Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014: One Down, 11 to Go

Chinese do not call it "Chinese New Year" (CNN)
A month ago, when the year was fresh and new, I wrote about “What I'm Looking For In 2014.”

We’re one month into 2014 and starting out another lunar year. Happy Lunar New Year!

Have I found anything yet in 2014 that I’m looking for?

The state legislature is finishing its third week of session and it’s too early to tell who will choose to govern. Is Governor Jay at home?

Lots more concern about oil shipments by rail— in addition to coal trains— and plans to make Washington and BC the fossil fuel gateway of the Pacific. Good that State Senator Christine Rolfes (D-23) is pushing for enhanced safety and transparency and good that the Environmental Priorities Coalition is pushing for oil tax reform as well. Oil guys haven’t really pushed back— yet.

I'm still worried about what’s killing our star fish. More research [ Northwest Starfish Experiments Give Scientists Clues To Mysterious Mass Die-offs ] but no answers.

I’m sure fine words are being prepared for the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision which established the Washington treaty tribes as fisheries co-managers. Meanwhile, remember who said the fine words about our salmon, “Extinction is not an option”? [ Feds Declare Salmon Fishery Disaster For Washington Tribes  ]

The only news from the Puget Sound Partnership thus far has been that the governor named Sheida Sahandy as its new executive director. Now will we have a Sound that is swimmable, fishable and diggable by 2020?

Well, we do have 11 more months to go. Or should we hit reset when we leap into the Year of the Horse? Horse,  not Bronco.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

12th Man et al: When Was The Last Time You Cheered?

The last time a lot of folks in Washington state cheered was two weekends ago and the next time they expect to cheer will be when the Super Bowl is played this Sunday.

Since then, I watched rugby being played on television with the sound off last weekend and, not knowing much about the game’s rules, was amazed at the players’ prowess but had no idea what to cheer about. On Sunday, I watched the Grammy Awards with the sound on and heard a lot of cheering but just couldn’t figure out what the cheering was about.

In high school, I cheered. We had pep rallies and cheer leaders. We cheered at football games. We were led in cheers extolling the offense to go down the field and the defense to hold that line, and in cheers appreciating the wounded warrior taken from the field of action. We cheered as one voice spontaneously when a runner broke loose or when a long pass connected.

We were really “old school” back then — no trash talk allowed, no belittling the ones you beat. Sort of like a golden rule of competing: play the way you want to be played against— play clean, win clean, don’t make it personal.

More recently, I recall chanting “Yes We Can” and “Four More Years.” The last time I recall really letting out a hearty cheer was on Election Night 2012 and before that Election Night 2008. But I know winning elections is one thing, an important thing, but only the start of governing. I think there is a rule of campaigning that says winning at all cost will not lead to good governance.

Over the years I’ve chanted “LBJ, How Many Boys Have You Killed Today” and “Hell No We Won’t Go.” I’ve cheered when my horse won at the track. I cheered when I saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. But I’ve never chanted “USA.”

I’ve joined in cheering performers at music events and plays. I’ve never cheered boxers beating each other up or professional wrestlers throwing each other out of the ring.

Maybe it’s all a matter of taste but in all cases I can understand the seductive power of joining in to cheer, whether it be for the Seahawks or for Daft Punk or your favorite rugby team: it’s being a part of the shared power of the many, the willing suspension of the individual to the voice of the whole.

With sports and music, one can forget, at least for awhile, that it’s bread and circuses, not real life as we know our everyday life. While we are cheering as one voice, we can forget these are multi-million dollar industries selling products and experiences. Nobody cheers for Boeing or Microsoft or Amazon. But it’s entertainment and, as long as nobody gets hurt, it remains entertainment.

But what we cheer for in our real lives isn’t entertainment. When we cheer the victor and demean the loser, we sully the contest. When we cheer the performance, winners and losers, we elevate the contest. What we cheer for and how we cheer, I think, makes a big difference in how we see our world.

So, when was the last time you cheered?

--Mike Sato

Friday, January 17, 2014

MLK Day and the Way to Win

We’re celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day again this year and I’m happy that Scott Miller, who runs the environmental communications consultant group Resource Media, addressed the issue of real diversity in the environmental movement in a thoughtful blog last week, Changing with the times.

Scott addresses the issue directly: "...[A]t the end of the day, even after genuine efforts and incremental changes in course and composition, the ‘mainstream’ environmental movement remains far too white, too old, too wealthy. This has plenty of moral implications. It is also not the way to win.”

His company, Scott says, is working on “new communications initiatives that eschew the common wisdom that a sharp strategy aligns only with a sharp policy goal. Instead, we are exploring content strategies that are focused on getting key audiences to talk with each other about shared values. It takes time, but that’s the thing about moving away from short-term, transactional relationships.”

He asks: “How do we become aware of blind spots when we can’t see them? How can we make sure our workplace and professional culture are truly welcoming for people from diverse backgrounds, present living conditions and lifestyles? How do we integrate their perspective and expertise into our approaches, and evolve the way we do the business of social change? How do ensure that people who join us from different perspectives and life experiences are heard, not just seen? How do we come to reflect the America of today and tomorrow not the environmental movement of the past?”

These are good questions and, for many years, I’ve sat on boards and in board and staff meetings where the same kind of concerns, maybe not so well articulated, have been posed, discussed, debated but seldom resolved.

The questions usually took the form of, “How can we get more people of color to sit on our board” or “How can we get more minorities to take part in our education/restoration events?” or “Why aren’t there any applicants from (ethnic group) applying for this job?”

The problem with asking those questions is that it’s looking through the wrong end of the telescope. We want “them” to join “our” group, to engage in “our” agenda.

When you work in the field doing conservation outreach, you get some cultural sensitivity training. Latinos don’t volunteer for Saturday restoration work parties weeding and planting as readily as Microsoft or Amazon dads and moms looking for a family activity. In fact, as an organizer, if you don’t learn that you first have to learn the culture before developing the strategy, you’ll screw up the same way this nation has screwed up in the world— Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya...

But we usually don’t take or have that kind of time. A long time ago I asked a Latino organizer if he’d help me take my group’s message to the people he worked with. “That’s not the way it works,” he said. “First, you come to my house and then I come to your house. We get to know each other, then we can talk.”

I honestly didn’t have the time or the inclination. My group’s priorities were saving Puget Sound; his group’s priorities were farm worker rights. I’m sure we could have spent the time getting to know each other’s priorities, maybe even finding common ground. But neither of us had the resources or the time to take that time.

Saving the whales, the rain forest, the ozone layer are campaigns resting on specific cultural values not shared by all ethnicities or socio-economic levels. For those campaigns, I’ve advocated “skimming the cream,” in other words, go get the segments —white, monied, educated— who share those cultural values. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about Pacific Islanders whose main concerns are about access to health services; your organizing life’s just too short, that’s all.

Even if the environmental agenda remains the way it’s been framed these last 40 years since Earth Day, there will be more diversity in the movement by virtue of there being more affluent and educated non-white people to engage in the environmental agenda. It would be great if this new blood were to push the movement to focus more attention on achieving environmental justice for at-risk ethnic and/or lower economic populations.

Whether this is “the way to win,” so to speak, I don’t know.

But what Scott Miller is spurring with his questions and calling for discussion is a much more radical view of where the environmental movement might go: that of a new organizing model based on developing shared community goals of conservation, education, public health, public safety, housing, labor, commerce... Groups adopting these “new”goals or parts of these goals would have good reason to have boards and staffs that credibly reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

These goals might not even be “environmental” as we know them today and what’s exciting is how the culture— as well as the complexion-- of what we today know as the “environmental movement” might well change.

One other way of thinking about this kind of rethinking is to think of how the goals of the vast array of community groups working for good and for change can be unified under general goals and principles. I’ve always liked David Domke’s suggestion that reframing our individual group goals in terms of responsibility, legacy and opportunity would go a long way to show the commonality of our efforts.

Would that be “the way to win?”

The devil’s always in the details and it takes time and resources to do the hard thinking and hard talking. But it’s a heck of a lot more exciting than the old, familiar slog.

But before we run off and jump into this conversation, I’ll finish with what a tribal member who came to two meetings of the board of an environmental group said after resigning. “Your friends like to talk,” he said to me.

And for all of us, that’s something to keep in mind on this journey.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When Good Beaches Go Bad

Bolstering an eroding bank (Star-Advertiser)
The forecast for Wednesday is 10- to 12-foot surf on the north shore of Oahu and what the ocean brings in as sand it takes away and brings back again. But sometimes it doesn’t and, on an island in the middle of the Pacific where the sea is just feet away, shoreline erosion has brought desperate measures at Sunset Beach’s Rocky Point on the north shore where the shoreline is eroding and the sea threatens houses.

Since last fall, high surf during unusually high tides have eroded yards, trees and pool decks into the sea. Just after New Year’s Day, city crews cleared debris off the beach at Sunset and homeowners took stopgap measures to staunch the erosion. The sea will put back some of the shoreline’s sand but nobody knows how bad the damage might be from the next high surf and high tide.

In a marginally unrelated occurrence, the recently-completed $2.4 million beach restoration program has required additional fixes after what was determined to be unusual currents eroded a stretch of the restored beach. (See What’s An Island Beach Without Sand?)

Last week, state lawmakers heard from scientists that climate change will drive sea level rise which will result in more and more coastal erosion and flooding incidents.

Referring to the Sunset Beach and Waikiki erosion, Dolan Eversole of NOAA told lawmakers, "Perhaps it's a glimpse into our not-so-distant future.” Eversole said a general estimate on sea-level rise is 1 foot by 2050 and 1 meter, or 3.28 feet, by 2100 but, “I think those numbers are on the low end for Hawaii.”

Representative Chris Lee is preparing to introduce legislation to require the state to better prepare for the potential impacts of climate change on Hawaii. "If we lose our beaches, we lose our economy and we lose our way of life here," Lee said.

But adapting to sea level rise will require changes in land use and construction standards— and making hard decisions on which beaches are priority areas to protect.

You can’t build a wall around everything. "There are a variety of places around the state where you can draw a line and say we are absolutely not going to allow any armoring because, as you know, it's a domino effect,” said Eversole. “As soon as you build one (sea) wall, it affects the neighbors."

And Nature in the end will have the last say.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Freedom Enterprises in West Virginia

(PHOTO: Associated Press)
I don’t want to be ironic so early in the new year but it’s awful that hundreds of thousands have been put at risk in West Virginia by the spill of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River by a company called Freedom Enterprises.

People in nine counties drawing drinking water from the Elk River can’t drink or bathe in the water and Freedom Enterprises has been ordered to stop all business and remove chemicals from all its above-ground storage tanks near the Elk River.

Hundreds have reported feeling ill as a result of drinking tap water.

Business has come to a halt in the capital city of Charleston near where the plant was operating because if you don’t have clean drinking water you can’t serve food... Or wash dishes. Or shower. Emergency supplies of bottled water don’t count.

This comes in the heart of Tea Party country where the government is seen as the enemy of the people.

Maybe government is the enemy if it allows a company like Freedom Enterprise to do business in a way that puts public health at risk. What’s appalling after an spill like this is the lack of any contingency plan to handle such an emergency—people drink out of the river for God's sake-- and the lack of knowledge about what the toxicity effects are of drinking water contaminated in varying concentrations with 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

“We don’t know the water is not safe, but I can’t say that it is safe,” the president of the West Virginia American Water Company said.

Will Tea Party zealots get in line to get Federal disaster relief and FEMA-transported water? Sure, because this is first of all a public health problem that needs to be immediately addressed by government, quickly. But this isn’t a Katrina or Sandy disaster--- this is a Freedom Enterprise-made disaster and the West Virginia Tea Party, if they have any real backbone, should be holding Freedom Enterprises by their corporate privates accountable for the mess they’ve bestowed on the people of West Virginia.

We’ll see.

--Mike Sato