Friday, August 31, 2012

Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?

The Republican presidential nominee asked that question of me last night. Here’s my answer:

No, I’m not better off, because after working at a company for 20 years, my position was eliminate exactly one year ago for business reasons and I have been unemployed for the last year.

In applying for jobs these last 12 months I’ve learned that my skills are not easily transferable to the current marketplace and that employers don’t really care to pay for knowledge and experience, especially when they can pay a younger person much less to do what is deemed adequate. That lesson has been sobering and humbling and, although I’ve always empathized with those laid off for whatever reasons, I’ve come, after a year, to a deeper understanding of how demeaning and humiliating it is to be unemployed and unemployable for many of my country’s fellow workers.

The reason given for the termination of my position was financial, a business decision based on the economic downturn of the last few years caused by the bursting of the real estate speculation bubble and near-financial meltdown of our banking institutions.

It was a problem I did not cause nor profit from. It was caused by those who believe that true economic value comes from the use of capital and that the accumulation, buying and selling of assets are governing principles of our nation’s economy.

For 20 years of my employment, I received wages for my labor and my value to my company was my labor. My skills, knowledge and experience are my assets in today’s marketplace.

Four years ago the hope I felt and the change I hoped for was kindled by what I felt was a recognition that this country had chosen leadership embodying my values— the values that my labor, not what I owned, was what was worthwhile as a contribution to our country.

The man who asked me the question last night stands with many others for whom the accumulation of capital is most important, not the value of labor. He stands with many others who have, with money and influences, stymied reforms of the regulatory and financial systems that have failed to protect my interests. He stands with many others who would take us back to the very way of doing business in this country that brought about the very hardships he now promises to alleviate.

No, I am not better off than I was four years ago. But that is not because the hope I felt four years ago was misplaced or foolish; it was not and the value of my labor remains all that I can offer to this country. No, I am not better off than I was four years ago and I will not be better off in the company of Mitt Romney, his capitalist brethren and their lapdogs because in their eyes, I have no value, no assets, nothing worthy to buy and sell.

My worth is my labor— and I will work for and vote for and stand with those who believe the same.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

‘Tis Only Human to Spill...

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
After Friends of the San Juans’ board member San Olson told me about a talk he was giving on risks associated with increased vessel traffic in our shared Salish Sea waters, I came across the photo on the left in the Peninsula Daily News. It accompanied a story about an oil-spill drill conducted last week around Port Angeles.

I recall one of the first field trips taken by the newly-formed Puget Sound Water Quality Authority in December 1985 was out to the Strait near Port Angeles where the Arco Anchorage, carrying 814,000 barrels of Alaska crude, went aground due to a navigational error, spilling 5,690 barrels -- or 239,000 gallons—of oil. (Tom Callis at the PDN wrote a good retrospective on the incident two years ago.)

A couple of images and sensations are still pretty fresh for me today: one is the smell of spilled oil, the vapors that permeate everything; the other is the sad frenzy at the bird rescue cleaning station set up at Peninsula Community College.

Since then I’ve never been to a spill that bad which was caused by a drift grounding or navigational error, thank goodness, but that may be due to subsequent progress in establishing better navigational oversight and stationing a stand-by rescue tug in the Strait. Since the rescue tug system went into service in 1999, there have been 46 times when the tug has responded to a vessel in distress. Neah Bay Emergency Response Tug - Summary of Responses

In 1999 the Coast Guard reported that: “The number of vessels greater than 300 GT in size transiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca is projected to grow from about 11,000 transits in year 2000 to over 17,000 transits in year 2025, an increase of 50%. Petroleum movements, including cargo oils and ship bunkers, are forecast to grow from about 360 million barrels in year 2000 to 457 million barrels in year 2025.” Use of Tugs to Protect Against Oil Spills in the Puget Sound Area

But San Olson told me one of the main points in his talk was that there’s a lot more vessel traffic on the horizon not anticipated in spill contingency planning by either US or Canadian agencies.

The proposal to export coal to China from Cherry Point near Bellingham would at full capacity fill approximately 487 large cargo ships making about 1,000 vessel trips through the waters of the straits.

Kinder Morgan of Canada proposes to export tar sands oil from Burrard Inlet and Burnaby near Vancouver and there’s consideration to expand tar sands export at March Point in Anacortes. If so, another 225 more oil tankers could pass through the Salish Sea annually.

I’m sure every precaution will be taken to ensure vessel safety and spill prevention if these proposals come to pass. But it’s only human to err— and to spill oil.

And we learn a few things from these spills. We learn that it’s a lot cheaper to keep the oil out of the water and prevent spills than to attempt to clean them up.

We got a lot better at handling reports of oil spills and coordinating spill response after the Dalco Passage oil spill in October 2004.

We put regulatory safeguards in place to keep oil out of the water when fuel was being transferred over water or between land and water after the Point Wells oil spill in December 2003.

And, after BP’s Deepwater Horizon debacle in 2010, the state strengthened spill contingency planning, spill equipment deployment and spill response training.

Which brings me back to the picture of the oil spill drill last week.

It’s certainly a nice summer day, calm and pleasant, and I’m sure the drill went well. The Arco Anchorage spill happened on a cold, windy December night. So did the Point Wells fuel transfer spill. The Dalco Passage spill was reported in the early morning hours before dawn as the October fog rolled in.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

--Mike Sato

Monday, August 27, 2012

40th birthday party planned for Lake Padden Park

Bellingham Herald Aug. 27, 2012

Betsy Gross, People for Lake Padden (Nick Gonzales)
40th birthday party planned for Lake Padden Park

by Dean Kahn

Thousands of people know that Lake Padden Park is a great place to visit, whether they're spending time on the lake itself, walking or jogging the 2.6-mile path around the lake, playing softball, shooting a round of golf, walking their dog, or splashing in the lake to celebrate New Year's Day.
And those are just a few of the park's attractions.
But how many people know the park is marking a major anniversary, and that there are troubling signs of environmental problems at the lake?
A volunteer community group, People for Lake Padden, came up with the idea of a 40th anniversary party, in part to celebrate the park's creation, in part to spread the word that the park needs some TLC to remain healthy for future generations.
"If people have a personal attachment to this lake, the more it will be protected," said Betsy Gross, director of People for Lake Padden.
The group is cooperating with the city of Bellingham to organize the event Saturday, Sept. 8.
The lake at 4882 Samish Way was named for Michael Padden, a coal mine supervisor and a Happy Valley homesteader. Padden's heirs donated water rights from the lake to the city after Padden was killed in 1880 when a neighbor shot him during a property dispute.
The lake supplied water to south Bellingham from 1900 until 1968, when Lake Whatcom became the main water source for the city. The 160-acre lake proved a tempting site for residential developers, but Bellingham voters in 1968 approved a parks bond that included money to create a Lake Padden park and adjacent city golf course.
The golf course, initially nine holes, was dedicated in July 1971. The park was dedicated a year and a month later, on Aug. 30, 1972.
Despite the many years of busy use of the park, little data was collected to measure how the lake's water quality was holding up.
Gross, a retired psychologist, moved to Bellingham from San Diego nine years ago. As she walked at Lake Padden with friends, she began to notice algal blooms near the shoreline on occasion. A self-described amateur naturalist, she began learning about the lake and started People for Lake Padden in April 2011.
Through donations and volunteer help, studies have been done of land use in the lake's watershed, water quality and fecal coliform. A follow-up study of algae in the lake is under way.
Fecal coliform, bacteria that indicates pollution from human or animal droppings, has been found above safe limits in the lake near the ball fields at the southeast end.
Of greater concern, Gross said, is the increasing presence of algae in the lake, a sign that too much phosphorus is entering the water from runoff. As algae dies, the decaying plants deplete oxygen in the water, which is harmful to fish.
"There is more algae in the lake than there should be," she said. "It's at the highest limit of the acceptable."
What: 40th anniversary celebration for Lake Padden Park.
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8.
Activities: Mountain bike ride and a kids' run, both at 11:15 a.m.; bird-watching hike at 11:45 a.m.; lake swim at noon; kids' mountain bike ride at 12:15 p.m., trail run at 12:45, native plant hike at 1:15; guest speakers at 2:05; and happy birthday cake and song at 2:30.
All-day events include information booths, cyclocross demonstrations, kayak demonstrations and rides on three-wheeled, two-seat bikes.
Online: To learn about People for Lake Padden, see The "Did You Notice Lake Padden?" website is
Reach DEAN KAHN at or call 715-2291.

Read more here:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Selfish Environmentalist

Washington Dept. of Ecology

Experiments by psychologists  have found that an unintended consequence of marketing good environmental behavior to people in terms of self interest (carpooling saves money) is to make them less likely to recycle (“Think Globally, Act Selfishly: How Utilitarian Environmentalism Can Backfire”)

I’m reminded of giving a talk about runoff pollution and how preserving wetlands could offset the costs of treating pollutants in runoff.  During the subsequent discussion, I was reminded by two women sitting in the front row that I should not forget that these wetlands are also good simply for the birds and the animals that live there.

It’s always good to be brought back to the pure love of the natural world, especially if you’ve spent a career figuring out what moves people to take actions for the environmental “good.”

In the late ‘80s, a Roper poll surveying people’s attitudes about environmental behavior found about a fifth of the population considered themselves “green” because they took environmental actions or gave to or belonged to environmental causes. A fifth of the population (“browns”) did not take environmental actions or were hostile to things considered “environmental.” Which left a vast middle of three-fifths of the population who may or may not have taken some environmental actions and were receptive to environmental issues but who didn’t consider themselves “environmentalists.”

What messages resonate with this majority and motivate them to action under the banner of green activism? We all would want a single-message campaign, the holy grail, the silver bullet of marketing messaging. But that majority was not homogeneous and messages focused on cost-savings, convenience, health, economic opportunity and so forth would resonate with different segments of this population.

Hence, the marketing gurus giving workshops in social marketing give students this to take home with them: segment your audience, identify the barriers to their taking the actions you want them to take, and work to remove those barriers to facilitate those actions. Secondarily: choose your messengers well and use peer pressure.

It doesn’t always come down to self-interest. It’s good to be reminded that environmental actions don’t always easily “pencil out” to make sense in dollars and cents terms. In the case of recycling,  a strong pricing signal (cost of garbage pickup) combined with convenience (curbside pickup) made the action routine enough to become a habit. Littering, however, is another story. There’s no clear pricing signal that littering costs an individual anything and convenience (trash containers in handy locations) isn’t everywhere. How about picking up doggie doo? Does self-interest resonate there?

For the two ladies in the front row, wetlands were simply good places to protect, period. Just like some people I know who used to wash out their glass and tin cans and drive miles to the nearest recycling station. They’d just do it because it was the right thing to do.

But for most of us, the message has to resonate with where we are in our lives at the time we hear it— and the action asked of us has to be behavior that makes sense to us. We’re not all the same. That’s the challenge of building a long-term environmental movement around taking environmental actions.

But it sure is nice to be reminded that it’s simply a good thing to love and protect the natural world.

--Mike Sato

Monday, August 13, 2012

Locals Only-- Costco For Americans

We used to dislike drivers with California license plates. Now we don’t like Canadians buying gas, goods and groceries— at Costco?

CBC News reports on a Bellingham-instigated Facebook page giving vent to locals fed up with long lines and rude Canadians parking and buying gas at the Bellingham Costco-- "Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans."

Shame on our fair “City of Subdued Excitement.”

I’ll let the Chamber of Commerce types tell you how much Canadians contribute to the local economy by buying local.

I’ll call shame on those who use “Canadian” as code for ethnic groups who come to shop and don’t behave like “Americans.” European Americans.

I’ve sat with friends and listened to their complaints about the Canadians at Bellingham Costco. These are good friends, people who behave well— maybe some of them are posting to the Facebook page. I hope not.

How about living in China for awhile, some time in Islamabad, Mumbai? I probably would screw up local customs pretty quickly.

How about visiting some rural Hawaii beach and feeling bad vibes from the local kids when where you wanted to surf was considered “locals only”?

Shame on them for betraying the spirit of aloha. Costco for Americans? Shame on Bellinghamsters.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going to Where Nothing Happens: Molokai and Lopez Island

In the last month, I’ve run into two couples who had visited Molokai and another couple who plans to go in September. Everyone who went says they had a wonderful time; the couple who are getting ready to go said they were going because it was a place where nothing happens.

Maybe there’s something in our modern life that makes some of us seek out places where “nothing happens.”

When I asked what that “nothing” felt like, one returning visitor said, “It's when you are just happy to be where you are - like floating in ocean water.”

I’ve been to Molokai — once — in the ‘80s and half a day and a night were about enough of where “nothing happens” for me.

Closer to home, my island of Lopez has been again “discovered” by the news media, this time by the Seattle Times in The laid-back pleasures of Lopez Island

Travel section staffer Brian Cantwell wrote:

"Have you heard, they call it Slow-pez?" a Seattle friend with a Lopez vacation home asked before I left the city.

“Some people call the islanders Slow-pezians," said John Warsen, my Long Island, N.Y.-bred host, when I checked in at Lopez Farm Cottages.

“Everybody calls it Slow-pez," I heard again as I rented a bike at the local cycling shop.

I guess it's unanimous: Welcome to life in the slow lane.
OK, sometime I live in the city as a Bellinghamster and sometimes I live in the country as a Lopezian but who wants to be known as a “Slow-pezian”?

When I’m a Lopezian, things are anything but slow:

We’re still working to get President Obama to permanently protect about 1000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in the islands by proclaiming the lands a national monument.

We’re hosting a re-election fundraiser on August 20 at the Clam Farm for 40th District Senator Kevin Ranker.

I just learned that islander Tracey Cottingham is celebrating next week the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Baker by organizing a joint sea voyage with the Lummi Tribe into Puget Sound to Lopez Island and on to Bellingham, then climbing together to the top of the mountain.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll have two grandchildren running around, visiting. Slow-pez? Gimme a break.

But I still want to hear the stories of what it feels like when “nothing happens.”

--Mike Sato

Monday, August 6, 2012

On This Day in History, 67 Years Ago...

...The first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, destroying most of the city and killing 140,000 people. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.

Usually there’s some mention of anniversaries like these but maybe news about the Mars landing, Sikh temple shooting, the fastest man in the world and the Northwest ‘heat wave’ took editorial precedence.

The remembrance ceremony in Hiroshima was attended by the grandson of President Harry Truman who ordered the bombs dropped. History, written by the winners of wars, justifies the bombing of civilians as bringing a quick end to World War II in the Pacific.

I grew up in the Atomic Age, practicing drills in grade school to survive an atomic bomb attack, reading with fascination the nuclear testing that went on in the Pacific in the ‘60s, sweated out the showdown of the Cuban missile crisis.

Thinking about what happened 67 years ago and the world I grew up in, I’m thankful that my children and grandchildren do not hear world leaders brandishing their nuclear arsenals nor policy makers blithely discussing ‘mutually assured destruction.’ I don’t know if my children get the poignancy and black humor of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And that’s OK.

Horrible wars continue to be waged in locales around the world and targeting civilian populations has become common practice. It is hard to fathom the savagery and cruelty our human species is capable of. It is hard to get a perspective on what progress our human species has made when the killing continues.

At least we can take solace that, after 67 years, we live in a world where it’s not likely that there will be bombings like that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There continues to be nuclear arsenals and there continues to be world leaders with fingers on triggers but let us pray that brave men and women will contain that madness.

--Mike Sato