Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Big Eco Law Conference
April showers may bring May flowers, but in Eugene March brings environmentalists of all kinds.
|Pablo Fajardo Mendoza|
This year the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) meets Feb. 26 to March 1 and brings together its usual crowd, from clean-cut lawyers to eco-defenders with dreadlocks.
The conference on the UO campus, with most events in the law school building, features speakers from across the world. For example, Pablo Fajardo Mendoza sued Chevron and Texaco for allegedly contaminating thousands of hectares of the Ecuadorian Amazon forest in a legal action that could become the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in the world.
Closer to home, Eugene’s Mayor Kitty Piercy will speak on a panel on Thursday on the West Eugene Collaborative alongside Gary Wildish of the Wildish gravel and construction family. This mixing of opinions is typical of many PIELC panels.
Saturday’s “Tales of Recovering Hill Staff” panel features a former natural resource staffer to Congressman Peter DeFazio squaring off with Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist and more recently an undersecretary of agriculture during the second Bush Administration. Rey was described by SourceWatch.com as, among other things, “A key force behind the ‘Healthy Forests’ initiative that accelerated logging, particularly of bigger trees, in wildfire-prone areas.”
Among other not-to-be-missed PIELC panels is Saturday’s “Direct Action Against the Fossil Fuel Empire.” The panel says of itself: “Planning non-violent direct actions — civil disobedience, roadblocks, billboard takeovers and much more — can be intimidating, but with a little bit of practice and training, anyone can do it!” Other panels focus on permaculture, animal rights, field burning, global warming and a host of other issues.
Organizers encourage attendees to pay a registration fee to help fund the event, but no payment is required, and the event is open to the public. To check out the speakers, panels and films at this year’s PIELC, download the brochure at the pielc.com website. — Camilla Mortensen
R-G Economists Were Wrong
The nation is in the grips of the worst economic downturn since the great depression. So, did The Register-Guard’s and local Chamber of Commerce’s “Board of Economists” see it coming?
No. “The United States probably will dodge a recession in 2008,” the R-G reported on its economists’ predictions last year. For the past 15 years, the R-G and Chamber have filled the Hilton to predict the local economic future.
But local businesses may have been better off reading tea leaves or chicken livers than relying on the R-G’s board of out-of-town economists. “‘It’s a recessionette,’ quipped board member Bill Conerly, an economics consultant based in the Portland area,” the paper reported last year.
John Mitchell, another Portland economist, predicted only an “interlude” of slow growth at the three-hour meeting in 2008, the R-G reported. “It will not fall into the category of recession.”
Although local and national housing prices at that time had risen to many times what people had historically been able to afford, the paper and economists did not mention it.
“I think this area will do pretty well,” the R-G reported the prediction of state labor economist Brian Rooney last year.
Lane County’s unemployment rate now is almost 10 percent, one of the highest in the nation and a local unemployment rate not seen here since the 1980s economic collapse. — Alan Pittman
Speaker Calls for End of Civilization
Rivers used to be so full of salmon that people thought their boats would capsize, says author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen. Flocks of passenger pigeons flying across the eastern United States would block out the sun for days at a time and sound like rolling thunder. You could drop a bucket into coastal waters off New England and bring it up full of fish, according to Jensen.
“I can’t comprehend that people pay more attention to a weird woman with 14 kids than to this,” he says. “So often, I feel like I’m walking around in a fog or a daze.”
Jensen, who will deliver a keynote speech at the UO Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at noon Saturday in the EMU, has been called the philosopher poet of the ecological movement. He is sometimes described as an anarcho-primitivist, given his premise that industrial civilization is inherently unsustainable and exploitative. He has published 13 books, including A Language Older than Words, Strangely Like War and, most recently, Endgame.
Listening to Jensen speak is a little like turning on a faucet, which pours a steady stream of clear, urgent thoughts about the problem with industrial civilization. What he says isn’t always comfortable for an audience to take in, but his vision is crystal clear: We are exploiting the natural world, and we need to stop. At stake is all life on our planet.
Jensen notes that plant and animal species are often described in the news as economic assets, rather than as valuable in their own right. “How you perceive the world influences how you behave in the world,” says Jensen. “And we have a perceived entitlement to exploit.”
According to Jensen, we see the natural world as needing to conform to industrial capitalism, when the opposite should be true. “You don’t survive in the long run by exploiting your surroundings,” he says. “You survive in the long run by improving your habitat.”
We’re so insulated from nature, according to Jensen, that we’re living in an echo chamber in which everything we see and hear is created or mediated by humans. And this is making us crazy. “Most of our ideology is a hallucination,” he says.
When asked what the solution should be, Jensen answers without hesitating. “We need to act directly and explicitly in defense of the land and the creatures that we love,” he says. “What would salmon do if they could take on human manifestations? What we need to do is bring down civilization because it’s killing the planet and it’s killing us. The longer we wait, the worse things are going to be.”
Jensen says that he advocates defending the natural world in any way possible, even if that means violence.
Not surprisingly, this part of Jensen’s philosophy is the most controversial. Judging by online comments from readers of his work, a few people out there don’t think that suddenly pulling the rug out from beneath an entire society would be a good idea.
To his detractors, Jensen recommends planting a garden. “You can’t have an entire society that’s based on industrialism — it can’t last,” he says. “If your concern really is for the survival of human beings, then what you need to do is start putting in neighborhood gardens and start preparing people for that crash.”
Instead of a single model for a future society, Jensen says that he would like to see “10,000 different cultures based on 10,000 different watersheds.” Religion, culture and economy need to emerge from a particular land base, he says, “and that will happen eventually.” — Jessica Hirst
Groups Want Eco Stimulus, Not Oily Pork
President Barack Obama warned last week that if state and local government officials use the stimulus on wasteful projects, “I will call them out on it.”
A coalition of Oregon environmental groups sent a letter to Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week to avoid that from happening. The letter urges the governor to direct the $260 million in transportation stimulus money he controls to bike, walking and transit projects to reduce oil addiction, sprawl and global warming.
“We urge Governor Kulongoski to invest in the long list of ready-to-go transit, bike and pedestrian projects that will create jobs and make our communities stronger,” Bob Stacey, executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, said in a statement. “As we rebuild the economy, let’s invest in a 21st century transportation system that gives Oregonians better transportation choices, saves them money and helps reduce global warming pollution from cars and trucks.”
The letter from the nine environmental groups points to research by the Surface Transportation Policy Project finding that investment in transit projects creates about 19 percent more jobs than new road or bridge projects.
The environmental groups argue that spending the flexible stimulus money on green transportation is needed to rebalance Oregon’s skewed transportation spending. The state constitution prohibits spending state gas tax money on anything but roads, and the state transportation trust fund focuses mostly on highways.
The letter also urges Kulongoski to encourage Oregon local governments, who will control $90 million of the federal stimulus, to focus on bike, pedestrian and transit projects.
The Oregon Environmental Council, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Environment Oregon, Coalition for a Livable Future, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, Community Health Partnership, Upstream Public Health and the Oregon Transit Association signed the letter.
The lobbying effort appears to be having some effect. BikePortland.org reported that the Oregon Transportation Commission delayed a vote last week to quickly devote the stimulus to highway projects. 1000 Friends is organizing a grassroots lobbying effort at the tinyurl.com/greenstimulus website. — Alan Pittman
Tale of Two Bridges
In Eugene, boosting global warming, sprawl and oil addiction by widening the I-5 bridge was decided by highway bureaucrats meeting in secret years ago.
But in Portland, a proposed I-5 bridge widening is a major topic of public hearings and political debate.
“The issue has been contentious for months,” the Oregonian reported, announcing another public hearing by elected officials on widening the Columbia River bridge.
Willamette Week reported that for Portland Mayor Sam Adams, the bridge widening decision is “the biggest deal on his desk.”
In Eugene, the City Council and other elected officials have never held a public vote or a public hearing on the question of whether or not the I-5 bridge over the Willamette should be widened 50 percent from four to six lanes.
That decision was made behind closed doors by Oregon Department of Trans-portation and federal highway planners, according to the project’s official “Environmental Assessment” document. “This was a primary criterion in project development.”
The EA for the $180 million I-5 bridge widening dodges the issue of global warming by arguing that the wider bridge will have room for six lanes but will only be striped for four, until they decide to change the paint. — Alan Pittman
• The metropolitan Transportation Planning Committee will meet Thursday, Feb. 26, from 8:30 am to 10:30 am on the 5th floor of 859 Willamette St. to talk about the I-5 bridge and BRT.
• The Police Auditor Ordinance Review Committee will recommend police oversight or not and hold a public forum at 5 pm, Thursday, Feb. 26, in the City Hall McNutt Room.
• The Infill Compatibility Standards Task Team will hold a public workshop at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 26, in the South Eugene High School Cafeteria.
• A benefit for the Civil Liberties Defense Center is at 7 pm Friday, Feb. 27, at the WOW Hall, with The Whiskey Spots (Eugene), Underscore Orchestra (Portland), and Rum Rebellion (Portland). Tickets are $10-$50 donations. The all-ages benefit is part of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.
• A benefit for White Bird Clinic is at 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Wandering Goat Café, with Eugene bands Big Bike Ride, The Blair Street Mugwumps and The Bad Mitten Orchestra. $5. All ages.
• The Lane County Commissioners will hold a community outreach on “The Future of Lane County and the Latino Community” from 7-8:30 pm, Tuesday, March 3, at Centro Latino Americano, 944 W. Fifth Avenue.
• Local elected officials will hold a joint meeting Tuesday, March 3, at the Springfield library to talk about “Jurisdictional Authority.”
• The Eugene School Board will meet at 200 North Monroe St. Wed., March 4, from 5:30 to 9 pm to talk about school equity.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,250 U.S. troops killed* (4,245)
• 31,054 U.S. troops injured* (31,035)
• 176 U.S. military suicides* (167)
• 318 coalition troops killed** (317)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 99,077 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (98,992)
• $599.7 billion cost of war ($597.4 billion)
• $186.6 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($169.9 million)
* through Feb. 24, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.2 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• Wow, Lane County Sheriff Russ Burger must have a lot of extra time and money on his hands. Burger reportedly has sent letters to more than 10,000 concealed gun nuts to stir up support for his opposition to public records laws and create a problem that did not exist. What’s next, mass mailings to concealed hairdresser permit holders? This expenditure of untold tens of thousands of dollars and staff time comes while Burger complains he doesn’t have the money to stop burglaries. If this is a mass mailing for a NRA-backed re-election campaign, the sheriff should have paid for it himself.
• It’s time for the state to raise taxes on the rich. Teetering at the edge of a gaping budget “pit” billions of dollars deep, there’s no time to waste. Rainy day and federal stimulus money may hold back brutal cuts to services this year, but without new revenue the state will soon have to radically slash school and human service funding during a deep recession when it’s most needed. To raise revenue, Oregon should overhaul its largely flat state income tax rates, some of the most regressive in the nation. Higher taxes on the wealthy will help, not hurt, the economy. Instead of letting the rich hoard the money, the state can liberate it and spend it on teachers and caregivers, stimulating job creation.
• Eugene, Springfield and the state should heed Obama’s warning that anyone wasting the stimulus money will be publicly held accountable. We don’t need more or bigger oil-addicted, climate-changing freeways. We need public transportation, bike paths and other truly green infrastructure that invest in the future, not throw money in cement. We’ll be watching closely.
• Dan Carol of Eugene and Steve Hildebrand from Sioux Falls, Iowa, talked at the UO last week about the same issue that Obama organizer Nancy Webber highlights in this week’s EW cover story: how to hold together and effectively deploy probably the greatest political organization ever assembled. They were keynoters at a forum sponsored by the Wayne Morse Center called “Mobilizing New Constituencies, the 2008 Elections.” Carol, who was content and issues director for the Obama campaign, said the president is committed to appearing outside Washington. The strategy is part of “Organizing for Change” and “Organizing for America,” which are new initiatives by the Democratic party.
Hildebrand, deputy national campaign manager for Obama ‘08, was identified by Carol as the “soul of the campaign.” He gave fascinating details of the winning strategies. He emphasized that Barack Obama himself made all the critical calls such as whether to give the speech on race, how to deal with his minister, etc. Here are a few Hildebrand numbers and facts we had not heard before: 13 million names made up the Obama email list, and in a poll after the election, 55,000 said they would consider running for office; registration of new voters was a key strategic decision, and since 2004, new voter registrations increased 28 percent; in every battleground state, voters under 30 turned out at a higher rate than voters over 65; and Obama’s huge win of the Hispanic vote disproved the Clinton line that Hispanics would not vote for an African-American. Barack Obama believes the voice of the people needs to drown out the lobbyists. Is that possible?
• Since Feb. 1, Judge Ann Aiken has been the chief judge for the federal District Court of Oregon. This is the first time in the 150 years of this court that a woman has been the chief. That was cause for celebration by friends and colleagues who filled a UO law school party space last Tuesday evening. Justice Martha Walters of the Oregon Supreme Court, another prominent woman jurist from Eugene, spoke and Judge Aiken responded. Dean Margie Paris, first woman dean of the UO law school, also praised the new chief. So much for the glass ceiling covering this corner of the legal profession! It’s cracking wide open.