizations and industrial capitalist societies do not govern their populations, they rule them. We have oligarchies struggling for power, but part of their power should not be defined as steering. They are not steering. In fact, nobody’s driving, yet they imagine they are steering and governing.

Turning specifically to Yankeedom, it is a deeply stratified class system in which the ruling class controls the major resources and the lower classes are granted just enough resources to make it to the next day. The different parts of the political system have regional struggles between the core and periphery rather than cooperation. Technology is developed not in a systematic, forward-looking way to make life easier, but mostly as weapons of war for destruction. Spiritual institutions are organized by the rulers to terrorize, demoralize and mystify their own populations. The religious authorities sanctify the rule of the rulers, just as Marx said. On the whole, at their best, the ruling classes everywhere, not just the United States, are no better than the general population. They really can’t think beyond one generation. Neither ruling class party in the history of Yankeedom has governed their populations. They have taken turns ruling them.

SIGNS OF STRUCTURAL COLLAPSE

Part of the drumbeat of the “Lesser of Two Evils” folks, is the hope that a democrat will bring things “back to normal,” meaning Yankee social life as it was before March 2020. But thinking there is a “normal” to get back to is a pathological denial of the fact that the Yankee empire has been collapsing for 50 years. All this while both parties have ignored the long-standing ecological and infrastructural problems, including the fallout from the pandemic over the last six months of 2020.

COVID -19 has expanded rather than leveled off because the nation-state ignores what scientists say and it has no national plan that all states must follow, unlike countries that have resolved the pandemic crisis, often with half the resources of the U.S. Socialist countries like Cuba, North Vietnam and China have responded quickly and admirably. Here in Yankeedom, neither Republicans nor Democrats have risen to the occasion. Each party has had six months to step up to the plate. They have done nothing systemic.

Large parts of the population are in denial that there is a pandemic and are ignoring what scientists say, spreading the virus as they dance in the clubs and on the beaches. This self-destructive behavior is partly explained by the refusal of both ruling class parties to educate their populations in basic science. Both parties have been anti-science for 50 years and have allowed college courses to skimp on science classes. At the same time movie and television producers flood the air waves and movie screens with ESP claims, extraterrestrials and reports of people who have returned from the dead. Most of the Yankee population is scientifically illiterate and innumerate (without a basic knowledge of mathematics and arithmetic).

Extreme weather is a very serious problem that has been neglected for 50 years and there has been no long-term plan to address this. Every year we have record-breaking temperatures in the summer, along with massive fires in the West. In the winters, record cold spells hit the East and North-central states. Glaciers are melting and water is rising. Has either party come to the table with a long-term plan? They haven’t because both parties are beholden to capitalists who refuse to think beyond three months into the future.

Police departments have turned into state terrorist organizations which have been amassing more and more weapons for decades. There is no structural reform, as the police are handed bloated budgets while they are trained to mutilate and kill as a matter of course, treating the citizens as enemies. Neither party has done anything to reign in police violence. Self-destructively, by not reigning in the police, capitalists who own both parties keep people in the streets protesting – the very people they need to get off the streets and back to work if they are to rehabilitate the physical economy.

There is an open rebellion against police terror which the ruling class has failed to address structurally. Any claim for reparation for minorities, not just for being killed by police but also for being housed for decades in prison for minor crimes is like spitting in the wind. Sadly, some of the most rabid “Back the Blue” folks are white working-class people who are also most likely to be beaten by the police. Unbeknown to most white working-class in this country, there was a time when to be a redneck meant to be against the police.

Openly armed fascist groups wave confederate flags and white power signs that will probably get worse if the Idiot-King loses. Is this a serious political problem for either party that requires a long-term solution? Apparently not, as these right-wing groups have been three and a half years in the making, bringing to the surface a racist undercurrent that has been festering in Yankeedom for hundreds of years.

We are in the worst capitalist crisis in history because COVID-19 has crippled the physical economy. Respected political economist Jack Rasmus tells us the real unemployment rate is between 25-30%, not the much lower numbers publicized by the Department of Labor. Those who have jobs are often working at reduced work hours. Consumer spending is at a low point. Both parties sing a capitalist tune that workers can be sacrificed so the economy can live. This is an economic policy? Where are all the bourgeois economists who populate every university, pumping out ideological propaganda about the free market? Do they have any policies for fixing the existing physical economy other than to say “let ‘er (the market) ride!”? These same economists are consultants to each party. Are they recommending any governing policies? For them, the physical economy and the stock market are all the same thing.

Capitalists and the state want to open up the schools this fall to in-person learning despite the fact that the COVID-19 has not even reached its peak yet. It risks jeopardizing the lives of 7-14-year-olds, as well as college students, faculty and staff. In part, capitalists want children back in school to increase the chances of their parents going back to work. Parents are more likely to stay home to guide their children through Zoom sessions rather than go to work and leave them on their own. Capitalists need workers back at work – even if they are killed. This is an economic policy?

Economically, finance capital has produced a runaway fictitious capital bubble that was not even checked after the Great Recession. The neoliberal choir boy, Obama, offered no structural reform of banking institutions. Capitalist economists blithely ignore growing bad debt. They imagine that a gambling casino (the stock market) and the use of financial instruments, like derivatives, pose no problems.

The Federal Reserve has to pump blood transfusions (money) on a regular basis into financial markets to keep them from tanking. Does either party think this might be a long-term problem? Now, the Fed has promised to keep interest rates at 0% for the next 3 years in the hopes that even more people will fall into credit card debt. Does either political party think there might be something wrong with printing more money as an economic policy? Apparently not.

Both major political parties are hated by their populations, as evidenced by the winning party being unable to attract more than 20% of the population. When these politicians are told that 60% of the population doesn’t vote or is ineligible to vote, do they say, “hmm, this is a problem, especially if we claim to be a democracy”. The answer is no. They imagine the people who don’t vote are ignorant, stupid, poor or have mental health problems. It never crosses their minds that these potential voters might not vote because these two parties and their grandstanding, lying and back street deal-making have nothing to do with the lives of most of the population. This is a great example of a political system that ignores the feedback from its periphery – that its system simply isn’t working.

Short-term thinking – Another of the many problems with the political system of Yankeedom is that it is ruled by capitalists who refuse to think beyond a single quarter. They want their assets liquid and ready to move at any time. Capitalists are incapable of governing in the way we’ve defined the word. In addition, the electoral systems that capitalists control last only four years. As long as Republicans and Democrats switch administrations every four years, there can be no long-standing policy that would supersede the various revolving doors of regimes.

All these twelve points are signs of neglect and decay that are very typical of the research Joseph Tainter did for his book The Collapse of Complex Societies many years ago. In the face of all these deep, long-term systemic problems, Congress was adjourned for one month! Given these points, do either the Democrats or the Republicans “govern” our society today? For the 40% of the population who vote for either party, voters think whichever political party wins, they govern. But from their lack of response to any of these problems, these parties do not govern – they rule.

QUALIFICATION

As a socialist, I have absolutely no confidence that an enlightened long-term thinking capitalist could solve any of the problems above. However, since those of you are convinced that these presidential elections are so important, let me propose some things that an enlightened, long-term thinking capitalist might do to address these problems, whether the solution comes from a Republican or a Democrat. Then at the end I will ask you if you think the political party of your choice would implement even one of these solutions when they begin their term. The purpose of the proposals below is to get our bearings about what an overall plan might look like. I am not attempting to prioritize in what order this reform would come.  Under a socialist party, we would have both a short-term and a long-term plan so we could attack these problems systematically. However, I am not arguing for socialism. I am only arguing that neither party will lift a finger to address the multiple crises we are facing.

WHAT WOULD AN ENLIGHTENED CAPITALIST PARTY DO WITH THESE PROBLEMS IF THEY WERE CAPABLE OF GOVERNING?

Have a national plan to deal with the pandemic

First, we will follow the lead of countries who have successfully managed the COVID-19 virus and will implement a long-term plan even if it means shutting down businesses and schools for six months. We will have a national plan that every state will follow. No longer will states decide their own policy in the bumbling way that has been done so far.

Overcome scientific illiteracy and innumeracy

Furthermore, long-term, we will redevelop our higher education programs to stress mastering the sciences and expand courses on critical thinking. There will be scientific boards of directors who will redesign movie and television curriculum to emphasize stories based on science, not fantasy. Science fiction writers will have to demonstrate to scientists how their script is based on scientific findings and not just on fantasy. This will begin to cut into the rampant scientific illiteracy and innumeracy that has existed for two generations. There will be required courses in geography and international politics. The reign of businessmen determining course development while sitting on the boards of directors will end.  College instructors and scientific researchers will have prominent seats on those boards.

Redeploy the military for infrastructural building and repair

The enlightened capitalist party will reorient our resource base. As it is, we are currently involved in at least seven wars. We have come to realize that capitalism can only grow long-term if it invests in life rather than death. Therefore, all the troops will be called home and redeployed. Once home they will work at rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure that has been decaying for decades and will cost trillions of dollars. They will fix roads and repair bridges. They will also build low-cost housing to get every person off the street. City budgets will hold a certain percentage of land for low cost housing. City life will no longer be determined by the whim of real estate agents, given the virtue word “developer”.

Systemic climate change plan

An additional benefit to closing down our war machine will be its effect on global warming and pollution since the military is the world’s largest polluter. We will begin implementing the scientific recommendations to combat extreme weather and pollutions that have been sitting on the shelves of the U.N. for 50 years. A major part of the budget will be spent on trying to halt or reverse all the devastating fires, sickening smoke, pollution, ever more fierce hurricanes and tornadoes and melting of glaciers.

Full employment, satisfying basic needs

Next, we capitalists have come to realize that there are many needs people have that are not realized because they have low profitability returns. As capitalists we have tried to create needs that don’t exist to get people to buy products and services that do not last, either materially or by providing real emotional satisfaction. As it turns out, people have considerably more needs than we realized and so there will be no longer any unemployment. Everyone will work to satisfy the needs of all social classes. Capitalist societies are the only types of societies in history to have unemployment. This is a waste of our collective creative power. “Yes” says the short-term thinking capitalists, “but if you don’t have unemployment, wages will rise and cut into our profit margins.”  As long-term thinking capitalists, we learned in the 1950s and 1960s high wages and profitability can easily go hand-in-hand.  The amount of creativity that will be unleashed will more than make up the difference. In addition, a great deal of new revenue will be generated by a return to taxing corporations as was done in the 1950s and 1960s. Corporations used to be taxed at a far greater rate than today. These corporations took it in stride and still made a fortune.

Installing economic floors on the economy

Economically, everyone will receive a basic income so that no one ever has to be concerned about starving or not having a place to live. That is, in addition to increased investment in the “matriarchal” state, including universal health care, expanded pensions, mental health and physical care for veterans.

Alternatives to state terror

Police departments will be abolished, and the revenue redeployed into community defense councils following the recommendations of critical criminal sociologists who have developed alternative systems using recommendations that have been on the shelves for years. Up until now, they could never be put into practice because of the fear of police lobbies and their unions. Police will be replaced by social mediation teams, social workers and neighborhood review boards.

Next, prisoners of non-violent crimes will be released and put into rehabilitation centers and transition programs where they will either learn a trade or develop a skill they already have. They will be able to get a good college education if that is what they want. The pouring out of prisoners into the workforce will be a tremendous boon to the economy. Prisons will be modeled on the method currently in use in Norway, with the focus on rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Attacking the National Rifle Association

As capitalists we want to invest in the reduction of violence in our population. All weapons beyond simple handguns will be illegal. The purpose of a gun should be simply for protection. No one needs machine guns to protect themselves. Open Carry gun laws will be abolished.

Long overdue reparations

The demands of the current uprising are larger than simply a reduction of police brutality. They are about restitutions.  Systemic racism has continued and even worsened since the civil rights movement. To begin to make up for this, we capitalists will follow the guidelines of criminal sociologists who have calculated what would be fair restitution based on centuries of slave labor. The reparations packet would include funding employment opportunities, grants in the arts and sciences and education, childcare tuition reduction for trade as well as other programs sociologists would recommend.

Savings banks and public banks free of stock market speculation

Economically we will be transforming banks that are reinstated and can be used for commercial purposes, rather than solely for financial investment and not tied to the stock markets. Furthermore, public banks will be established in most states in order for people to invest in community institutions that have no investments in the stock market. Banks will reinstitute the rule where there can be no investments made without a certain proportion of gold to back them up. Capitalist speculation will be discouraged and penalized.

Switching to political proportional representation according to social class

Politically we will begin a process of overhauling the two-party system, with which Americans have expressed frustration for decades. What we must face is that right now sociologists tell us that there are eight social classes. The two major political parties represent at best the top 1%; 5% of the upper class; and 10% of the upper middle class. As it stands now, about 85% of the population has no representation. The middle class needs its own separate party; the working class needs its own party and those below the working class need their own party. Each party can only have representatives from its own social class. If we want people to become more political and be real citizens, we must give them their own representatives and pay them the salary of a middle-class citizen. There will be no more political representatives who are millionaires pretending to represent the middle and lower classes.

Conclusion

I want to point out that none of these suggestions are socialist. There is no call for the abolition of private ownership of resources. There are no constraints on inheritance. There is no proposal to freeze the assets of the 1% and redistribute them. There is no call for workers to seize the workplaces and run worksites themselves. There is no call for the nationalization of banks and industry. There is no call for closing the stock markets. My proposals are all long-term structural reforms to do damage-control over the continuing collapse of Yankeedom.

I believe most of you reading this would agree that many of these improvements would be necessary. Yet you hold on to the belief that the political parties controlled by the capitalists would in some way address these problems. They have not and they will not. In all cases up until now, both parties have done nothing. They are either unaware of the level of crisis we are in, they are in denial there is even a problem, or they recognize a problem, but their response is anemic, erratic and not well thought out. What makes you think that after this election any of these politicians will do anything differently? Vote for whomever you want but whoever your favorite candidate is, understand they operate under a political party owned by an incompetent, myopic, irresponsible capitalist class who will go down dancing on the deck of the Titanic. Paraphrasing Freud, compared to the conflict between id and the superego within the individual, the ego is helpless, much like being in a rowboat with one oar in the middle of a typhon.  The ego doesn’t have a prayer. Neither do these existing political parties.

About seventy years ago, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. triumphantly proclaimed that centrist liberalism was a “Vital Center” against the twin dangers of left and right-wing totalitarianism. Today we can say the “vital center” has collapsed with both parties falling into the abyss. Our only solution to the collapse we are experiencing is to develop a mass socialist party with a plan and systemic steps to be taken over the next 5, 10 or 15 years. That is our only hope for reducing the fall as a result of the collapse. Capitalist parties are incapable of solving these problems.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Like a Rowboat in a Typhoon: Why 2020 Center-Right Yankee Election Outcomes are Dead in the Water first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Humanity is an Endangered Species

Have you noticed recently that things are collapsing?

Sure, the right-wing, nationalist rulers of many countries never stop telling us that they have made their nations “great” again.

But we would have to be dislocated from reality not to notice that something is wrong―very wrong.  After all, the world is currently engulfed in a coronavirus pandemic that has already infected over 12.5 million people, taken over 550,000 lives, and created massive economic disruption.  And the pandemic is accelerating, while, according to scientists, new and more terrible diseases are in the offing.

Moreover, we are now experiencing a rapidly-growing environmental catastrophe.  Not only are industrial pollutants poisoning the air, the water, and the land as never before, but climate change is making the planet uninhabitable.  Extreme heat, drought, storms, floods, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels are wreaking havoc on an unprecedented scale.  This June, the temperature in the Arctic reached 100.4 degrees fahrenheit―the hottest on record.

In addition, defying all reason, nations persist in arming themselves for a nuclear war that will destroy virtually all life on earth.  Publicly threatening nuclear war and casting aside or rejecting major nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, the nuclear powers are currently engaged in an extensive nuclear weapons buildup, with the U.S. government alone planning to spend at least $1.5 trillion on this project.  In response to the looming catastrophe, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently placed the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight―the most dangerous setting in its 73-year history.

Even if these disastrous developments fail to snuff out the human race, plenty of mass misery can be expected from the rising economic and social inequality occurring around the globe.  According to a UN study, released in January 2020, 70 percent of the world’s people suffer from growing economic inequality.  In a foreword to the study, UN Secretary General António Guterres declared that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal landscape,” characterized by “a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration, and discontent.”  Feeding on popular fears and anxieties, racism and xenophobia are on the rise.

But extinction or, at best, mass misery, need not be humanity’s fate.  Thanks to very substantial advances in knowledge over the centuries, plus the efforts of creative thinkers and determined reform movements, human beings have shown a remarkable ability to confront challenges and to improve the human condition.  From the abolition of slavery to the creation of public education, the banning of child labor, the guaranteeing of old age security, the legalization of unions, the recognition of women’s rights, and the defense of gay rights, previously unimaginable changes have been promoted and implemented.

Why should we assume that we are incapable of responding to today’s crises?  Working together, physicians and other scientists have either eradicated or dramatically reduced the range of numerous diseases, including smallpox, polio, guinea worm, malaria, and measles.  Responding to climate change activism, scientists and engineers have developed methods to utilize solar and wind power to replace fossil fuels.  Similarly, critics of the nuclear arms race and wise statesmen have fostered nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties and helped prevent nuclear war.  Furthermore, numerous movements have succeeded, on occasion, in securing a more equitable distribution of wealth and a reduction in discrimination.

Of course, the changes necessary to cope with today’s crises will not be obtained easily.  To successfully battle pandemics, it will be essential to create a far stronger public health system, accessible to everyone.  Combatting climate change will almost certainly require challenging the vast power of the fossil fuel industry.  To avert nuclear war, it will probably be necessary to both ban nuclear weapons and create a stronger international security system.  And when it comes to securing greater economic and social equality, limiting corporate greed, taxing the rich, and reducing deep-seated prejudices remain imperative.

Even if these conditions are met, however, another challenge remains, for implementing these kinds of changes necessitates action on a worldwide basis.  After all, disease pandemics, climate catastrophe, nuclear war, and economic and social inequality are global problems that require global solutions.  As the director general of the World Health Organization remarked in late June, the greatest threat to humanity from the coronavirus is not the virus itself, but “the lack of global solidarity” in dealing with it.  He added:  “We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world.”  Much the same could be said about overcoming the other onrushing disasters.

Although there is not much time left before the world succumbs to one or more catastrophes, human beings have been able to alter their behavior and institutions.  Let’s hope they will rouse themselves and do so again.

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.

Evan Hayduk.jpg

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.

Evan Hayduk3.jpg

The Biomass Fiasco

Stop cutting down trees for biomass… STOP WOODY BIOMASS!

That should be a bumper sticker on every vehicle in America and around the world as easy-to-read bumper stickers are more effective than many forms of advertising. And, just for starters, maybe plaster that new biomass bumper sticker over the old one that reads: “My child is an honor student at….” Oh! Please!

According to LSA – University of Colorado/Boulder, wood accounts for 79% of biomass production and accounts for 3.2% of energy production. Wood dominates the worldwide biomass industry.

For perspective purposes, a paid lobbyist on behalf of trees could rightfully claim: (1) Trees cool and moisten our air and fill it with oxygen. (2) They calm the winds and shade the land from sunlight. (3) They shelter countless species, anchor the soil, and slow the movement of water. (4) They provide food, fuel, medicines, and building materials for human activity. (5) They also help balance Earth’s carbon budget. Name another organism with credentials like that!

Meanwhile, the worldwide woody biomass industry consumes forests, gobbling up trees by the minute. But, it’s a wayward ruse to classify woody biomass as “carbon neutral.” It is not carbon neutral. It’s a carbon emitter, the antithesis of clean renewable energy.

A 1,000-kilowatt-hour wood-pellet power plant, enough to power 1,000 homes, emits a total of 1,275 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. That’s according to Dr. Puneet Dwivedi, a research professor at the University of Georgia. By way of comparison, a 1,000-kilowatt-hour coal plant emits 1,048 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. The net result is that coal produces 227 grams less CO2 than the biomass plant. Hmm.1

Meantime, a study at ETH Zurich suggests that a massive expansion of the world’s forests by 1/3 could be the most effective way to tackle climate change. That’s the opposite of cutting forests for biomass purposes. Let the trees stay in place and suck up CO2.2

According to the study, the influx of 1/3 more trees would buy humanity time by adding 20 years to meet climate targets.  By keeping that many additional trees rather than felling, it effectively “locks-up 205 gigatonnes of CO2.” It’s significant as humanity emits 37 gigatonnes per year. Additionally, the “scale up of the world’s forests by one-third” helps meet IPCC guidelines to hold temp rises to 1.5°C pre-industrial, assuming temperatures are not already overshooting, an issue of some contention. Which depends a lot upon which baseline is used.

The trade-off between “saving/enlarging forests” rather than “burning trees” is consequential for several reasons, including, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that for each 1% added to current U.S. electricity production from forest biomass an additional 18% increase in U.S. forest harvest is required. At that rate, by the time woody biomass is a meaningful slice of electricity production, the nation’s forests would be leveled.

How long does it take forests to regrow?

Furthermore, is it really possible to regrow a natural efficient forest ecosystem once it has been denuded of key organic life? No.

A Columbia University study argues for leaving trees alone: “Is Biomass Really Renewable?” State of the Planet, Earth Institute/Columbia University, Updated October 19, 2016, to wit: “Cutting or clearing forests for energy, either to burn trees or to plant energy crops, releases carbon into the atmosphere that would have been sequestered had the trees remained untouched, and the regrowing and thus recapture of carbon can take decades or even a century. Moreover, carbon is emitted in the biomass combustion process, resulting in a net increase of CO2.”

Additionally, according to the Columbia study: “Most of the new biomass electricity generating plants being proposed in the U.S. will burn wood. Plants in the Southeast U.S. are churning out wood pellets to meet Europe’s increasing need for wood. Last year, wood pellet exports from the Southeast increased 70 percent; the Southern U.S. is now the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world. Since there isn’t enough logging residue to meet the increased demand for biomass, many fear that more standing trees will be chopped and more forests clear-cut.”

The overriding issue is that woody biomass negatively impacts climate change, the health of people, and the overall environment. Yet, the market is growing by leaps and bounds in Europe and the U.S. Go figure!

According to Earth Institute, woody biomass power plants actually produce more “global warming CO2” than fossil fuel plants; i.e., 65% more CO2 per megawatt hour than modern coal plants and 285% more CO2 than natural gas combined cycle plants (which use both a gas and steam turbine together). This analysis confirms the conclusion of several similar university-level studies that woody biomass is inefficient and thus a sensible rationale for outright banning of woody biomass.

Furthermore, according to Earth Institute, burning wood biomass emits as much, if not more, air pollution than burning fossil fuels – particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, mercury, and other hazardous air pollutants – which can cause cancer or reproductive effects.

The “air pollution emitted by biomass facilities,” which the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association have called “a danger to public health,” produces respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, and developmental delays in children.” (Earth Institute)

Nevertheless, in 2009 the EU committed to 20% renewable energy by 2020, including biomass (heavily sourced by forests, especially from Canada and the U.S.) as a renewable-energy, which it categorized as “carbon neutral.” This was done to meet obligations under the Paris climate agreement of 2015. Several other countries followed with commitments to “subsidize” biomass development.

As a result, today 50% of EU renewable energy is based upon biomass, and it is on the rise. Expect a command performance of massive growth by biomass in upcoming years.

For example, in the UK, the Drax Group converted 4 of 6 coal-generating units to biomass, powering 12% of UK electricity for 4 million households. The Drax biomass plant has an enormous appetite for wood; e.g., in less than two hours an entire freight train of wooden pellets goes up in smoke, spewing out smoke signals that spell “O Canada” and “Say, can you see… By the dawn’s early light.”

According to Drax’s PR department, their operation has slashed CO2 by over 80% since 2012, claiming to be “the largest decarbonization project in Europe.”3

Ahem! When scientists analyzed Drax’s claims, they do not hold up. Not even close!

When wood pellets burn, Drax assumes the released carbon is “recaptured instantly by new growth.” That is a fairy tale.

According to John Sherman, an expert on Complex Systems Analysis at MIT:  The carbon debt payback time for forests in the eastern US, where Drax’s wood pellets originated, compared to burning coal, under the best-case scenario, when all harvested land regrows as a forest, the wood pellet “payback time” is 44 to 104 years. Whoa!

Alas, not only is the carbon payback nearly a lifetime when using wood, but according to Sherman: “Because the combustion and processing efficiencies for wood are less than coal, the immediate impact of substituting wood for coal is an increase in atmospheric CO2 relative to coal. This means that every megawatt-hour of electricity generated from wood produces more CO2 than if the power station had remained coal-fired.”

Study after study after study finds that burning coal instead of woody biomass reduces the impact of CO2 atmospheric emissions. Coal is the winner, but problematically coal has already been cast into no-man’s land as a horrific polluter. Therefore, this scenario is a massive complexity as countries have committed to using trees to meet carbon neutral status, but the end results are diametrical to their stated intentions.

Therefore, a preeminent question arises: Why continue using woody biomass if it emits more CO2 per kilowatt-hour than coal?

Alas, not only is it insane to burn trees, but burning “forest residues” rather than whole trees also produces a net emissions impact of 55%-79% greater than direct emissions after 10 years. This is based upon analysis by Mary Booth, an ecosystem ecologist and a director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, Pelham, Massachusetts.

According to scientist Bill Moomaw, co-author of the Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and co-author of four additional IPCC reports and widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on “carbon sinks”: “If we let some of our forests grow, we could remove an additional 10 to 20 percent of what we emit every year. Instead, we’re paying subsidies to have people cut them down, burning them in place of coal, and counting it as zero carbon.”4)

Dr. Moomaw led a group of 800 scientists that petitioned the EU parliament (January 2018) to “end its support for biomass.”

In June 2018, the EU Commission voted to keep biomass listed as a renewable energy, joined in their position by the support of the U.S. and Britain.

Under the influence of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the 2018 fiscal spending bill, as directed by Congress, instructed federal agencies to pass policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of biomass.” Among the many benefits mentioned by Congress, three seem almost Orwellian. Oops, scratch that. They are Orwellian, to wit: “To promote environmental stewardship by improving soil and water quality, reducing wildfire risk, and helping ensure our forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

Congress’s emphasis on biomass that fells trees “ensuring that our forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere.” Really?

What about reams upon reams of scientific analyses that conclude it is a huge mistake to fell forests for biomass?

In the final analysis, the sorrowful impact of woody biomass can be summed up by two short sentences: (1) Wood-pellet power plants emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than coal-powered plants. (2) If forests are left alone an additional 10% to 20% of human-generated CO2 emissions are absorbed by the forests every year. Ipso facto, nature does the dirty work all by itself… for free!

  1. “A Burning Question:  Throw Wood on the Fire for 21st-Century Electricity?” CNBC, September 15, 2017.
  2. “Billions of Extra Trees May Give Us 20 Years to Tackle Climate Change”, NewScientist, July 4, 2019.
  3. “Biomass Energy: Green or Dirty?” Environment & Energy – Feature Article, January 8, 2020.
  4. “Europe’s Renewable Energy Policy is Built on Burning American Trees”, Vox, March 4, 2019 — this article was endorsed by the Pulitzer Center

Zooming Newport’s Climate Awareness Earth Day 2020

Fifty years ago, the first Earth Day brought out 20 million Americans across the land –  to parks, schools, college campuses, stadiums, the Mall in DC,  and for hundreds of river/beach/trail clean-ups.

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“Our Space Ship is Burning” From the series XR #7
( XR – Greta Thunberg’s movement Extension Rebellion)
20”x30” Oil, college and gold leaf on canvas. See more art at : www.AnjaAlbosta.com

In 1970, I was 13, still living in Europe with my military family. But from age 17 on, however, I have been a North American environmental activist. Fighting for whales, entire ecosystems, human and animal communities.

In addition, I’ve organized several Earth Day celebrations with thousands showing up in Spokane. I have been the Earth Club faculty advisor at two colleges where I taught.

River clean-ups, outdoor guerrilla banner drops on buildings, and young and old creating bird houses and bat boxes while listening to live bands and eating sustainable food from a pop-up farmer’s market.

This should never ever be the new normal – on-line education, on-line activism, on-line earth awareness.

“We’re trying to make this one an upper rather than downer,” says Otter Rock artist Bill Kucha. “We want to invigorate folks.” Kucha directs 350.org Central Oregon Coast.

It is more than surreal that we are exiled from one another and nature. This year’s Newport Earth Day (last year’s was held at the Newport library, inside) is virtual, on Zoom. There will be 100 slots for people to sign up and listen to/watch musicians, speakers and youth.

I asked Lincoln County Community Rights activist, Debra Fant, about her first Earth day:

I was in high school for the first Earth Day and joined my peers in picking up roadside trash (a whole winter’s worth of it as the snow had just melted leaving behind all sorts of mushy cardboard, bottles and stuff) for miles out of town.  We were freezing cold and wet by afternoon, and I headed home for a hot shower instead of picking up the tenor drum to join the marching band in a parade through our down town area!  I’m not sure we knew what Earth Day meant or who we blamed for harming nature . . .  surely that ‘someone else.’   We’d likely grown up believing that like us, nature was invincible and would be there forever to satisfy our needs.

For the one of the main organizers of this April 22 Earth Day, Martin Desmond, he is blunt about the lack of youth activism in local environmental and climate change planning and discourse: “The truth of the matter is that people over the age of 60 come to our Lincoln County climate change presentations.”

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www.AnjaAlbosta.com
Anja Albosta
Waldport, OR 97394

He posits there are maybe six or seven climate change organizers in our county.

The first Earth Day actually precipitated legislative action — the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other countries soon adopted similar laws.

Last year’s Earth Day in Newport and this one on Zoom are what we call “aspirational events.” Celebratory, self-congratulatory.

I asked Jane Siebert, who is with Our Just Peace Action Team from the Congregational Church of Lincoln City, her reaction to the virtual day. The Church was planning to sponsor an Earth Day April 18, but too many conflicting community events quashed that, she said.

For me, this time of quarantine brings me out in the garden to appreciate spring and its slow unfurling of new life once again. This slow time of closely noticing the miracle of the earth can deepen our commitment to its future. I hold to the idea that Earth Day is every day and we must stand up to assaults on the natural order.

I’ve lived on the Coast/Lincoln County for a year and four months. I definitely feel this place is more chill than chutzpah when it comes to activism.

I am used to in-your-face rallying, even as a college instructor. Massive environmental-themed teach-ins and huge turn outs to city and county councils to demand better urban planning tied to real sustainability. I’ve interviewed heavyweights – Al Gore, David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, and Bill McKibben – for both my print gigs and radio broadcasts.

If you miss it, Martin says it will be recorded for posterity.

Presentations are 5 to 8 minutes. It’s a pretty one-way communication event: sit back and listen and watch.

Ironically, I have had students research the energy use for each Google search, and I’ve led youth to do ecological footprints and check out the water foot print of some of the major items in our consumer society.

Life cycle analysis, embedded energy, cradle to cradle manufacturing, negative carbon architecture, tragedy of the commons, and more get my juices going.

Just following the energy used/consumed of the coffee bean plant grown in Costa Rica as it gets picked, shipped, roasted, reshipped, repackaged, and then brewed, is telling of every step we make in planet earth. Students are jazzed about exactly how much oil (plastic, transportation, fertilizer, packaging, production) is used to produce the various products they have come to rely on.

“Most of my life I have lived sequestered as an artist,” Kucha states. “I am more politically active now. I think this (coronavirus) could be a tipping point.” Living slower, more intentionality, and, for Bill Kucha, the pandemic in his mind is making us more egocentric. “In one fell swoop, we are all left with each other.”

For at-home insights, reading and films:

  • Go to “Story of Stuff
  • Ecological Footprint
  • Water Foot Print
  • See Tim DeChristopher’s amazing activism in the flick about his life, Bidder 70
  •  Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), mother of the environmental movement
  • And a  plethora of green websites, from Grist, RealClimate, Yale360; and the usual suspects: Greenpeace and National Geographic.

Here’s the Zoom Earth Day Newport line-up:

Musicians

Bill Kucha
Chris Baron
Dave Orleans
Robert Reuben

­Elected Officials

Arnie Roblan
Dave Gomberg
Mark Gamba
Kaety Jacobson
Claire Hall

Non-profits/other speakers

Mike Broil
Mitch Gould
Robert Kenta
Ari Blatt & Paul Engelmeyer
Martin’s two grandkids
Paul Haeder

BIG end NOTE: It has to be made clear that the new normal should not and will not be Zoom. It will not be this bullshit world of throwing trillions at high tech companies. It will not be this world of staying compliant in our homes and gardens and tents.

Earth Day 50 years later should be a celebration of the heroes who have fought against the killers of culture and jungle and rain forest and species. Instead, after 50 years, in this shit-hole quarantine mentality, we have people who want to celebrate the Great First Extermination event, what some have called the Sixth Mass Extinction, which is really the Seventh Extinction.

Every year, more than 100 environmental activists are murdered throughout the world. 116 environmental activists were assassinated in 2014. More than two environmentalists were assassinated every week in 2014 and three every week in 2015. 185 environmental activists were assassinated in 2015.

A new report from Global Witness found that three environmental defenders were murdered every week in 2018 and many more were criminalized for working to protect the land, water and other vital resources.

chart on killings per country

chart on killings per country

“People are being killed because they are demanding their basic rights, in particular, the rights to access to land and to be free in their territories,” Luis Gilberto Murillo, the former governor of the predominantly Afro-Colombian state of Choco and former minister of environment and sustainable development, said on “Democracy Now!” “The way to avoid these killings is the full implementation of the peace process. There is a national commission to guarantee the protection of social leaders in the country [which] has not been convened regularly by the current government.” Source — “Disturbing Report Shows How Many Environmental Activists Are Killed Each Week”.

Joel Raymundo Domingo, 55, photographed in April, holds smoke bombs, tear gas canisters and other projectiles used by Guatema

Joel Raymundo Domingo, 55, photographed in April, holds smoke bombs, tear gas canisters and other projectiles used by Guatemalan state forces to disperse a peaceful blockade against the San Mateo Hydroelectric Project, in October 2018.

So, I have to say that celebratory events like Earth Day are long in the tooth. We need action. We need tools. We need fire in the belly. We need role models. We need recruitment. We need the new tools of the modern post industrial Anarchist Cookbook. We need to celebrate our own eco-warriors, and the fact that Green is the New Red. We have to fight the industries that most Americans support by stuffing their faces with cheese, swine, chicken, beef, lamb who are on a witch hunt, getting more and more Gestapo laws against peaceful protest. We have to tell young people how to fight the systems of oppression. We don’t need no stinking Earth Day kumbayah.

We need Tim DeChristopher pre-incarceration for protesting illegal land lease sales in Utah. Nine years ago, here he is speaking to youth:

Tim DeChristopher | Power Shift 2011 Keynote

Remember, if you toss a can of paint or pool acid on an SUV or Hummer, you could face 25 or more years in federal prison. Remember, if you get on the radio and attack McDonald’s burgers or attack the swine industry, or if you take photos from a public road of a High Fructose Corn Syrup plant, or if you protest with signs outside a slaughter house, or if you go to the state capital of your choice and do a little street theater about timber industry killing babies with their Agent Orange spraying, or if you put your body and life in the way of a bunch of construction machines for a telescope siting in Hawaii, well, you get the picture. This is, of course, not the Earth Liberation Front or Animal Liberation Front, but we all should be those people, like all people on Turtle Island who can’t trace their lineage back to Native Tribes should ALL be illegal aliens.

Earth Day is about celebrating the warriors, those that exposed Love Canal, or people like Rachel Carson who was spied on and wire tapped and tailed by feds and industry pigs. Or Ralph Nader, Dangerous at Any Speed, who was the target of mafia hit men hired by GM, Ford, you name it, just for demanding safer death trap vehicles.

Celebrate the fighters in fence-line communities:

Environmental racism is real. As documented in Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, ‘The Color of Law,’ extensive federal, state and local government practices designed to create and maintain housing segregation also assured that polluting facilities like industrial plants, refineries, and more were located near Black, Latino and Asian American neighborhoods,” said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for The Greenlining Institute, a public policy advocacy group in Oakland. “Extensive data show that low-income communities of color still breathe the worst air and have excessive rates of pollution-related illnesses like asthma and other respiratory problems. These problems won’t fix themselves. As we move away from oil, coal and gas to fight climate change, we must consciously bring clean energy resources and investment into communities that were for too long used as toxic dumping grounds.

In the end, if we do not push back hard and shut down the country — The Industrial Continuing Criminal Enterprises of Wall Street, Banking, Real Estate, Military, Prison, Chemical, Pesticide, Fossil Fuel, Logging, Surveillance, Hi-Tech, Medicine, Pharma — then we are just Nero Fiddling While the Entire Ranch is Razed, Logged, Polluted and Immolated by the system that most “earth days” hate to bring up — CAPITALISM.

There ain’t no new green deal if the billionaires and corporations are leading the charge, creating the conduits for profit, paying the bills of the so-called environmental movement. Green is the New Black is a book like Green is the New Red.

Environmental Racism in America: An Overview of the Environmental Justice Movement and the Role of Race in Environmental Policies

Black Lives Matter: Environmental Racism Is Killing African-Americans

In the end, we are all expendable, so why not think the earth is expendable.? We are all — the 80 percent — in sacrifice zones: food deserts, box store hell, road and highway infernos, clear cut landscape, smokestack gulags, chemical spray prisons.

Sacrifice zones: This leads to sacrifice zones, places where people, mostly of color and low wealth, live beside hyperpolluters and in harm’s way. In Houston, for example, an oil refinery, chemical plant and Interstate 610 surround the Manchester neighborhood, home to roughly 3,000 people. Not surprisingly, the cancer risk for people living in Manchester and neighboring Harrisburg is 22 percent higher than for the overall Houston urban area, according to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. Robert D. Bullard is a distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University and is often called the “father of environmental justice.

Environmental Activists Have Higher Death Rates Than Some Soldiers

164 Activists Were Killed Defending Land and Water Last Year

My “earth day” is about taking it to the streets. It’s not about John Denver and Melissa Etheridge or Darrel Hannah or Al Gore or Bill McKibben. It’s about getting younger and younger people to the table, to the trenches. It’s about the old giving it up to the not-so-old. It’s about inviting families of loggers, miners, ranchers, aerospace trucking to the table and showing them the value of deep ecology, food systems that are localized and regionalized, showing them the value of nutrition versus consumption. Radical means root, and we need radical change, radical activism, and monkey-wrenching and celebrating those who already “got this” earth and cultural justice years ago.

Ten years ago, man, taking it to the streets, in Spokane!

Spokane’s Earth Day ‘takes to the streets’ to reach people

Spokane’s 40th anniversary Earth Day celebration will be on Main St. downtown rather than on grass at Riverfront Park.

This was about getting people who normally do not do these self-congratulatory and aggrandizement to the table — the poorer folks, who came to this event because we had 2nd Harvest there giving out food boxes AND because of all the family activities. We had school kids making bat boxes, bird houses, and bird feeders with an army of volunteers, even from Kohl’s donating some community service time. We shut the street down (like a huge thing with Police and Fire department honchos), put up a main stage, and we had the even go into the night with local musicians playing. We had the even live on the radio KYRS-FM. We had in your face people like me, and others (though greenie weenies unfortunately predominate the so-called “nice earth day” gigs); and then the mayor of Spokane, and other politicos spoke while the main stage was powered with solar panels. We had that friction between those who believe in hope and those who fight for change and not for hope. We also made sure that Earth Day would continue in Spokane at the colleges and at public events the entire year afterwards. that was a whole other series of events a few years before that I organized, many, a year of sustainability for ALL of the city. We made sure that this one day was just the tip of the iceberg. Action, action, action. Grow, grow, grow the leadership and the army of young people.

But, alas, that was a decade ago, and alas I have gone on some really bumpy miles (thousands upon thousands of miles) away from that outpost — from English faculty, radio show host, columnist, urban planning graduate student; to union organizer in Seattle, DC, Mexico City, Bend, Oregon, to Occupy Seattle teacher; to social worker for adults with developmental disabilities, to memory care facility engagement counselor, to social worker for homeless in downtown Portland, to social worker for homeless veterans and their families, to counselor for foster teens; now a decade later — to the Oregon Coast as author, columnist, substitute teacher, and site director for an anti-poverty project in Lincoln and Jefferson counties. And more. Ten Years, a marriage, a divorce, another marriage, to Lisa, here in Waldport scratching out a living. New book out, quashed public readings, and now, five minute April 22 on the Zoom Earth Day. Crazy ass changes, and yet, at age 63, I have always predicted that if lazy ass consumer USA Murder Inc. continued to do what it always had since end of WWII, then, we would end up here — complacent, fearful, colonized, co-opted, in the belly of the beast, collectively enmeshed in Stockholm Syndrome, and more.

Support my recent work, now that the hysteria and complete lack of mental, intellectual, and spiritual acumen has occurred in the United States of Amnesia. Wide Open Eyes — Surfacing from Vietnam, short story collection.

April 22, Newport, Oregon, Zoom Day, Earth Day. Not the new normal. This is a one-time deal for me. Newport celebrates Earth Day via Zoom on April 22.

Give me Chris Hatten any day, over the self-important people who think Earth day is only about feel-good, celebrating a few more birds out on the shore because we are all sheep in this collective lock-down!

In the eye of the eagle

One-Minute Q & A with Chris Hatten

Paul Haeder:  What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten:  Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH:  How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH:  We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH:  Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH:  Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH:  I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH:  In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH:  If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

200410_oct_fern 008 - Copy.jpg

Lincoln County, Oregon celebrates 50 years of Earth Days

Category: General Earth Day Event4/22/2020 19:00 Oregon

Public  — Go to Earth Day

Length: 2 hours  About:

Our two-hour live presentation on the Zoom platform will include local and statewide musicians, five elected officials, Siletz tribal members, young kids under 10 years of age, non-profit organizations, and other speakers talking about the positive accomplishments of our environmental activities on the Oregon Coast and the challenges ahead with climate change.

Organizer: Martin Desmond

Online: moc.liamgnull@tropwenlcc

RSVP link: https://zoom.us/j/3505677534

New Indonesian Capital in Borneo:  From Rural Misery to Grody Dreams of Urban Glory

Indonesia’s new shining city of the hill

An old road between Balikpapan and Samarinda passes through the poor villages, through rural slums, as well as stalls selling second-rate local fruits. The cheap, unhygienic eateries are now half-empty. While the traffic is still heavy here, the ‘real action’ is somewhere else; a few kilometers away, where the new motorway is being constructed; a motorway which will eventually connect Balikpapan, Samarinda and potentially the new Indonesian capital city which is expected to rise somewhere around the now dirt poor Sepaku Village in the area of Penajam Paser Utara.

The government of President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) is promising that the new capital will touch the skies, eclipsing places like Brasilia, Malaysian Putra Jaya, or Canberra. Nothing short of Dubai or Manhattan, in the middle of the logged out, monstrously scarred, poisoned island of Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia).

While virtually all Indonesian cities could easily be defined as urbanistic disasters, the new capital is supposed to be totally different, boasting green wide avenues and impressive architectural masterpieces that would be envied by the entire world.

Indonesia has already made one such an attempt in its recent history – it promised to convert its island of Batam which is located just a stone’s throw from Singapore – into something much more impressive than Singapore itself (a city-state with one of the highest quality of life on Earth). Two years ago, I travelled to Batam, where I discovered a grotesque, bitter reality. I reported it in my essay “Batam Island – Indonesia’s Sorry Attempt to Create Second Singapore“. The island had been thoroughly destroyed. Nothing public was left, and nothing, absolutely nothing was built for the people. Precisely just as in all other parts of Indonesia. The ugliness of the urban areas of Batam was unimaginable. Corruption was omnipresent. The feeble attempt to turn the island into an industrial, productive area, collapsed. What survived, at least for some period of time, was the prostitution and gambling. Eventually, the gambling ‘industry’ collapsed, too. Only prostitution, together with some sand exports to Singapore, prevailed.

Presently, there is not one single city in Indonesia which could be defined as livable. Not one. Even the Island of Bali is heavily polluted, full of traffic jams, with ruined and privatized nature, including beaches.

Why would the new capital be any different? Why would Indonesian people believe the government, which has been known for lying, for building sand castles, and for many long decades of absolute ineptness?

There is not one elegantly built sidewalk anywhere in Indonesia. So why should there suddenly be hundreds of kilometers of beautiful avenues and promenades in the middle of Borneo?

All public places in all the Indonesian cities have been commercialized, privatized, or outrightly stolen. Why would it be different now? What is this talk about big parks, green areas? Every big project in Jakarta, Surabaya or Bandung begins like that: endless promises of “city walks”, of malls overflowing with green areas. In the end: nothing! A concrete sprawl, parking lots, and nothing public whatsoever. Maritime cities lacking promenades, urban centers without public parks, concert halls, or first-rate museums. There is no place like this on Earth: absolute extreme corruption, and spite for the people.

So, is there any reason why the new capital would change the entire culture of graft, or lack of productivity and imagination? It will be, after all, constructed by the same individuals, same developers, same companies and the same government as in all other parts of the country.

*****

Along the old road on which we drive, most of the people live in poverty, or if international standards were to apply: in misery.

At Bukit Suharto (Suharto Hill), a peripheral area of the planned new capital, Ms. Niah, an old woman living alone in her shack, selling traditional rice cakes for a living, is not hopeful about her future. Here, as elsewhere in Indonesia, governments have come and gone, dropping empty promises, leaving people with basically nothing, just wooden walls, stained mattresses, and pasrah, which can be loosely translated as ‘submissive melancholy’.

Ms. Niah living an Indonesian-style ‘middle class’ life

Ms. Niah is not afraid to speak:

I did not know about the plan to move the capital here, by the government. They tell us nothing. What I know is that I have never felt the benefits of development carried out by the government. For decades, there was no help that I’d receive. I don’t even get that proverbial subsidized rice delivery, which each and every poor Indonesian is entitled to, at least in theory. I get nothing. On the contrary, I actually feel disadvantaged by what is called development. Since the government built the toll road not far from here, the traffic of the vehicles on this road has been reduced, and as a result, my rice cakes do not sell.

A few hundred meters away, Mr. Abdul Gani, a retired civil servant actually worries about his future. The government may force him out of his home, if it felt that his land may be at least of some use for the new capital project.

A few weeks ago, an officer came to the houses in our village to collect information on the ownership deeds for land, buildings and fields, without giving us a hint of what reasons the data collected is for. Then, there were rumors circulating in this area, that our land would be taken, confiscated by the government, because we do not have ownership certificates. Everything is vague for us. We don’t know what to expect.

Dubai? Manhattan? Really? Please be serious. No, we don’t believe that the government could build a city like Dubai here.

All along the road, we hardly encounter any native people of Borneo. The entire area is now populated by so called trans-migrants – individuals and families that were injected here, mainly from Java, South Sulawesi and Bali, after the 1965 military coup orchestrated by the West and by the Indonesian right-wing elites and religious cadres. Trans-migrants have been historically placed along the important roads, effectively fragmenting Kalimantan/Borneo. The right-wing, in fact, fascist dictator Suharto considered Dayak native people of this island to be ‘Communist’, because of their traditional, communal culture and way of life. He did not trust them. In fact, he busied himself destroying their “long houses”, and their philosophy of life.

Trans-migrants have also been playing an extremely important role in Borneo, which is one of the wealthiest, in terms of natural resources, islands on Earth: their increasing presence has guaranteed that the local people would not be able to one day unite and demand independence from the colonialist Java.

The entire island is now ruined as a result of Jakarta’s rule, as well as the “trans-migration”. It has been devastated, burned, deforested, poisoned. Once resembling paradise on earth, it is now scarred and humiliated. Its original inhabitants are subjugated, kept divided and badly informed, and uneducated on purpose.

Then comes the new capital project.

Map showing relocation of the new Indonesian capital to the island of Borneo (Map: Caitlin Dempsey using Natural Earth Quick Start)

In an unusually bold report, the Jakarta Globe wrote on December 18, 2019:

A study has revealed the names of numerous national and local politicians who would reap profits from the capital city relocation mega-project, including the brother of defense minister Prabowo Subianto, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, and the coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan.

The study, “Who Is the New Capital City For?” was conducted by a coalition of civil organizations; Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), Trend Asia and Forest Watch Indonesia, and took three months to complete.

It studied the oligarchic connections in the mega-project and its environmental and societal impacts.

The report revealed names of people who have assets and concessions in the extractive industries such as coal, palm oil and lumber as well as energy plants in the area of East Kalimantan where the new capital is going to be built.

It also suggested the project could be used as a smokescreen to brush off the corporations’ dirt for the environmental damage they have done there.

Within the 180,000-hectare area for the new so-called smart city, there are 162 mining, forestry, palm oil, coal and property concessions.

Around 158 of them are coal mines that have left at least 94 deadly-deep holes in the area…

*****

Indonesian girl and phone in a typical village in the area – pollution and misery

We met two leading researchers from the Institut Dayakologi (“Dayakology Institute”), Richardus Giring and Julianto Makmur, in the city of Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

Mainly, we wanted to know, whether the relocation of the capital to Borneo would benefit or harm the local people.

Mr. Giring elaborated:

Since the issue of relocation of the capital was endorsed by the Jokowi government, I have never come across any open and transparent analysis. All the studies tend to show positive aspects, without considering the risks and negative impacts of the relocation; ignoring the interests of the Kalimantan people. There should be a serious study, analyzing what the relocation of the capital would do to the locals.

Aside from seeing the relocation of the capital as a solution to what is happening in Jakarta, this plan should also be seen from the perspective of the impacts on Kalimantan and its people. We do not want this capital relocation to be a kind of escape from the problems that Jakarta is facing; we don’t want to move those problems to Kalimantan.

The ecological injustice and the destruction of the social structure of the people of Kalimantan have been occurring since a long time ago. Consistently, various government sectoral (forestry, energy, etc.) have only made Kalimantan an area of plunder, be it its forests or other natural resources. The Kalimantan that we see today is a dreadful legacy of the past and present. Although there are still few areas of pristine tropical forests left on the island, they are only small remnants.

Working all over the island, filming and writing about the dreadful situation for years, we could only agree. And Mr. Giring continued:

What’s the point of promising a big, beautiful and magnificent new capital, if it is not preceded by proper and careful planning and study? So far, what they have done is only feasibility studies based on positive predictions. No studies on the risks, or on the negative impacts that may arise. If it is not done carefully, the whole thing will definitely turn out to be a blunder. We know that this is not just a plan: a lot of resources have already been spent. But still, the important thing is to anticipate beforehand what lies ahead; to study risks, the environmental impacts.

If not, people will have no sense of ownership. The new capital will only belong to Jakarta’s elites, and to Jokowi. And in the end, it will only move the problems from Jakarta to Kalimantan. It’s beginning to look like a beauty contest, where the important thing is how things look. As long as they appear to ook magnificent, great! Short video clips created by designers/architects are shown everywhere by the mass media. But it is irrelevant to the people of Borneo and for the entire Indonesia.

I imagine that there will be many potential conflicts that will arise, such as land-grabbing caused by the politics of the state administration. There will also be an exodus of people to the new capital which will certainly trigger conflict with local people.

Well, this is our paradigm of development, which tends to sacrifice the interests of small people for the sake of the elites. On many occasions, here, development means sacrificing the poor/small people. In this case, they are being sacrificed solely for the sake of an ‘image or impression,’ as if they were not human beings with dignity.

*****

While the propaganda that is promoting the new capital is all over the Indonesian mass media, here in Kalimantan there is hardly any information, even about the precise location. The area designated by Jokowi’s regime is enormous. Everything has been hushed up, camouflaged, covered in secrecy. We ask, and people tell us where to go, but they are not sure. We drive back and forth, frustrated and tired.

On the second day, we finally came to a security post. Behind, the enormous and devastated land can be seen. We are told that it belongs to the retired General Prabowo Subianto, a man who ran against President Widodo in the last elections, in 2019, and after being defeated, was elevated to the post of Minister of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia. A former Lieutenant-General, he was accused of countless violations of human rights in the territories occupied by Java, and in Jakarta itself, where his troops were involved in kidnapping and torturing student protesters.

Several security guards man the post. One of them is called Hambali, a gate security officer employed by the company PT. ITCI, which is owned by Prabowo Subianto himself.

Behind the barrier and the post, there is the vast location of the planned city center of the new capital.

Although in theory, this place is supposed to be “public”, after spotting us, the security personnel immediately go to work, asking us questions, checking IDs, making phone calls to some undisclosed locations. Our documents are photocopied.

“So, is this going to be an Indonesian Dubai?” We ask. “Or perhaps Manhattan, or Canberra?”

The senior guard utters laconically, before lifting up the barrier and letting us pass:

I just hope that the new capital will be built as planned, although I am not sure that the new city will look like Dubai or Canberra or Manhattan.

*****

What follows is a nightmare, combined with Kafkaesque, grotesque images. Indonesia always manages to surprise and to shock me.

he Grandeur: entrance to the new Indonesia capital site

First, on the road shoulder, there are several broken trucks, full of timber. The drivers and helpers are busy fixing their engines and tires. Flies and other insects are everywhere. Indiscriminate logging is obviously going on up to now.

Pay as You Go: A new privately owned toll road

Our car moves on; begins climbing the rolling hills. The devastation is appalling, even by the standards of Borneo/ Kalimantan. Entire hills have been deforested, scarred. Huge, monstrous stubs of enormous trees line up the road. There are all sorts of makeshift ‘reforestation’ projects, obviously conducted to impress the local media. The result of all this is terrifying. The higher we get, the greater the scale of destruction: the total ruin of the island can be seen for tens of kilometers, in every direction. If this was once, decades and centuries ago, a paradise, it is now hell.

On top of all this, stands a small metal structure, called Sudarmono Tower, put together in the most amateurish manner. It is supposed to resemble the Eiffel Tower. Local people drive here; they climb it; adults, children, even grandmothers. There is nothing else to do, in this part of the world: the villages are encircled by palm oil plantations, mines and other commercial ventures. Now they have new entertainment – me. They stare, point fingers, repeating, as they always do when they see a foreigner: “bule, bule” (derogatory for “albino”).

Le Tower de Kalimantan Nouveau – at the very center of the new capital

We approached Ms. Imah, who was visiting the tower together with her family. She is from Sepaku Dua. She has no idea about politics, or about the ‘colonizing and then plundering’ of Kalimantan. If anything, she is one of the ‘colonizers’, but definitely not one of those who improved their lives by moving to the island. She knows nothing about the ‘grand plan’. Or, she knows very little. All she worries about are insignificant details: noise and possible overcrowding:

This is my first time visiting the location of the planned center of the capital. Personally, I am worried about the relocation of the new capital to our village. Now, we live in a quiet and peaceful environment. I am sure there will be more and more people coming and it will become crowded.

She does not know that she is living in thorough misery. Almost nobody around here, or even in the middle of the monstrous Jakarta and Surabaya slums, realize their conditions. ‘Quiet and peaceful’, she describes her environment. Wooden shacks, a medical and education system near the hard-sub-Saharan African bottom, an entire island robbed, with more than 100% of its land (yes, you are reading correctly) sold to private businesses.

Ms Ponadi, a shop owner, from Sepaku Village, thinks only about the possible compensation. But she is not even sure that the compensation will be provided by the government:

We came to this village decades ago, as trans-migrants, who started a new life from scratch. Now I already have enough land to pass on to my daughters and sons. Honestly, I would not be willing if we were told to move, to another place. If we had to move, the government would have to provide adequate compensation, for the hard-earned lives we have built here for decades.

This land she is talking about used to belong to this island, and to the people of this island. But she does not understand. First, the fascist government sent them here, to spread their culture and religion all around this island, which used to be inhabited by enormous, advanced and clearly socialist cultures. Now, the Javanese regime wants to cash in on its ‘investment’. Ms. Ponadi concludes, somehow sarcastically:

How could they possibly be able to build a city like Dubai here? I am not convinced at all. Tall buildings will immediately collapse to the ground.

She laughs, loudly. We don’t. All this is not funny. It is, somehow, damn serious.

*****

We drive through Borneo, exhausted, depressed, and with the feeling that something terrible is once again taking place here.

For almost three years we have been filming and talking to people all over this tremendous island, the 3rd largest on Earth, after Greenland and Papua. We have been documenting mighty rivers like Kapuas, now poisoned by mercury, hills leveled to the ground by mining companies, tremendous sprawls of land deforested, and converted into palm oil plantations. Chemicals, black carcinogenic creeks, and filth, are everywhere. Coal barges exporting the bowels of the island to all corners of the world. Villages and towns surrounded by monstrous commercial enterprises. Beaches covered by concrete, and then abandoned. Children playing in the middle of the roads. Sick people running, escaping to the Malaysian part of the island, where the medical care is much better and cheaper.

For almost three years, we have been collecting material for a huge documentary film, and a book.

The world knows nothing about Borneo; or almost nothing. Yet, its demise is as important as that of Amazonia. And the destruction is much more rapid here than anything recorded in Brazil.

Our nerves are stretched. It is all one big insanity, and we are alone, totally alone in this: no support and no backing. And this huge, enormous country all around us, choking us. The Fourth most populous nation on Earth, totally indoctrinated by the pro-Western, pro-business regime, with hardly any diversity, with no mercy, no production and hardly any enthusiasm. A country that only consumes, and which lives off cutting down trees, polluting rivers and selling its riches to multi-national companies.

A Balinese thinker, Gung Alit, wrote a comment for this report:

I do not agree with moving the capital to Kalimantan, because I prefer the forest to be sustainable. Even now they are already destroyed, so what would the forests look like if they really move the capital? Kalimantan Island would be more devastated. And once it gets more devastated, they will move again. That is ridiculous.

Yes, they always move again. They come like locust, from Java, supported by Western, foreign, companies. They stay for as long as there is something to plunder. Then, they move again. It is because Indonesia does not produce, it only plunders, and buys toys for the rich, after selling the loot. It is a terribly frightening sight. Everything is make-believe: statistics lie, planners lie. The country has been ransacked, by less than 1% of the population.

Deforestation and desolation marks the new center of the future capital city

And now, the Indonesian President, a megalomaniac, little businessman from Surakarta (Solo) is dreaming about something really huge. He is like some African king who drains his national resources in order to build a useless, huge palace or a cathedral in the middle of the jungle.

Rain forests are still being clear cut, with no end in sight

The Diplomat published an article on April 3, 2020, by By Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dimas Permadi. It contains two interesting paragraphs:

It is also important to note that domestically Jokowi’s plan to move the capital has been a contentious issue, which has taken a toll on the president’s image. In fact, a survey carried out by the KedaiKOPI survey institute revealed that 95.7 percent of Jakartans reject the plan. Scholars have also argued that the plan is not feasible and would not solve the underlying issues the government aims to address.

Naturally, to “elevate” the project, Jokowi selected several unsavory individuals:

To realize this gigantic plan, Jokowi formed a new capital steering board consisting of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In the area of the new Indonesia capital – a palm oil and chemical apocalypse

95.7 percent or not, the project is being criticized, increasingly, by all sectors of Indonesian society. On 7 April 2020, RMOL.ID published an essay by Marwan Batubara, Executive Director of Indonesian Resources Studies (Iress):

The ambition of relocating the capital city, which is said to be promoted as a driver for economic growth, is a program that is burdensome to state finances, is not pro-equal distribution, is not a priority, is not supported by objective studies and considerations, will increase the weight on state debt, as well as the potential for moral hazard.

Jokowi’s ambitious attitude to move the national capital has been reflected in the establishment of the 2020 state budget, on September 24, 2019. Although it is still in the initial stage and does not yet have a legal basis in the form of a law, the government has allocated a budget of 2 trillion rupiah for the relocation of the national capital, which is spread throughout the ministerial sectoral budgets.

The arrogant attitude and breaking of the regulations were adopted by the government amid the growing state budget deficit, and as a result, the burden of the country’s debt is getting heavier year after year.

Jokowi says he loves business, and he is enamored with the U.S. president Donald Trump. He can hardly believe that from a furniture seller he has gone ‘so far’, meeting the most notorious leaders of the West, shaking their hands, telling them how much they are wanted in Indonesia.

He talks big. He shuts up his critics. Journalists and activists are disappearing, or outright getting murdered. Laws muzzling any criticism are being introduced, gradually and consistently. Nobody dares to guess what may come next. New Order (“Ode Baru”) — the fascist pro-business regime of General Suharto, is being re-introduced.

In this political climate; in a climate of fear, intimidation and corruption, the new capital city of Indonesia is expected to rise.

*****

As we sit in a car, in silence, driving towards Balikpapan City, my left eye begins to ache. It is just the beginning of a horror which I will have to face in just two weeks from now. My stomach has been destroyed, as always when I work in Indonesia, particularly in Kalimantan. Soon, both eyes, attacked by a local parasite, will collapse. It will happen in Hong Kong. And I will have to fly home to Chile, half-blind and ruined after working in Kalimantan. My journey will take 8 days; from Hong Kong to Bangkok, to Seoul, Amsterdam, Surinam, Brazil and Peru.

In a few weeks, COVID-19 will come to Indonesia, but instead of mobilizing, Jokowi’s regime will tell its citizens to pray and drink herbal medicine. A tremendous amount of people will die, silently, and as always in Indonesia, unreported.

On board Lion Air – the world’s most crammed and deadliest airline

But now we are slowly progressed towards the main regional center, and its airport. Ahead of us, there will be a horrid flight to Pontianak, in two days, on a filthy and overcrowded Boeing 737, so filthy that it resembles an old bus in some collapsed country. Then, a flight to Jakarta on the national carrier Garuda Indonesia, where several people sat around us would be emitting dry, persistent coughs. Unlike in the Philippines, Vietnam and, of course, China, no temperature checking, no medical checkpoints, until much, much later.

Indonesia is a collapsed country. I depicted it in my recent huge documentary film DOWNFALL! The fact that it has crumbled is a well-hidden secret. If it does something really well, it obstructs the truth, tricking its own citizens and the world. It shows its true face only when emergencies strike, as basically nothing works there: rescue operations, the medical system, or transportation.

Before leaving Balikpapan, we talked to several individuals there. Although in Indonesia, more than half of the population lives in misery (if international statistics were to apply), people here apply standardized neocon “logic”. Even in the slums, all over the archipelago, people use stock market jargon. It looks unnatural, terrifying, perverse.

Lusi (known, like most people in Indonesia, by only one name), a housewife, a visitor to the Mall Pentacity, in Balikpapan, readily offered her “analyses”:

I agree and support the relocation of the capital. It will boost economic development, especially in the property businesses.

Would she, personally, participate in the “economic development and property business”? When asked, she did not know what to say.

*****

Mr. Arip Harahap, a senior architect based in Jakarta, declared for this report that moving the capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan is “immoral”. He elaborated:

First, it is not based on a proper planning and design process. All technical, socio-cultural studies are still too shallow. Second, considering the country’s economic situation, it is such a wasteful way of spending a budget. Third, it seems that there are the interests of groups close to the central government that will benefit from the project.

Apparently, there are many such interests of many groups close to the government. As the government and such groups are intertwined, forming one system, a regime, which has been for long decades cannibalizing the nation.

The Jakarta Globe continued its damning report, naming names:

The corporations and the oligarchs have a chance to ensure their investments are safe with this project. Meanwhile, they ignore the fact the indigenous Paser Balik tribe had their land taken away by ITCI Hutan Manunggal in the 1960s,” Jatam coordinator Merah Johansyah said at the report’s launch in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The names mentioned in the report include lumber businessman Sukanto Tanoto, the owner of ITCI Hutan Manuggal; Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo’s younger brother; Rheza Herwindo, the son of corruption convict and ex-House speaker Setya Novanto; Thomas Aquinas Djiwandono, the treasurer of the Gerindra Party and Prabowo’s nephew; lawyer and ex-Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra; and the ubiquitous Luhut.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the location of the new capital city, at Penajam Paser Utara in East Kalimantan, on April 29, only 12 days after he won the presidential election.

The government never asked for approval from the people of East Kalimantan. The decision [to move the capital there] was taken 12 days after the presidential election without consulting the public. That was a crime as far as public participation in politics is concerned,” Merah said.

Investigating oppression against the indigenous people in Indonesia, as well as the destruction of the environment all over the archipelago by the collusion of local oligarchs, foreign multi-nationals and Indonesian government, is an extremely dangerous job, particularly now under Jokowi’s administration. People get hunted down, killed, arrested and in the case of foreigners, regularly deported. Recently, Philip Jacobson, 30, was arrested and imprisoned in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, after attending meetings of the indigenous people of Kalimantan and reporting for Mongabay.

The Environmental science website, Mongabay, is an outspoken publication, that is persistently critical of the situation in Indonesia. Regarding the new capital, it reported on 6 January, 2020:

The site of the new capital on the island of Borneo is home to 162 existing concessions, most of them for coal mining, according to a report from a coalition of NGOs. This contradicts the government’s claim that the city will be built on vacant land, and raises the prospect of the concession-holders exploiting the opportunity for profit, said Merah Johansyah from the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), one of the NGOs in the coalition.

If the government says it’s going to be the public who will benefit [from relocating the capital], that’s a big lie,” he said at the launch of the report in Jakarta. “The ones that will benefit are these companies.

*****

And so, the story goes. Six decades of attempts to move the Indonesian capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan, Borneo Island. First, the enthusiastic effort by President Sukarno, to raise the socialist, Soviet-style city of Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, literally in the middle of nowhere. Then, the U.S.-backed fascist coup put a full stop to all the progressive aspirations and people-oriented development. Recently, after getting re-elected, Jokowi announced his grand plan to abandon the polluted, embarrassingly poor and ‘sinking’ Jakarta, and move the capital city to Penajam Paser Utara in East Kalimantan.

Unlike the left-wing vision of Sukarno, Jokowi’s design is nihilistic, and if implemented, it will benefit only big business and the oligarchs. The great majority of the Indonesian people will gain absolutely nothing.

The great migration of morally and economically corrupt bureaucrats and their butlers from Jakarta to East Kalimantan would further damage the already extremely devastated island. Native people there will get more and more marginalized and oppressed. If this happens, there will also be very little chance for them to ever regain control of their own island.

*****

Container ships ready to take away loot from Kalimantan to richer waters

As this report is being written, the Indonesian economy is collapsing due to the COVID-19 epidemy. Even before the lockdowns, the commodity-based economy of the fourth most populous nation was not doing well. Now the situation is truly shattering.

Statistics in Indonesia are manipulated; totally incorrect. In reality, the majority of the nation lives below international poverty lines, living in urban and rural slums, lacking basic sanitation, access to clean water, decent medical care, healthy and nutritious food, education and housing.

Can Indonesia afford to waste 33 billion dollars on moving its capital city? And everyone knows that 33 billion will at some point inflate to 50 billion, then perhaps to one trillion, until we will all lose count. If the project goes ahead, it will be nothing more than yet another re-distribution of the national wealth – delivering billions of dollars into the hands of very few corrupt oligarchs and so-called “elites”.

The ‘project’ should stop. It has to stop, but can it still be stopped?

In Indonesia, the greed of the rulers is much greater than logic. Most of the citizens are uninformed, lethargic and submissive. People are resigned.

Will the new capital ever get built? So far, there is only the tiny fake Eiffel Tower sticking up towards the sky, surrounded by plundered nature. Almost nothing moves. There is almost total silence there, as if it were the silence before the storm.

• Originally published by 21 CENTURY WIRE

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Forever-Chemicals Tap Water  

Throughout the history of Western Civilization there are times, but only on rare occasions, when people en masse feel compelled to run into the streets, similar to the storming of the Bastille 1789, screaming at the top of their lungs: “Stop the Madness!”

Now is one of those times, as only recently Feb 2020 the Trump administration signed a regulation to remove America’s water resources from federal protection. This is the largest rollback of the Clean Water Act since passage into law in 1972. No other administration over the past 50 years has removed federal control over certain key aspects of the all-important landmark legislation known as the Clean Water Act.

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.1

Trump’s disgusting and kinda creepy reversal of one of America’s longest-standing policies protecting the public from environmental muck, crud, slime, sludge, oozing glop and most significantly “manmade chemicals” affects every citizen all across the land. It goes right to the heart of the morality of the country.

Still, many Americans are already drinking chemically laced water, aka: Forever-Chemicals, straight out of the tap, yet they don’t know.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Washington, DC, for the first time: Toxic fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS (a family of manmade Forever Chemicals – lasting forever in the environment) have been discovered in drinking water in dozens of cities, including the major metropolitan areas of America. These studies have not previously been reported to the public at large.

Accordingly, the number of Americans exposed to toxic chemicals has been drastically underestimated in prior studies by both the EPA and by EWG’s own research. This is not good news.

Making matters more challenging, recent tests exposed multiples of festering problems that include newly discovered toxic chemicals

… that are not commonly tested for presence in drinking water.2

In other words, testing for drinking water toxicity has been deficient for years. By all appearances, governmental rules and regulations should be greatly enhanced and expanded, not diminished or abolished, as has been the case over the past couple of years.

America’s president (Trump) comically boasts: “America is the cleanest. Our air is the cleanest. Our water is the cleanest in the world.” Trump’s misinformed, deeply disturbing blatant lying proves that he is the most dangerous uninformed ill-equipped president of all time.

Not only that, across the board, Trump has reversed decades of solid, established policies designed to safeguard U.S. citizens. Yes, he actually abolishes policies that protect the health of the very same voters who belly up, squeezing into tiny voting booths, to blindly vote for him. It’s horrific on the scale of Greek tragedies where the main character is eventually brought to ruin as a consequence of: (1) tragic character flaws, (2) moral weakness and (3) inability to cope. Trump scores on all counts.

Only recently, the self-congratulatory tragi-comic Trump pounded his chest for being the first president to successfully open up drilling to America’s most pristine wildlife refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). For decades, Congress steadfastly forbade drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Anybody with the slightest sensibility and moral courage would fight tooth and nail to prevent despoiling ANWR, which Trump flailed while admitting he’d never heard of ANWR, but he had no compunction whatsoever about removing restrictions for drilling and mining and/or private development, even though he’d never heard of ANWR. Presidential?

Trump’s lack of sensitivity, awareness, consciousness borders on the absurd and exposes a deep level of stupidity or maybe just plain ole ignorance that is seldom, if ever, exposed in the highest echelons of political office.

And, even worse, much-much worse, without giving a second thought, “congressional Trumpers” voted to reverse the long-standing policy of protecting America’s most pristine wilderness. Members of Congress achieved it via attachment to an “unrelated” 2017 tax bill, which is the weasel-out methodology for underhandedly killing policies that Americans are sensitive about. Hands down, ANWR is one of those.

Meanwhile, as for toxic water, EWG’s testing found 44 locations in 31 states; all but one had detectable PFAS in public drinking water with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, northern NJ, and suburbs of NYC.

Not only that, it gets worse, as 34 locations that tested positive for PFAS toxic contamination had not been previously reported to the public by the EPA or by state environmental agencies.

Coincidentally, but not at all surprising since toxic chemicals disrupt, alter, and destroy healthy human cells, the number of Americans (150,000,000) diagnosed with chronic illness in America is off the charts.3

Along those same lines, it’s instructive to consider that the top three causes of death in 1900 were the infectious diseases pneumonia and flu, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Chronic diseases were not prevalent. Antibiotics led to dramatic declines in those infectious diseases. Whereas today, it’s no longer infectious disease that kills, it’s chronic disease like heart disease and cancer as the leading causes of death which are not caused or spread person-to-person, not infectious, and not fixed with antibiotics.

By all appearances, humanity’s modern-day surge in chronic diseases is due to alteration/destruction of bodily cell structure, which brings to mind somber troublesome questions about life environments.

According to Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental law org:

Toxic chemicals known as PFAS are found in everyday products… They’re linked to cancer, and they’ve contaminated drinking water sources across the country.4

PFASs are chemical substances that don’t easily break down and persist in the human body, similar to ionizing radiation, where accumulation occurs over the years and leads to a series of chronic conditions in people, for example, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Studies are just now starting to show links, connecting the dots for the first time, to chemical substances like PFAS to testicular cancer (every male’s biggest nightmare), kidney cancer, and endocrine disruption. Clearly, somebody somewhere should take responsibility for diligently cleaning up America’s water systems with more restrictive rules, not less enforcement.

Good news, bad news: The good news: PFASs have proven so toxic that manufacturers phased them out entirely by 2015, but (bad news) the contamination of water supplies is already a fait accompli, no turning back after decades of toxic exposure.

More bad news: Against the protests of 200 scientists, chemical companies have replaced older PFAS with new chemicals in the PFAS family called GenX, which unfortunately, act a lot like the old PFAS and may be equally dangerous. 5

Industrial release of PFAS is one major source of water contamination. For example, in 2016, researchers discovered “troubling levels of GenX in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. The source was a PFAS manufacturing plant owned by The Chemours Company, a spin-off of DuPont.”5

PFASs also accumulate in the human body via food and food packaging, as discovered in a 2017 study when PFASs were found in 1/3rd of all fast food wrappers.

As for America’s Trump-crippled-EPA, more bad news: There are no PFAS listed on the EPA’s important “Toxics Release Inventory,” which is the primary tool for alerting communities across the country to toxic problems.

Not only that, and possibly making matters much worse (other than having Trump as president) on Feburary 14th, 2019 the EPA unveiled a long delayed Nationwide Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances Action Plan.

However, the plan is too little, too late, and falls short of what is needed to protect communities from a class of chemicals that are polluting drinking water and air, while exposing families, particularly children, to a myriad of heath risks, including cancer.5

All of which highlights gross incompetence, carelessness and/or heartlessness via governmental regulatory agencies under leadership of the White House.

EPA was first alerted to the toxic drinking water problem 20 years ago but ever since has failed to set an enforceable nationwide legal limit. In 2016 (pre-Trump) the EPA issued a drinking water advisory of 70 ppt, whereas, in sharp controversial contrast, independent studies and labs say the recommended safe level for PFAS in drinking water should be 1 ppt, and certainly, absolutely not 70 ppt!

EWG has already mapped PFAS toxic contamination of drinking water or ground water in 1.400 sites in 49 states. Older EWG studies concluded that 110 million Americans were drinking toxic water, an estimate that is probably way too low based on the more recent findings.

All of which, not alarmingly, coincides with the aforementioned Rand Corp study indicating that 150,000,000 Americans have chronic illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, Crohn disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, bipolar mood disorder, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

Henceforth, by slashing environmental rules and regulations (ninety-five [95] so far according to the New York Times, as of December 21, 2019) the Trump administration is stimulating/enhancing the likelihood of a veritable outbreak of chronic illnesses, well beyond the current massive numbers; expect multiple (2-3) chronic illnesses per person to mushroom, creating a drug-infested nation full of Mad Hatters.

Postscript: The EPA’s outside scientific advisory board issued a negative draft report (December 2019) stating the Trump water rule proposals were “…in conflict with established science… and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.” The majority of those members of the advisory board are handpicked Trump appointees. Will they be fired?

Post-Postscript: “This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Blan Holman told The New York Times. “This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”1

  1. EcoWatch, January 23, 2020.
  2. Environmental Working Group (EWG) Washington, DC.
  3. Rand Corporation 2017 Study – Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence.
  4. “Breaking Down Toxic PFAS”, Earthjustice, February 12, 2020.
  5. Earthjustice.

Plastic Meets the Road and Capitalism’s Role in Climate Change

Earth Day & Capitalism Like Vinegar and Oil?

Continuously, discussions focusing on degraded ecosystems and tipping points forcing climate change to ramp up to chaos many times center around the “C” word.

Not “c” as in “cancer.”

“Capitalism is destroying the planet,” said Pat DeLaquil, an energy policy expert working with various governments, NGO’s and the private sector to “help achieve economic development and combating climate change.”

He was one speaker in a two-guest gig at the Newport Library on January 27 as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350 Oregon Central Coast.

The other person presenting is director of a plastics to road recycling non-profit headquartered in Toledo.

Twenty people listened to DeLaquil as he zoomed through his data-filled Power Point. His SOP is working with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and other groups to lobby for passage of a new version of climate change policy during this state’s short legislative session.

No matter how many details behind the framework of HB 2020 are aired, convincing Oregonians of all stripes to get behind this cap on statewide carbon emissions is a technical, legal, intellectual, PR, and emotional challenge.

Two Newport City Council members attended Monday, as gale force winds buffeted the library. Interestingly, kicking off the double header was a video clip from a January 13 Senate National Resources and Environment Committee.

Arnold L. “Arnie” Roblan, in a droll voice, stated how he’s visited all parts of Oregon listening to youth. He emphasized it’s been 16 years since he was a school principal, but now he’s seeing like never before a huge shift in how PK12 students are viewing the world.

“There’s been a big change,” Roblan stated in the video. “Kids are extremely anxious about the climate.”

Kicking off the 2-hour event was Bill Kucha, Otter Rock artist and head of 350 Oregon Central Coast. He strummed guitar and sang his song, “There’s Music All Around Me.” The message is one of hope in a world with thousands of ecosystems collapsing.

While Sen. Roblan stated the counties along the coast are at the “epicenter of ocean acidification and beach erosion caused by climate change,” one audience member, Michael Gaskill, asked Pat DeLaquil if he gets frustrated with each year increasingly watered-down of environmental bills get passed.

Gaskill was in attendance to listen to the speakers and to sign up attendees interested in the Congressional campaign of Hillsboro Democrat Mark Gamba, who’s vying for the 5th district position in November.

Another audience member wanted immediate response to her comment that “capitalism is the problem hurting the poor” was exasperated by the lack of social justice apparent in the discussions.

The C word was bandied about much in DeLaquil’s opening remarks:

What drives capitalism to extremes? Two things: this hyper-individualism of the Ayn Rand economic school which purports everyone is unique and must fight for himself or herself to acquire as much as possible. And, two, patriarchy which indoctrinates young children into believing this hierarchy of male control. This belief that males are not caring about social issues, the environment, and females are not supposed to speak their minds when confronted with this apparent destructive system.

The dichotomy is common in discussions about male domination in business, industry, militarism, and monetizing seemingly every single human transaction. Women, on the other hand, are seen “only “as mothers, nurturers put on earth to support the family and keep the peace by not speaking out against environmental, cultural and community degradation and destruction.

DeLaquil carried that allusion further saying capitalism and socialism can be reformed to support a clean, safe, market-centered society with social safety nets like education, health care, other entitlement programs that are part and parcel of Social Democratic countries like Norway or Denmark.

Don Quixote Fighting the Plastics Monster

“The window is closing faster on plastics than climate change, I really believe,” Scott Rosin of Plastic Up-Cycling told the gathering.

Knowing Rosin from Surfrider beach clean ups, and for an upcoming Deep Dive column, I don’t see him as Chicken Little “the sky is falling” fellow.

He’s fought forest fires in the 1970s and ‘80s. He’s been high up in the trees as a forester, and he knows the value of hard work – taking down entire stands of forest in for many years as an area logger.

He and his co-lead, Katharine Valentino, are looking for partnerships and financial backing for their project to get most of Lincoln county’s plastic waste stream into our roads in the form of new thoroughfares, repaved ones, potholes, driveways and parking lots.

The stats on the ground and in the water are staggering: “Think about it. Predictions of a billion tons of plastic produced each year by 2025. Compare that to 1.5 million pounds produced in 1950.”

He went on to punctuate this staggering stat: “Predictions about current rates of plastic waste state by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

As a surfer and lover of the ocean, Scott reminded the audience every time they read about a whale beached and dead, guts filled with plastic, that mammal represents less than 10 percent of the actual death rate of whales since most die offshore and sink to the benthic zone.

Rosin and Valentino see innovators in Scotland and in California, as well as other places, coming to the rescue. TechniSoil out of Redding California is taking recycled plastic, bitumen, asphalt substrate and integrating it into a flexible and long-lasting paving mixture (up to 15 percent of the total volume for paving roads could be plastic).

Then there is MacRebur and Scottish CEO Toby McCartney who was working in Southern India helping people at landfills gather potentially reusable items and sell them. Scott Rosin tells us McCartney observed some of the plastics the pickers culled, putting it into potholes and setting it on fire.

Instant melted plasticized pothole filler.

“Not the most environmentally friendly way to fill potholes,” Scott said. “However, those plastic filled potholes outlasted the actual roads.”

Carbon, Global Heating, Resources Plummeting and Us v Them?

Some of the buzz words coming from the 2-hour talk include “decarbonizing the economy” and “carbon budget.”

Add to those – renewable energy; trade exposed; energy intensive.

Pat DeLaquil, with doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT and who’s worked with USAID, the Asian Development Bank, and large companies like Bechtel (not a green company), wants people to relate to what they are seeing in the news – flooding, wildfires,, degraded ecosystems, increased rain events, droughts – as applicable to their own communities and states.

“The artic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” he said showing us maps of that ice world. He’s also warning us about methane clathrates releasing a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide; and the warming tundra with millions of tons of frozen greenhouse gasses – ancient carbon. “The carbon that’s locked in the permafrost in the Arctic is thousands . . . millions of years old.”

He also brings to light the terms “runaway climate change” and the “albedo effect” – white snow and ice reflect back the sun’s rays. Less white, means more ocean warming.

DeLaquil and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters are pushing hard a Clean Energy Jobs bill.

[This] is one step in a continuing process of increasing climate change ambition in Oregon and by example the rest of the US. Just as the Renewable Portfolio Standard was followed by the Clean Fuel bill, then the Coal to Clean program, the Clean Energy Job (CEJ) bill will need to be followed next year with Agriculture and Forestry measures and elements of the Green New Deal. We are in this fight for the long haul and our strategy is to win one step at a time.

He mentioned Time magazine’s 2019 person-of-the-year Greta Thurnberg who just attended the most recent Davos, Switzerland, gathering of the World Economic Forum. DeLaquil dovetails Senator Roblan’s comments about youth being panicked about the status of the world tied to global warming with this 17-year-old internationally-known Swede.

Politics play front and center in the climate debate at the state level with all the parsing of SB 1530 (regulating carbon emissions through commercial, industrial, agricultural use of fracked or natural gas) as well as how we tax and regulate transportation fuel.

Pat also discussed the concepts around clean fuels, carbon sequestration in our forests, natural resource protection (like wetlands), assessing the emissions coming from agricultural and the forestry industries, and the heady concept of a law to protect the rights of nature. Lincoln County Community Rights is one group heralding this rights of nature designation.

This is no bed of roses, as the people attending the talk and the two speakers know. There is much push-back on this bill and other decarbonizing legislation, and many in Oregon have contrary opinions on global warming. The lobbying group, Timber Unity, has expressed disagreement with SB 1530.

Ironically, globally the court of last resort – public opinion – is pitting scientists in the climate arena and superstars like Greta against those in the Donald Trump administration and Fox news. At Davos January 21 Trump announced the U.S. would join an existing initiative to plant one trillion trees.

He also pitched the “economic importance of oil and gas” while throwing barbs at those like Greta Thurnberg, calling climate change activists “pessimistic” and the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.”

Pat DeLaquil, interestingly, is not in this geopolitical arena, yet someone with his energy sector experience would paint a different picture for global warming deniers. He reemphasized the power of the youth movement. Thunberg responded to President Trump’s remarks by referring to them as “empty words and promises” by world leaders:

You say children shouldn’t worry… don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence.

Elephants, Billiards, Paradigm Shift

The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called Parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be molded and retained its shape when cooled.

Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a Swedish scientist that was the first to claim in 1896 that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature.

Transitioning from DeLaquil’s 35,000 foot view of the climate change debate, then down to the micro view of the state’s efforts to go carbon free by 2050, to Scott Rosin’s Plastic Up Cycling non-profit spurred the audience into thinking about one “miracle of oil” – plastic – and the consequential negative consequences both locally and globally.

It’s obvious the tall white-haired Rosin has fun talking to groups – he’s a real yarn spinner.

In 1867 an article came out saying elephants were going to be extinct in ten years. The billiards market used ivory for the balls.

Necessity and environmental concerns turned into the mother of invention. “It was called cellulose. The invention of plastic billiards balls was the beginning of the consumer revolution. Anybody could have a pool table now since the plastic balls were affordable.”

Four or five quality billiard balls could be made from the average tusk of an Indian, Ceylonese, or Indo-Chinese elephant. This market for raw tusks centered in New York and Chicago where craftsmen would eat up blocks of ivory to create the gleaming spheres.

“Now we are experiencing 154 years of plastic, and it’s not a pretty picture,” Rosin told us.

He reminded the audience of his work from January to July 2019 for Surfrider heading up weekly Sunday beach plastic debris clean ups where on average 5 people from Lincoln County showed up was disheartening. Even after he had contacted dozens of volunteer organizations.

This past October Katharine Valentino and Rosin scrambled to set up a non-profit to deal with the plastics coming into our county’s dumpsters which invariably ends up trucked to Salem and dumped into a landfill.

TechniSoil is working with the Mayor of Los Angeles to put in a plastic road that leads to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. MacRebur has a proprietary aggregate that binds the plastic to the bitumen so there is no leaching into the ground.

TechniSoil touts their roads containing 6.6 percent plastic last seven to 14 times longer than conventional roads. Rosin emphasizes how on-site machines repaving roads with plastic aggregate actually tear up the old road, grind up plastic, mix it with bitumen and old asphalt, eliminating a huge carbon footprint of dump trucks hauling off torn-up roadway pavement.

Plastic Up-Cycling is hawking its project to interested people, as well as looking for $100,000 to get the plastic road mixture tested by an OSU lab.

Plastic comes from an energy-intensive and polluting process of turning oil into polymers and then into various types of plastics to serve myriad of purposes for which we in our throwaway society consume it.

The fact is landfills are composed of 12 to 15 percent plastic. The road paving process pencils out this way: for every mile of roadway, 1.1 million plastic bottles or 3.2 million plastic bags churned into a road mix will cut down on the waste-stream big time.

Climate Action Plan 2.0

The event was topped off with Martin Desmond, with Central Coast Citizen’s Climate Lobby, giving us the table of contents to the 74- page Lincoln County Climate Action Plan. The goal for this initiative is to get Lincoln County carbon neutral by 2035.

For Pat DeLaquil, his biggest disappointment, he stated, “after working in this field for years” was the failure to pass the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill.”

This congressional bill — American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 — was passed as major legislation to create a cap-and-trade system for heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, but was not taken up by the full Senate and never became law.

For Bill Kucha – artist, teacher, activist and musician – he puts much hope in young people in this county and throughout the world. He’s also a prolific letter-to-the-editor writer:

The good news is that there is a growing movement toward a new type of corporation called B-Corporations. In B-Corporations, financial profit counts, but so too does consideration for the environment, neighboring communities, and the workers. Our state must actively encourage the proliferation of progressive alternatives like this, if we ever hope to heal what ails the Earth. You can play a role, too: you can insist that the 2020 Election, at all levels of government, must prominently feature serious conversations about the Climate Crisis. (Sept. 1, 2019, News Lincoln County)

For me, it’s obvious conversations have to be more dynamic and robust, covering a larger swath of citizens. We have to organize half-day or three-day summits or charrettes to get policy makers, politicians, subject matter experts and citizens coming together to communicate more effectively and think both critically and holistically about issues around ocean rise, acidification, coastal inundation, weather and climate disruptions.

Lincoln County residents need to respect (and question) the work of activists and citizens on all sides of the issue while also coming together to listen to the passionate scientists and experts working on these issues.

For Scott Rosin, getting plastics out of the waste stream means cleaner water, cleaner soil, cleaner food and cleaner human and non-human bodies. “I would have never thought about the effects of plastic on the environment and us thirty or forty years ago,” Rosin said. “It’s unthinkable to have plastic in our drinking water, in all our food, and breathing it in.”

Getting into the Narrative of an Energy Guy

Pat DeLaquil was touted to me by several people at the Newport gathering as “he’s really been around” and “he really knows the deal with China since he’s been there” and “he has a lot of insight into energy.” So, Pat was kind enough to submit to some email questions. Pat lives in Gresham.

Paul Haeder: You said you have been doing this for more than 40 years. What got you started in energy analysis, and was it always EEE — energy, economy, environment?

Pat DeLaquil: Following grad school, I joined Sandia National Labs in Livermore, CA to work in their new systems analysis program. My first assignment was working on safeguards for nuclear material used in the country’s nuclear weapons program, but in 1980, I joined their solar energy program and been a leader in the commercialization of clean and renewable energy technologies. In 1984 I left Sandia and joined Bechtel Corporation to lead their Renewable Energy RD group. There, I worked closely with the California utilities and EPRI to lead the development of consortiums to build key R&D projects such as PV-USA and the 10 MW Solar Two Power Tower.

PH: Your age, where did you grow up and schooling?

PD: I’m 71 and grew up in western Pennsylvania in strip mining country and saw firsthand the destruction they caused. I knew I wanted to be an engineer by age 13, and I have a B.Sc. in Marine Engineering from the US Merchant Marine and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have authored or co-authored over 90 papers, reports, and articles on solar and renewable energy including chapters in two books on renewable energy technology. I have a patent for a high temperature solar receiver.

PH: I work on the 5 e’s — started off as triple e’s for sustainability: Equity, environment, economy . . . education and energy. There are a lot of intersectionalities here, and, of course, the environment overrides and undergirds everything. In capitalism, that is not true. What are your own intellectual challenges when you consider how rapacious, how extractive-oriented, how unjust capitalism is to the people, the 99 Percent, or the 80 percent? Discuss.

PD: This requires a long answer, and I touched on this in my talk, but only briefly. I am attaching for your information and use, both my presentation from Monday and a longer presentation on this subject I gave to the Multnomah Democratic Party Climate Action Forum back in November. Slides 1 thru 9, including the notes, provide a pretty full answer.

PH: There is a lot of policy stuff and political maneuvering and lobbying in your work. For the average reader, what are your holistic takeaways for this evening’s talk?

PD: The most important things that the average reader can do is to get engaged politically by demanding that your legislators be climate champions and if they are not find one who can replace them. While individual actions are important, they will never be enough. We must have systemic change that will only come when progressives have control of our political systems.

PH: What gives you hope for the world, for Oregon’s future?

PD: I have been in a very discouraging mood since HB2020 was stonewalled by the Republicans, and even more so given the ho-hum response that too many people have given to the wildfires in Australia, which also has a climate denying government. The voices on youth are what currently gives me the most hope, but even that seems not to be enough. I’m afraid that it’s going to take a major climate-derived calamity, with millions of people dying before the average person decides we must take action.

PH: What lends you pause?

PD: The tremendous amounts of money, embedded organizations and media-led philosophies that the oligarchs and large corporations have used to gain strangle holds on governments around the world. The four key conservative political frames are shown below, and we must replace these with progressive frames in the general public discourse. In addition to people power and grassroots organizing, we must counter and replace the Reagan framing with more progressive framing if we are to win this battle.

Bill Kucha song he performed at event –

There’s a Music –

There’s a music all around me

and it won’t go away and it’s trying to say

– everything impossible is going to see the light of day,

everything angry and mad is growing up and coming out to play.

There’s a reason for all that wrong,

it’s creating a season for a new kind of song,

everything helpful and good is sprouting in the neighborhood.

Everything helpful and wise is growing to a larger size.

So mister, now come out and say your

Yes, plow the fields of your dark past into something good at last.

Ecological Obliteration: Nobody Seems to Notice, Nobody Seems to Care

One of George Carlin’s great lines said with apropos satirical condemnation was “Nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care.” And what Carlin was speaking to was the ills of socioeconomic power, but when it comes to drastically dismantling the majority of the planetary ecology in under forty years his line is an even more salient observation of the mental state of the masses. This statement gives rise to a question that seems more pertinent than ever to ask the people of America, and the world over for that matter, the same basic question Marvin Gaye had – What’s going on? And why don’t people notice, why don’t they care?

And, yes, some movements out there seem to care and notice like Extinction Rebellion, but even given their efforts when I mention nature is in a critical state to the common person I’m still looked as a kook. I ponder, how much devastation is needed to the living planet before the general populace can show some appropriate panic, not that panic is the right response. It’s just what people in this society routinely do at any little disturbance when they realize something is actually wrong, but evidently the whole of the natural world hanging on by thread is no reason for these courageous folk to become distressed. They seem fine with it, happy to dismiss it as Chicken Little-ism, or the blathering bloviations of what they deem to be tree hugging reactionaries. The modern mind of the average consumer of information appears to be filled with 98% propaganda, 1.5% of entertaining inconsequential fluff that happens to be completely true, and .5% cognitive dissonance wondering if 98% of what they have in their heads is utter bullshit. But the modern human mind is too smart to be fooled, or more accurately and less sarcastically, they have too much supposed smarts not to be fools.

The mind of the modern human animal has been almost entirely heisted by the ego drive of pursuing power and aggrandizement of the self. Ego makes people blind and stupid, filled with agenda that causes severe myopia where all they observe is the agenda of the promotion of self and all else becomes of secondary concern. The people are lost in the delusions of hucksters promising fortune and glory.  It’s like they never saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and learned the valuable lessons of our beloved fedora wearing protagonist. They never learned that fortune and glory are a fool’s quest. It’s better just to give the sacred rocks back to the people and stop trying to think about what’s in it for me and considerately serve the needs of others when you can.

Perhaps the malaise goes deeper than an Indiana Jones’ film, if that’s possible.  Maybe it’s a sign of how much people are staying indoors and detached from the natural world as they live in a state of being consistently entertained, fearful, and over-rushed, and largely that stress and need for escapism comes from issues that humanity should have solved by now if the powers that be were actually interested in doing benevolent things. Like homelessness shouldn’t be a thing, but it is, purely because of socioeconomic reasons and having nothing to do with housing scarcity.

Anecdotally I’ll tell you what I now see in the natural world here in central Florida. As I continue to take walks out in Florida parks, something I’ve routinely done over the last 25 years, I try to appreciate what’s here now because it might not be soon, but I can’t help to feel the occasional pangs of resentment for what humanity has done and pine for what used to be. The beauty they have slaughtered with a hubris fit for an emperor without clothes hits my indignant mind of non-acceptance. I don’t want to believe, maybe others don’t either, but what I’m seeing in the once robust tropical Florida landscape that seemed so indomitable just a short time ago is now a shadow of itself, and starting to look like it needs to be put on life support.

The frogs are almost gone entirely locally, which are canaries in the coal mine of their environment. Frogs have relatively permeable skin and are among the first to die from toxicity, and when their numbers go down it’s often a sign the entire ecosystem around them has become filled with toxic things. Frogs used to bellow their songs out into the humid nights of Florida with a roar, and while there is a night or two in the summer where you can still hear their dulcet croaks, mostly what is heard is silence and the knowledge more than a few have croaked in a way that isn’t so melodic.

It’s not just the frogs, though. It’s everything. Locally, in less than a year I watched raccoons go from commonly seen to almost completely gone. Over several years I’ve watched bat populations go from swarms in the hundreds seen nightly during the summer months to rarely ever seeing a bat. I’ve observed insects in Florida fall in massive amounts and there is now a year to year reduction noticeable to the naked eye of already decimated populations. Ants and cockroaches showing up in your house used to be an inevitable part of living in Florida, not anymore. No exterminator needed.  They did such a good job there’s rarely anything crawling around these days. In fact, I can keep the back door open most of the year and not have to worry about an infestation growing inside the house. Most of everything is dead. Dead, dead, dead!!

It does seem as though if the majority of people went out even briefly into the wilderness with any regularity whatsoever they’d feel some mild agitation at the losses they are seeing, which are clearly evident in most places, because what is happening here isn’t normal.  It hasn’t happened in any prior generation, and it’s caused by us. Rachel Carson’s silent spring is closer than ever, but it’s not silent yet; however, definitely muffled with capitalists and patriots holding a pillow over the face of Mother Nature hoping to snuff out the old lady so they can plunder what’s left and make more baubles and gadgetry; stuff sure to amuse people as they sit around  watching the apocalypse slowly unfold in surreal bemusement on a high def screen. Of course, most will prefer to watch a dramatized version of the end of everything in a likely soon to be made Disney-produced trilogy starring Will Smith, and he’ll have some great iconic line like “Oh, hell no! Ain’t no mutha fuckin mutha nature dyin’ on my watch!” or something equally as compelling I’d imagine. Due to be released just before the end of everything. A viewing of which would be even more fitting with a last channel sign-off that hearkens back to over the air TV of yesteryear, a sentimental display of a proudly waving American flag with the national anthem humming along just before the all consuming static permanently takes hold.

The wildlife, insect, and plant die-off has been panic worthy. Almost as panic worthy as losing Kobe Bryant to a helicopter crash, which saddened and shocked people. I wonder what the reception would be to the masses if they accepted the truth of the natural world we depend on to live suddenly dying out? And if minds were in the right headspace they shouldn’t have to be told they get something out of nature to care about it, as one would think that helping other living things would be something we would selflessly just do as a society. But that’s not the case.

However, they clearly do care about Kobe Bryant and noticed his loss; he was a guy the majority of the people never met and someone who lived his life as an ego laden rich person who dribbled a basketball better than most. And while sure, the premature death of anyone strikes people as sad, but premature death happens all over the place, happens right next door, and most people don’t give one shit about their neighbor dying, but Kobe Bryant? Time to weep. Did you hear he dribbled a basketball? What a tragedy. He was about to save the world with his super powers, but alas, it is not to be.

And I’ll bet, to the modern mind, they’ll find themselves more outraged that I just blasphemed and callously made light of Kobe Bryant’s life and death than outraged at the whole of the natural environment being obliterated for no good reason. People feel an overly emotional loss for Kobe Bryant for the very reasons they can’t see the more pressing losses of nature around them. Ego blindness. They don’t want to be out connected to nature, but they want to be superstar Kobe Bryant. They want to be rich, good at sports, attractive, be fawned over, be envied. Basically they want to be the most popular kid in their high school as fully grown adults. So, of course, his loss is tragic. What a waste of a life that represented all the egotistical things this culture so desperately wants to be.

I would give you the numbers about how bad the decimation to nature all is, but I already know if you’re reading this then I’m probably singing to the choir and you’ve already heard them echoed repeatedly. So you probably know the world wildlife fund estimated a decline of 60% of wildlife over the past forty years. Or that a German study estimated a decline of over 80% of insects over thirty years. And it’s important to note that all things that caused these numbers to occur are happening at a faster rate now. So what is to be left in another 40 years while recklessly careening down the same trajectory? Let me run some quick math on my handy-dandy ecological calculator.  Oh, yes, I see.  It seems to have come out to “There won’t be fucking much left!” and I didn’t even know my calculator knew any other words than 80085.

The apocalypse has already been scheduled by capitalists and nation-states and it’s coming to a town near you if you care to see it. If capitalists and governments of the world do everything they already have scheduled over the next decade then the 2020s will be the last decade before the fall. Like, for instance, the largest mining project ever is being dreamed up so that people can wear more pretty rocks on their fingers and around their necks. Or the spread of radioactive brine that is being openly dumped across the country for equally idiotic reasons. Or if the military continues to expand, which is already the world’s largest polluter, and if it continues unchecked, should ensure there’s nothing to notice and nothing to care for by the end of the century, that is to give a rather generous timeline. To make matters worse they’ve already done enough ecological damage to make the idea of the world supporting the projected 10 billion people by 2050 a rather farcical idea. So what happens as our population expands and the ability of the world to support life decreases?  My guess, nothing good.

Yet almost no one views this course we’re on with the attention it deserves. We should be talking into the nights with one another. Finding out what is true while there is still time to find out. We should be healing the inner ego dominator that has been culturally installed within us all. Then perhaps each of us can come to the enlightening conclusion that this society must be let go of if we are to survive past what is to come. If enough of us learn to painfully let go of our ego-driven passions, just maybe we will then notice and naturally come to a state of caring for what we should have been noticing and caring for all along.

A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis, and Sporting Officialdom

CTV News

They are disgruntled and have every right to be. Whatever one’s feelings about tennis, expecting athletes to perform in subpar conditions is a rank matter that should see officials taken to task. But administrators of a game are often distant from the practice of the game itself. Being on different, cognitive paths, the players can be left stunned by decisions that have the estranging effect of being made in committee.

The pressing issue at the Australian Tennis Open this year is the air quality that has had a ruinous effect on wildlife. Australia’s unprecedented summer of conflagration, marked by plumes so expansive they are moving out across the Pacific, was bound to affect sporting tournaments. On Tuesday, a warning advising people to stay indoors in Melbourne was issued. This did not prevent spectators making their way to Melbourne Park, equipped with breathing masks. Nor did it prevent players from taking to the courts to do battle.

The first casualty was Slovenian player Dalila Jakupović, ranked 210 by the Women’s Tennis Association. With some reluctance, the plucky player withdrew from her qualifying match on Monday against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vögele. Coughing fits had become impossible to ignore. “It was very dangerous to play in those conditions yesterday,” she subsequently said. Nor did it stop with her. “I think all of the players yesterday suffered more than the ones playing today because not all matches are going to be finished today.” Players complained of “headaches”, “chest pains” and breathing problems.

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and Australia’s own Bernard Tomic also faced delays during their sessions. “I’m never one to stop playing,” Bouchard would claim, “but I definitely started felling unwell and I had to call the trainer because it was tough to breathe and I felt a bit nauseous.” The spectacle of Bouchard suffering and her opponent, Xiaodi You, being reduced to near immobility, said much of an increasingly absurd spectacle.

All of this left Bouchard perplexed. “It’s not healthy for us. I was surprised, thought we would not be playing today but we don’t have much choice.” She insisted in her explanation to ABC News that she was a hardened professional, not asthmatic and more than capable.

Other matches have been abandoned. An exhibition match between Maria Sharapova and Germany’s Laura Siegemund was called off after both players felt distinctly off with respiratory issues.

The players have been less than impressed. Ukraine’s world No. 5 Elina Svitolina was eyeing the World Air Quality Index, and revealed her concerns on Twitter. “Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action”? American Nicole Gibbs felt cheated, wondering if she had played in hazardous conditions without being sufficiently informed. Others like Britain’s Harriet Dart were careful before going out on court, mindful of staying indoors.

For all these utterances, few came close in incandescent rage than Liam Brody’s determined salvo. “The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago,” he fumed, “the more it boils my blood. We can’t let this slide.” Most off-putting for Brody was the email from both the ATP and AO, deemed “a slap in the face”. “Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high intensity physical competition?”

Within Brody’s revolt lies the broader problem with lower ranked tennis players. When they splutter and suffer on the courts, the protective padding is nowhere to be seen. Where, posed Brody, “is the protection for players , both male and female?” Canadian player Vasek Pospisil seconded the idea of a player’s union. Fellow countryman Brayden Schnur insisted that establishment stars such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer needed to take the lead and escape their sponsorship cocooned Nirvana. “It’s got to come from the top guys.” A swipe of some pettiness duly followed. “Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers.”

This Australian Open seems to be coming full circle, linking ecological disaster to matters of health and elite players who collect their sponsorship moneys without asking too many questions. Squeaky clean Federer has found himself in the cross fire of the climate change skirmishes, criticised for leaving his wallet open for the likes of Credit Suisse, a company with an extensive portfolio of shares in fossil-fuel industries. His cool and polished counter, largely directed at climate change activist Greta Thunberg, claimed that he took “the impacts and threat of climate change very seriously” and appreciated “reminders of my responsibility as a private individual”. The choking fires in Australia had also moved him and his family.

The response from AO officials has been laced with smidgens of callousness layered by indifference. There are no emergency measures of the sort taken by Beijing just prior and during the 2008 Olympic games. (These, as researchers found on closer inspection, led to improvements in cardiovascular health.) Australian Open tournament director and Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley is using an old trick: nothing to worry about; the experts have it all in hand. “This is a new experience for us all, how we manage air quality and therefore we have got to rely on those experts that advise us how best to continue.”

Air-quality testing boffins, he tried to reassure sceptics, had been busy, including environmentalists, scientists and meteorologists. Criticism of the conditions could be put down to ignorance. “Air quality is a very complex and confusing issue.” No pressing concerns had been registered by such bodies as the Environmental Protection Authority.

Tiley also claimed to have the support of the relevant bodies, including the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association. Any speculation about the event being cancelled could be scotched. “There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening. The Australian Open is happening.”

None of the options for sporting officialdom are appealing. In the name of health, postponement and cancellation are serious options. But all of this requires a degree of selfless professionalism that is not in evidence so far. Perhaps Svitolina is right: something drastically harmful will need to manifest before something is actually done. Tiley prefers to be fatalistic. Such conditions would have to come to be accepted over time. “It is potentially the new normal.”