Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Call For Energy Policy Reform in Washington

(Image: Arctic Sun LLC)

Guest blog by Russ Borgmann

The industrialized world is experiencing an energy renaissance.  And the U.S. is at the nexus of that regeneration. There are several beacons signaling this new energy landscape:

  • The costs to maintain the centralized electric grid are increasing, and poses increasing security risks
  • Distributed energy costs are decreasing
  • The growing patchwork of clean energy alternatives requires cohesive integration with the grid
  • Customers, regulators, and politicians are increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo
  • Consumer preferences are changing, no longer content for utilities to merely provide electricity to end users.  Now consumers are a central point (node) in the grid
  • There is a degradation (real and perceived) in the quality of electric utility service
These factors constitute a paradigm shift, not merely incremental change.  Customers, the private sector, the public sector, regulatory agencies, Public Utility Districts (PUDs), and Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) are all experiencing a fundamental shift to electricity that is clean, efficient, diverse, and secure. The Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) highlights the need to reduce our region’s reliance on coal-fired electricity from places like Colstrip.  G20 nations spend $452 billion per year subsidizing fossil fuel production.  That’s nearly four times the global spending on renewable energy subsidies.  It is no longer true that clean energy is more expensive, especially when accounting for the true costs associated with fossil fuels – GHG emissions, carbon taxes, healthcare costs, and environmental costs, to name a few.  The equation is simple.  Now clean energy equals sustainable economic development.

Traditionally, utilities were often rewarded for under-utilized, expensive assets. Regulation, under the guise of reliability and resilience, often rewarded building a capital-inefficient system.  In WA, regulators only review electric infrastructure projects AFTER being built, not before.  As such, reimbursement is rarely denied, and customers pay the project costs plus an authorized rate of return on the “investment” via higher electricity rates, typically spread over forty years.  WA regulation is not sufficient to limit profits to IOUs as a result of buying and building excessive, under-utilized assets which quickly become obsolete.  Centralized electrical systems also pose greater physical and cyber-security terrorism risks as well as greater vulnerability to natural disasters, like earthquakes, and extreme weather.  Now, with the cost of renewable energy sources declining, more choices are available for customers.  Certain areas of the country are seeing free market forces compete for a customer’s business.  In Texas, for example, TXU is offering free power after 9pm.  Coupled with energy storage, like Tesla’s PowerWall, small businesses and residential customers are now afforded a greater degree of energy interdependence. Many Texas customers can choose from a variety of electricity source/pricing options, from multiple, competitive electricity suppliers.  The day is dawning when we will unlock the potential to make electrons more freely available to all.

Does this spell doom for electric utility companies?  Not for those utilities that are reading the handwriting on the wall.  Decoupling is an important first step, making utilities agnostic.  In some states, regulators have disassociated (decoupled) a utility’s profits from its sales of electricity.  But the next step is crucial:  How do we properly incentivize utilities to embrace clean energy rather than push it away, relegated to the edges of their energy portfolio offering? Utilities must consider becoming a platform – a platform offering a menu of choices.  Forward-thinking utilities are becoming more nimble and innovative, ultimately playing a part in integration supervision and optimization of the grid in the next generation “Internet of Electricity”.  Technology is available today to connect all types of grid assets with one another, much like today’s internet servers and cloud-based services. Technical challenges are solvable. Utility business models, especially for IOUs, are slower to adapt to offering new services with competitive pricing. Yet if utilities don’t adapt, they will be consigned to becoming commodity providers, stuck maintaining their aging and obsolete assets, akin to the telecommunications industry with landline assets in the digital mobile age.

How do utilities get paid in this model?  New York’s “REV” program offers some examples of what’s possible when regulators, utilities, and cities work together to serve the best interests of all stakeholders and customers to modernize the grid:
  • Utilities can share in the cost savings when they promote clean energy alternatives
  • Utilities and cities, with state-level mandates and incentives, can issue RFPs for the best alternatives. Crowd competitive alternatives IN, not out.  Let the market respond to the problem, rather than rely on a utility to dictate a solution.
  • Utilities and cities, with state-level incentives, can promote micro-grid competitions that provide cash awards for efficient, cost-savings solutions.  Cash awards are paid from the cost savings of the best alternatives.
Ideas like these generate diverse, distributed, and more secure energy sources. The old rate-based compensation model is replaced by an outcome-based compensation model.  Free market economics allow for the best solutions to rise to the surface.  Clean energy that is efficient and saves money are better alternatives for all participants as well as the environment.  And the cost savings can be mutually shared across all invested stakeholders and customers.  In some states, the old compensation model that subsidizes expensive, centralized infrastructure (hard costs), is already giving way to a new model of sharing in the savings and reducing soft costs.

How do we usher in this sweeping energy renaissance in Washington State? Washington is long overdue for regulatory reform.  State agencies must lead by example with a combination of mandates and incentives.  Governor Inslee is one of the country’s leaders supporting clean energy reform.  It is time to lend more bi-partisan support to legislation and regulatory reform to make this energy renaissance a reality in Washington.  Electricity regulatory reform is a non-partisan issue that can promote free market competition and in-state renewable energy job creation.

Before us lies an opportunity to be a centerpiece of clean energy policy and implementation.  Washington has abundant renewable energy resources that can be better utilized, especially when combined with energy storage technologies now available.  And Washington possesses a high-tech workforce already working on the “Internet of Electricity”.  Washington can become a Clean Energy Innovation Center that can serve as a role model for the rest of the U.S.  Please don’t leave Washington in the dark – stumbling along with outdated regulations that reward expensive, centralized, obsolete, electricity infrastructure that poses greater security risks.  We can cling to old monopolistic business practices, or we can embrace free market forces to power innovation.  Now is the time to light the way of transparent regulatory reform to ensure a bright future for Washington – a future that rewards affordable, distributed, reliable, resilient, and renewable power as part of a modernized grid.

Russell Borgmann of Bellevue, Washington is a technology management consultant and an advocate for sensible energy alternatives and efficient grid optimization in the Pacific Northwest. Russ advocates Washington regulatory reform to promote rapid absorption of new technologies, innovation, and entrepreneurship to integrate distributed energy resources as part of a modernized grid.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Salish Sea Protection and Improvement: Cases for Patience … And a Little Optimism

Pete Haase (Skagit Valley Herald)
Guest blog by Pete Haase

I read the recent State of the Sound report produced by the Puget Sound Partnership and I was conflicted.  There is a lot of so-so news, too much not-so-good news, and not much good news. There are a lot of pretty pictures.  It is especially troublesome to read that so much money has been spent and that so many of the “Action Items” are finished or at least going well but the “Indicators of Success” are pretty well stuck.  As you might expect, by diving into the Action Agenda from 2012 and 2014, you will find far too many of the Action Items involved studies, meetings, reports, and organizing-- with only a few being of the “fix things” sort.

But I think there are reasons for hope and here are a few:

First, the 2016 version of the Action Agenda will be focused on strategic activities (both “on the ground” and “in the water”) that are expected to directly impact the indicators of success.  That need has been clearly understood by the Partnership.  There are many more actions in work around the greater “Puget Sound” that will be good for the future yet are outside the funding scope and/or direct purview of the Puget Sound Partnership.  Some are in Canada and others are small, local actions with no avenue or interest for inclusion in the grand Action Agenda. Some not-so-small campaigns (such as the relatively grass-roots resistances to coal and oil and increased vessel traffic) don’t even have a place at the Puget Sound Partnership table, yet have massive public participation and direct impact on both sea level rise and ocean acidification.

Here is another reason for hope:

 “Something fishy: AmeriCorps crews work with DNR” is a video that highlights work done by the small group of Washington Conservation Corp (WCC) youth with the Department of Natural Resources Aquatics Reserves program.  Regardless of the positive impact of the work, imagine what these folks will keep bringing to the table for the rest of their lives – and the influence they can have for a better environment.  Then think of all the other AmeriCorps youth (WCC is an AmeriCorps program) we have working in the environment throughout the greater Puget Sound – there are maybe a dozen or more here in Skagit County where I live.  We’ve all known some – maybe many – of these amazingly capable youth, and we get a new batch every year.  All these enthused folks with experience and first-hand knowledge about how to make it all better over time will be a force to be reckoned with and many probably already are as they have dispersed far and wide.  Programs like this were not in place 35 years ago when big damage was happening to our lands and waters.

And another reason:

Recently I helped our local Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group work with a large group of 8th graders during a day of “see-and-learn” visits throughout their local watershed. They had lots of hands-on water sampling and dabbling in topics like wetlands, nearshores, beaches and human impacts.  This event is part of a year-long program for these kids (and for several other schools in the area as well) to get in-depth exposure to their unique outdoor environment and to experience it.  Here’s another program that was not in place for our last generations, and one that is bound to help equip these folks to make better choices and policy about their environment.  We are pretty sure they already have had a bit of a positive effect on their parents, neighbors and families.

And finally:

Here in the northern counties of the greater Puget Sound we are fortunate to have the Northwest Straits Initiative and the seven County Marine Resources Committees that the Initiative supports.  Recently the whole group had their day-and-a-half annual conference in Bellingham with about130 people attending.  Besides the variety and impact of the various projects and activities showcased by these folks, it was striking also to see the almost equal distribution of male and female and likewise “young” and “old."  This is not a “dying” operation!

So, yes, it will take more money and more time and more effort – but we have done well at preparing and activating a youthful bunch that will easily multiply the efforts of the recent past.  Give them time and a chance.

[Pete Haase is an energetic environmental volunteer in Skagit County.  He likes being in the field with teams, doing things that he hopes will make a difference.  Much of what he does is citizen science.  Pete also likes engaging the public, helping them appreciate volunteer efforts and getting them to add their voices in support of protection and restoration. Pete has been named by RE Sources as a 2015 environmental hero.]

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Guns Are Not Outlawed; Outlaws Have Guns

It’s been an awful couple of weeks of shootings, people killing and wounding lots of other people. Guns, long guns, rifles, assault weapons, and thoughts and prayers have been top of mind and top of the news. Two news items amidst the guns, long guns, rifles, assault weapons and thoughts and prayers I’ve been chewing on this past week.

The first is an account of a theft of assault-style weapons from a pickup parked at a Bellingham motel last weekend. [Assault rifles, pistols stolen from truck at Bellingham hotel ] (The weapons are listed in the news article and a photo of the stolen weapons was posted to Craigslist, presumably by their former owner.)

You can read the story yourself but I’ve pondered what this person was doing with so many weapons of this type and why he would leave them in his truck overnight and how thieves would have known these weapons were in the truck.

Maybe there’s a very reasonable and legal answer (“He just has guns, lots of guns,” [police Lt. Bob] Vander Yacht said) as to why he had the weapons and why he’d left them in the truck overnight. (“There’s never a good time to leave a gun locked up in a vehicle,” Vander Yacht said.”)

The police, according to the article, continue to investigate.

Which means that some outlaws now have a small arsenal of assault-style weapons which pisses me off both at this dick-head out-of-towner and these sleazeball outlaws.

Maybe I’d be just as pissed off if someone brought his arsenal into a motel room next to mine. These days who knows who’s carrying a weapon since people are carrying weapons supposedly to protect themselves from other carrying weapons.

Which bring me to the report that the South African Supreme Court of Appeals reversed Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius’ lower court decision of manslaughter to murder. [Oscar Pistorius guilty of murdering Reeva Steenkamp]

Pistorius shot Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door. The court’s decision found the lower court’s ruling “fundamentally flawed.” Pistorius should have foreseen that his firing of a gun would have killed whoever was behind the door in his bathroom, regardless of whether he thought it was Steenkamp or an intruder.

Even in gun-obsessed South Africa, there are limits. In reading the judgment, Judge Eric Leach said, "not only did he not know who was behind the door, he did not know whether that person in fact constituted any threat to him. In these circumstances, although he may have been anxious, it is inconceivable that a rational person could have believed he was entitled to fire at this person with a heavy-calibre firearm." [Oscar Pistorius and South Africa's gun obsession]

OK, guns don’t kill, people kill. Oscar Pretorius was obsessed with firearms. Oscar Pretorius is an outlaw.

You can say your prayers and send your thoughts. You can write Page One editorials like the New York Times did this past weekend. [End the Gun Epidemic in America] Nothing will change until we change the political power around guns—and that political power does not come out of the barrel of a gun.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wow! “Clean Up Puget Sound— Now”

(PHOTO: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Hadn’t heard that in a while so it got me excited last Friday when I saw the Seattle Times editorial headline, “Stop political inaction, clean up Puget Sound — now. The problem, according to its editorial board, is — guess what? -- politics.

The solution, according to its editorial board, is — guess what? -- more politics. Specifically passing federal legislation elevating Puget Sound to the status of having “national significance,” which would “align federal efforts and coordinate a united recovery strategy with the state.” And presumably bring more federal dollars to Puget Sound protection and recovery.

Strange to put progress towards cleaning up Puget Sound in hoped-for action from a Congress more skilled in deadlock and now in majority-party disarray. Disheartening to have the loudest editorial voice in the Puget Sound region shift focus to the Never-Never Land of Congressional politics and away from scrutiny of the State’s own efforts— that of the Puget Sound Partnership— and progress towards making Puget Sound “swimmable, fishable and diggable.”

Getting results in governance doesn’t come from having good ideas. It comes from having people, lots of people, supporting an idea. That’s called a constituency, something that causes like gay marriage and legal marijuana and $15 minimum wage have. That’s the kind of constituency cleaning up Puget Sound needs.

In the not-so old days we used to ask, “Who speaks for Puget Sound and who holds accountable all those who are responsible for its protection and restoration?” Does Governor Inslee? Does the Puget Sound Partnership? Does the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance?

A lot of money and social capital has been spent by the state on defining what “swimmable, fishable and diggable” means.  So I’m sure someone can give a report on progress to that end that maybe folks will listen to.  But, as the editorial points out, folks don’t know Puget Sound is ill. And even if they did, how would it make a difference?

An environmental group board member once punctuated a discussion about the need to educate people about Puget Sound by saying, “Is that what you want? A bunch of educated people watching Puget Sound go down the toilet?”

No, what Puget Sound needs is an organized constituency that speaks for the Sound and holds accountable all those responsible for its protection and restoration. It is a constituency that demands action by saying, loudly and clearly, “Clean up Puget Sound— now!”

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When Drones Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Drones

First of all, I won’t identify the drone operator in my neighborhood by name because I don’t want to inspire others by glorifying his actions. I’m sure he bought his drone legally and thinks he is exercising his God-given constitutional rights to fly it above my house. If someone’s going to take his drone away, they’ll most likely have to kill him first.

On the other hand, it may be as simple as his receiving an “accommodation” based on some religious grounds that allows buzzing over my house. No, the Pope is not going to have the last say in this matter.

Maybe nobody has the last say except the perpetrator. While I, Man of the House, stood in front of the barbecue grill fuming and shouting obscenities and raised the middle finger salute to the contraption whining back and forth over our back yard, the Woman of the House sat quietly nursing her gin tonic, looked upward and said, “That’s enough.”

With iron fist in velvet glove, she marched out to the street and, five minutes later, the whining whirr stopped and she returned home with her report:

“It was (name deleted),” she said. “I asked him to stop flying it.”

“’Why?’ he said. ‘Because I don’t like it flying over my house,’ I said.”

“’Where do you live?’ he said. ‘Down at the corner,’ I said. ‘You can fly it somewhere else.’”

Maybe (name deleted) will take personal responsibility and fly his toy where it won’t bother anyone, where it won’t crash and hurt someone. No different than responsible owners of firearms who take safety training and secure their weapons not because the constitution allows them to, but because they take responsibility for their health and safety and that of the people around them.

Those who are unable or incapable of being responsible for their health and safety and the health and safety of those around them should be guided by the iron fist: no drones, no weapons. And there are places and times where and when we just don’t take drones and weapons. [ FAA Proposes Nearly $2 Million Fine To Drone Operator For Restricted Flights ]

Was anyone in the 12th Man crowd filling the stadium last Monday night packing drones or weapons? No. Did those who could not bring drones or weapons feel like their God-given constitutional right was being violated? Nope. And you know what? Qwest Field was one of the safest places to be in Seattle during Monday Night Football.

--Mike Sato

Monday, September 21, 2015

UPDATE: Holy Father the Chemist

Pope Francis

Pope Francis and His Little Fiat - The New Yorker

Transcript: Pope Francis’s speech at the White House 

Transcript: Pope Francis's speech to Congress 

There have been some strange twists and turns in religiosity the past few weeks perhaps foreshadowing Pope Francis’ visit to our country this week. No doubt Kentucky county auditor Kim Davis is both deeply religious and an upstanding civil servant but not to choose one’s religious faith and resign from one’s sworn duties as a civil servant when it comes in conflict makes a mockery of both the faith she holds and the duties of the office she had sworn to perform.

The trouble with people like Kim Davis invoking their belief in God as the final argument is that it ends civil discourse. It’s like saying the spirit gods of the ancient forest say clear cutting is bad. You can say it and believe it but It’s awfully hard to have a discussion about the pros and cons of clear cutting with you.

Around the time the Kim Davis circus was in high gear, there was a report about a study that found that people who live in beautiful places are more likely to have lower rates of religious adherence. ( Live In A Beautiful Region? You're Less Likely To Be Religious ) A modest proposal would have been to invite Ms. Davis to this side of the Cascades and let her chill a bit. But that’s not the way religiosity works itself out.

You’d think a rich and smart man like Ben Carson who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination would have spent time in beautiful places with trees, lakes and mountains but it certainly didn’t affect his heart or his brain when he wears his Christian faith on his sleeve and declares that no one who believes in the Muslim faith should be president of the Unites States. Because being a Muslim is not consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Whereas Kim Davis who is a Christian is of a faith that is consistent with the constitution of the United States. But she will not, due to her Christian faith, uphold the laws under the constitution of the Unites States.

See how complicated it gets when folks get religiosity and civics mixed up?

Then, again, I still remember the national discussion when John F. Kennedy ran for president and whether a Catholic (presumably with a hotline to Rome) should be in the White House. Some folks even had qualms about Mitt Romney, a Morman, possibly becoming president but maybe that was because of the underwear thing.

At a dinner this past weekend, I said that, when Pope Francis comes to this country, he will be talking to politicians about climate change and social justice and probably invoking God the same way Kim Davis invokes God as the final authority. Makes talking about climate change hard when you invoke God, I said.

No, my dinner host said, Francis is a chemist.

(According to Thomas Reese, “Pope Francis studied chemistry and worked as a chemist prior to entering the seminary. But Jorge Bergoglio never graduated from university prior to entering the seminary. What he did do was graduate with a título in chemistry from the Escuela Técnica Industrial No. 12*, which is a state-run technical secondary school.” Does Pope Francis have a master's degree in chemistry? )

So, I said, as long as he speaks to climate change as a chemist and in terms of sciene, he won’t be like Kim Davis and those religious fanatics?

True, and that’s great. I look forward to hearing and cheering on the Holy Father the Chemist.

[See: Pope Francis’s Environmental Encyclical: 13 Things to Know and Share  (Catholic Answers)]

[If you’d like to taste an example of being spiritual in telling stories based on chemistry and not invoking God, check out Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table.]

--Mike Sato

Thursday, September 10, 2015

News Release: Killer Whale Expert and Author Erich Hoyt In October "Orca Tour 2015" Talks in BC, Puget Sound

News Release
September 10, 2015
Erich Hoyt


Internationally-renowned author and killer whale expert Erich Hoyt will speak in October along the Whale Trail at locations in British Columbia and Puget Sound.

“Orca Tour 2015” celebrates the seasonal return of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales to central Puget Sound and builds awareness of the whales throughout their range in the Salish Sea and along the Pacific Coast. This transboundary tour is especially timely with the birth of the fifth calf in the Southern Resident Killer Whale pods since December 2014.

"The birth of five new calves in J, K and L pods gives us five more reasons to recover this population. The collaborative nature of the Orca Tour demonstrates our shared commitment to restore salmon, reduce toxins and create quieter seas," said Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale Trail.

Organized by The Whale Trail and local sponsoring organizations, Hoyt’s talks are scheduled for:

·      Oct. 3- Saturna BC. “Creatures of the Deep” hosted by Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society and sponsored by the Capital Regional District at the Saturna Community Hall;

·      Oct. 6- Sidney BC. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and Raincoast Conservation Foundation at the Centre;

·      Oct. 10- Olympia WA. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by The Whale Trail at the Olympia Friends Meeting Hall;

·      Oct. 11- Tacoma WA. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by Citizens for a Healthy Bay at the UW Carwein Hall; and

·      Oct. 13- Seattle WA. “Ants, Orcas and Creatures of the Deep” hosted by The Whale Trail at the Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle.

Tickets for the Washington talks are available through Brown Paper Tickets,  (search Erich Hoyt). Tickets for the Saturna talk are available at the door for $10; call the Centre (250.665.7511) for Sidney ticket information.

Erich Hoyt’s first killer whale expedition to Johnstone Strait sailed from Victoria, BC in June 1973. He proceeded to spend parts of the next 10 summers with orcas, culminating in his now classic book Orca: The Whale Called Killer. He is the author of 22 books including The Earth Dwellers and Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. His most recent book is the greatly expanded Creatures of the Deep, with state-of-the-art photographs and stories of amazing species new to science.

In 1999 Hoyt, a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Research Fellow, co-founded the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) to learn more about orca pods targeted for aquarium captures and to get Russian students involved in science and conservation of killer whales in Russian waters. Now in its 15th year, FEROP has recorded the Russian pods and photo-IDed some 1500 orcas off Kamchatka and in the Commander Islands — including three white orcas found so far in the study areas.

“We are living in an era and in a part of the world where whale research has exploded,” said Hoyt. “And we’ve got some amazing orca stories to tell here—mostly positive, some heartbreaking, but all compelling.”

“Orca Tour 2015” celebrates the growing transboundary success and collaboration between British Columbia organizations and The Whale Trail — a model for conservation everywhere. The Whale Trail is working closely with the BC Cetacean Sightings Network and other groups to add new Whale Trail sites from Victoria to Prince Rupert.

Interpretive panels will be installed at five locations this fall, and 30 sites in the southern Gulf Island will be marked with distinctive Whale Trail markers. East Point, Saturna Island was the first BC Whale Trail site, and the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney is the most recent.

"The Centre serves to inform people about the Salish Sea and our keystone mammal-- the orca," said Mark Loria, executive director of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. "Erich is an important figure in the world of orca conservation and protection and he will have much to share with our members and the public. Our partnership with Raincoast Conservation Foundation serves to strengthen our efforts in public programs and initiatives."

"Erich is such a knowledgeable speaker about the sea. He clearly has a deep love for all that lives in there and it sparkles through in his talks,” said Maureen Welton of the Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society. “He told us his exciting orca stories last year and we've brought him back to talk about the unusual, little known species in the sea. His book is fascinating and we know his talk will be, too."

In Tacoma, The Whale Trail is partnering with Citizens of the Bay. "We are so lucky to live in a place as beautiful as the Puget Sound with animals as fascinating as orcas,” said executive director Melissa Malott.  “Orca populations are a great representation of the health of the Puget Sound, which we at Citizens for a Healthy Bay are working to protect.  We are excited to have Erich Hoyt speak to learn more about these amazing creatures and our environment.”

“The Whale Trail and its partners in British Columbia and Washington State share a deep commitment to marine education, conservation and the recovery of the southern resident killer whales,” said Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale Trail. “Erich is a legend and an inspiration. We are thrilled to bring him back to the northwest, and provide our communities with the incredible opportunity to hear from him first-hand.”

Orca Tour 2015 marks an historic return to Olympia, where Erich gave his first presentation in the region almost 40 years ago. Erich spoke during the first Orca Symposium at Evergreen State College in 1976. The Symposium coincided with orca captures in nearby Budd Inlet that led to their banning in Washington State.

For more information on The Whale Trail and Orca Tour 2015, go to: and and

* To schedule an interview with Erich Hoyt, contact Mike Sato (206) 229.2844 *

Local event partners can be reached at:

Maureen Welton, SIMRES, (250) 539.3698
Mark Loria, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, (250) 665.7511
Chris Genovali, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, (
250) 655.1229 x225
Melissa Malott, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, (253) 383.2429
Donna Sandstrom, The Whale Trail, (206) 919.5397

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are You An Environmental Racist?

(PHOTO: Angela Waye)
Think about it: The disappearance of the wild and its wildlife is often attributed to too many people. Who do you think “those people” are? Do they look like you, talk like you, share your values? If they don’t, who are “those people?”

At the root of American environmentalism are the values of a white, aristocratic class that extolled eugenics, elevated Nordic culture and feared the dilution of that culture, according to Jedehiah Purdy in a New Yorker article, “Environmentalism’s Racist History.”

The creation of America’s national parks and forests by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were guided by a vision to preserve in the wild nature’s aristocratic qualities, “the moose, the mountain goat, and the redwood tree,” writes Purdy. Roosevelt also engaged John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, “who felt fraternity with four-legged ‘animal people’ and even plants, [but] was at best ambivalent about human brotherhood.”

Purdy: “For each of these environmentalist icons, the meaning of nature and wilderness was constrained, even produced, by an idea of civilization. Muir’s nature was a pristine refuge from the city. Madison Grant’s nature [ a Roosevelt fellow traveler better known for his views on eugenics ] was the last redoubt of nobility in a leveling and hybridizing democracy. They went to the woods to escape aspects of humanity. They created and preserved versions of the wild that promised to exclude the human qualities they despised.”

Recognize anybody you might know? Most likely not. But put another way, how many environmentalists would agree that their environmental values of protecting the wild in the wilderness is in some sense better than those in cultures that clear rain forests, hunt whales, and kill animals for their fins, ivory or gall bladders? If those perpetrators’ skin color is different from yours, some might call you — loosely speaking-- a racist. (racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular group is inferior to others.)

I say “loosely” because the term these days gets thrown around in heated arguments and polemics. If you spend time saving the whales and ignoring immigration reform, will you be called a racist? If you say, saving African elephants is my issue, not voting rights, will you be called a racist? What happens when a Black Lives Matter activist takes the microphone away from Denis Hayes ala Bernie Sanders when he wants to talk about climate change?

Have environmentalists been racists? I’ve listened to a card-carrying green complain about the people who don’t speak English coming down to the shore at low tide and stripping it bare of the sea weed and limpets. There are California Sierra Club members who have had a hard time dealing with immigration. Good friends deride Canadians for clogging up the local Trader Joes and Costco. The subtext here isn’t hard to figure out (Southeast Asians, Mexicans, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese) but I’m not sure the speakers felt superior as much as beleagued by a foreign “otherness” that seemed beyond their control.

I’m also not sure how exclusive our cultural value of protecting wild creatures in the wilderness is but much of this country’s wildernesses, parks and environmental laws are the result of environmentalists who are white, educated and not poor. The membership and leadership of environmental organizations are almost exclusively white. The causes, however, are not about protecting wildlife and wild places from other races but from businesses that threaten their destruction. To prevail in those causes like climate change and Arctic drilling and species protection and recovery, the environmental movement needs to expand its constituent base.

To do that requires more than trying to diversify the complexion of their boards and staffs and printing more brochures in other languages. It will required understanding why a phrase like “people of color” rings hollow (the redoubtable Hazel Wolf said, I’m white, that’s all the colors) and why asking the families of Mexican farm workers to take part in a weeding and planting restoration day makes no sense. Show some respect: People who don’t have the economic luxury of being able to save the polar bears don’t need to be educated about polar bears and climate change. And, it’s important to remember when working in a community on environmental justice issues that the organizers get to go home; the community living with the toxic crap is at home.

The strength of the environmental movement is based on the values of protecting wild things in the wilderness and those are the values of its white, educated and not poor members. OK, that’s not necessarily the values of most of the world or non-white cultures in this country. Saving the whales or the polar bear or ancient forests isn’t the environment for the people environmentalists want to reach. The environment for these folks is health and safety: safe water, safe food, safe streets, safe parks.

Are you ready to write the new environmental manifesto that clearly expresses how we protect the wild and the wilderness by protecting and restoring the health and safety of our communities?

The need to do that if the environmental movement is to grow and move forward has been recognized by folks like Scott Miller of Resource Media: “Many organizations, like Resource Media, with their roots firmly in environmental advocacy, now understand that a greener world is part of something much bigger. We have long contended people have a right to clean air, clean water and places to experience nature. Now we are intentional about saying that list includes rights to adequate health care, safety, equity, economic well being and... human dignity.“

Take a moment to read Jedehiah Purdy’s article, and let me know what you think.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Citizen Scientists – Are They For Real?

Citizen scientists (Toby Ross/Seattle Audubon)

Blog Post By Pete Haase

Nowadays, in this business of volunteering in the environmental community around Puget Sound, I see citizen scientists behind every tree and on very beach.

There are often many of them grouped together doing their work.  They might have clip-boards, binoculars, square PVC things with strings in them, laminated cards with all sorts of critters and weeds on them, or a fancy GPS device. They often wear boots and sometimes are even up to their chests in the water.  Sometimes they just sit and watch and make a note now and again.  Other times they stride out like they are measuring with their legs.  You can see their lips move as they silently count.  Sometimes they are planting plants, sometimes they are measuring plants, and other times they are digging them up.  They are even in meetings.  They like eating donuts and drinking hot chocolate and coffee. I think possibly every family has one, maybe even two.  Little school kids can be one and training for it might even be part of the mandatory curriculum.

I’m one.  I know this because several “real” scientists have told me so and thanked me for being one!   Since about 2009, the rather official definition of “citizen scientist,” as agreed to by Washington Sea Grant and the Puget Sound Partnership, is one who “provides rigorous cost-effective data collection for research, monitoring, and management needs.” As an example, a person who knows some birds, can count and keep numbers straight, and can print legibly with pencil on Rite-in-the-Rain paper and participates in the Christmas bird count is a citizen scientist.  So is a person with a head-lamp who goes out at night at low tide and peeks under rocks to count and record the condition of wasting sea stars.  I think you get it. (Cheap, follows directions, has good all-weather gear.)  A worthy expense of time and effort.

But the combining of the two words, citizen and scientist, troubles and confuses me, although I am easily confused often, I admit.  (Frankly, anyone who is in the environmental volunteering business but is not often confused is lying.)

Can a “real” scientist be a citizen scientist, too?  Can a citizen scientist be a “real” scientist, too?  I say it is “no” and “no.”  You are one or the other – period.  This I know, again, because I have been told so often by the experts – the real scientists.  No: real scientists are scientists but citizen scientists are just partly scientists, the part that does grunt work but generally does not do much brain work.  That is odd to me because I know lots of volunteers who once did science as a job but are now retired and volunteer for fun. It seems like they can still be scientists, but I think generally they have to be the common citizen variety, too, maybe just with a bit more experience – the “old timers.” It’s like somebody did not think this term through too well – or it was maybe a committee result.  It is catchy.

I suppose that what makes the difference is mainly a combination of education and experience, the breadth of science work you are currently doing, who you are employed by, and how much you have published.  Miss the mark on any one of them and you are back to (or stay in) the slag heap of citizen scientist.  Why don’t they just call us scientist minions or such?

Do you know any citizen dentists? Citizen lawyers?  Citizen police officers?  Citizen teachers?  No – we citizen scientists belong to our own special guild, proud as we may be for the recognition but forever banned from making up experiments, doing research, posing hypotheses, teasing meaning from data, publishing, or speaking in garbled terms to esteemed audiences.

I think it is time to define a Senior Citizen Scientist - one who can design experiments, think for himself and herself, pose and test hypotheses, etc. There are, I bet, 25 citizen scientists right now for every real scientist, and many of them would qualify. Imagine how much more good work could be done! Senior Citizen Scientist  That IS a catchy name; scary, but catchy!  We need a logo.

[Pete Haase is an energetic environmental volunteer in Skagit County.  He likes being in the field with teams, doing things that he hopes will make a difference.  Much of what he does is citizen science.  Pete also like engaging the public, helping them appreciate volunteer efforts and getting them to add their voices in support of protection and restoration. Pete has been named by RE Sources as a 2015 environmental hero.]

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Old Japanese Pitcher Throws No-Hitter

Hisashi Iwakuma (Associated Press)
Japanese-born Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a no-hitter on Wednesday in Seattle. At 34 years old, Iwakuma is the oldest pitcher since Randy Johnson threw a non-hitter in 2004. That’s according to Tim Booth, the Associated Press sports writer.

I cheered and cheer for Iwakuma and the Seattle Mariners. My friend Michi who was at the game doing play-by-play for Japan TV wrote, “Although I was there for work, I almost cried.”

Did it matter that Hisashi Iwakuma (name notwithstanding) needed to be identified as Japanese-born by the sportswriter? When Mariner pitcher Felix Hernandez pitched his perfect game no-hitter (a much more difficult achievement in facing the minimum 27 batters in a game), Seattle Times sportswriter Larry Stone  didn’t think it necessary to identify Felix by his ethnicity or by his age.

Maybe the presence of Japanese-born major league players is still mezurashi (uniquely interesting) to sportswriters and followers of the game but, as Tim Booth points out, Iwakuma joins fellow Japanese-born pitcher Hideo Nomo in the no-hitter ranks and, as we in Seattle know as we cheered for Ichiro, we didn’t need to identify him as Japanese-born.

Age of ball players reaching some level of achievement seems to be newsworthy, however. When athletes who are very young excel, they are lauded for their discipline and maturity. Older players who perform well, say, an Ichiro or the recently honored pitcher Jamie Moyer, are looked upon as rare examples of physical prowess and endurance. Baseball’s a young man’s game and Iwakuma at 34 is relatively old. Einstein published his theory of general relativity when he was 35.

Since in the Northwest we’re still grappling with how to talk about race and ethnicity, especially after the Bernie Sanders affair last weekend, it’s good that the sport reporting references to Iwakuma’s ethnicity and age stir no controversy.

It did bring to mind, however, my getting a haircut years back at a three-chair men’s barber shop on Roosevelt Avenue in Seattle where the barber (the one with the sharp instruments cutting my hair) got into a discussion with some of the clients about the Mariners playing exhibition games in Japan. “Won’t be much of a contest,” he said. “Those Japanese players just don’t play the same caliber of ball that we do in the States.” To which I demurred, saying that there were players who could play in our major leagues. He countered by going down the Mariner lineup, starting with Edgar Martinez, and worked to even out my sideburns. As he proceeded with the lineup to Jay Buhner, the sideburns kept getting adjusted side to side shorter and shorter until I called a halt and got out of the chair.

I’ve thought about that haircut and the ethnic stereotypes held by that barber when I watched and cheered Ichiro and Kaz and most recently Iwakuma. And I thought about the racial stereotyping that kept blacks like Lloyd McClendon out of managerial positions until recent years. (The end of the haircut story: My next stop was Super Cuts where I asked the cutter to even out my sideburns. I started explaining why they were uneven and she said, “Oh, no, we never discuss politics here,” and I shut up.)

So, does it matter that Iwakuma is Japanese-born? Nope. Anyone who can pitch like Kuma and Felix I want on my team. When they get older and can’t pitch like they do today, that’s another ballgame.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Into The (Sort Of) Wild

I spent parts of this past weekend at Deception Pass State Park with a thousand or more campers. But with the right camera angles, it can still be remembered as a few days in a wildness of sorts. But what was the experience?

I haven’t gone car camping since my college days when we’d set up a tarp or tent a few feet away from the Volkswagen bug. Those were days before reservation systems and then the experience was to try to find places on the coast in the off-season where you could build an outdoor fire in the relative seclusion of a park where there were toilets and trails.

This past weekend was the high summer season so car camping spaces were at a premium; it was good to see people, families and kids enjoying themselves under the canopy of trees, walking the trails and on the beach. Some camps were simply a couple of pitched tents; some sites were covered by elaborate canopies and tabletops with bright and shiny cook ware. The camp sites are thoughtfully laid out but in most spots back up onto each other, which called for a high sense of neighborliness and sleeping in closer proximity to strangers than you would at home.

I’ve forgotten most of my Thoreau and Walden but remember his dictum, “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” (I’m helped in remembering it correctly by recalling Eliot Porter’s book of the same title.) Quoting Thoreau is like quoting Chief Seattle: you can always find something that speaks to your cause. For Thoreau, the West was the wild and its wildness returned us to our savage natures from which we rose. “….Life consists with Wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him.” And yet, “The weapons with which we have gained our most important victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father to son, are not the sword and the lance, but the bush-whack — the turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog-hoe, rusted with the blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-fought field.”

There are hosts of contradictions in Thoreau but the take-away is that places that are wild (wilderness) are good because plants and animals there can be wild (wildness). I still believe that and am amazed and disappointed to find so many people at wilderness places where you can drive to— Artist Point, Haleakala, Waimea Canyon, Deception Pass. Even on day hikes, you make friends with people and dogs.  After my early days of car camping, I’d chosen to carry my provisions on my back and hike into the wilderness with the goal of finding places where there weren’t other people—weeklong treks which became the measure of experiencing wildness in the wilderness.

But the wild can be scary. I’ve sat out a lightning storm in a tent on an isolated ridge, been lost in the fog in snow, warmed a hiking partner back from hypothermia, ran out of daylight before reaching a flat spot to throw up a tent. I never felt anything more that relief after these experiences, no celebration of wilderness or of the wild. I recall my work colleague who moved from New Jersey telling me his adventure visiting Vashon Island where it was creepy and he couldn’t sleep-- because it was too quiet.

The wild in the wilderness is scary and I don’t think much of people crowing about testing one’s manhood or womanhood by facing the wild in the wilderness. On the last hike I took up Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, I collapse with leg cramps and worried for two hours about how I was going to be carried down before recovering. I think it’s a matter of taste, not virtue: go into the wilderness to find the wild if you want but I won’t put down people who drive into the wilderness or car camp. Maybe people can appreciate the trees and the water and the sky more comfortably with other people around. We’ve come this far West and now make Wildness our own.

By the way, the grandkids had a great time. It was all fun and games and nobody got hurt.

--Mike Sato

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sitting on The “Big One.” This Is Your Northwest

How do you think about your own death and destruction? Maybe you’ve seen the disaster movies. Are you in the masses that die or the few that survive? Here’s why I have a hard time thinking about this...

Another ‘wake-up’ call received this summer was reading and reading about Kathryn Schulz‘s article in The New Yorker,The Really Big One” and its follow-up, “How To Stay Safe When The Big One Comes.”

I think of myself as making reasoned decisions weighing costs and benefits either embedded internally or externally. I’m sure these decisions are based on information filtered through my experiences and beliefs the same way old Republican men and testosterone-laden, 16-year old first-time drivers make decisions. But faced with a situation outside the realm of past experience, say a health diagnosis of a terminal condition or a massive earthquake that will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest, I end up with a kind of brain-lock.

How are you supposed to think about the end of life as you know it?

Local media surely felt a bit miffed that a national publication gained that much public reaction after local media had been covering the stories of the “Big One” for years. Wrote Schulz in her follow-up: “.... the overwhelming response was alarm. ‘Terrifying,’ the story kept getting called; also ‘truly terrifying,’ ‘incredibly terrifying,’ ‘horrifying,’ and ‘scary as fuck.’ ‘Don’t read it if you want to go back to sleep,’ one reader warned. ‘It’s hard to overhype how scary it is,’ Buzzfeed said. ‘New Yorker scares the bejesus out of NW,’ the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote.”

Christopher Dunagan in his Watching Our Waterways blog puzzled over, “How did one magazine article generate such a tsunami of public alarm?” and went on to recount his years of reporting on the “Big One.” Local media have also recounted the 10 (or whatever number) essential things everyone should have in one’s earthquake preparedness kit (Washington State Military Department: "Preparedness, training key in riding out the Big One.")

The list sits on my desk.  The trouble with this “What Can You Do” list for “Big One” preparedness is that it’s based solely on the idea that I and my household will survive. In that case I think guns and ammunition should be included in the kit. I don’t want to add guns and ammo in my survival kit. I want to be with my neighbors and my community if I survive the “Big One” because I really can’t imagine surviving alone.

Last Tuesday evening was a national event called “Night Out Against Crime” where neighbors were encouraged to leave their lights on in the evening, spend time outside and get to know neighbors. Thinking about the “Big One,” I’d feel better being part of something like a community-based strategy to put supplies by neighborhood by neighborhood and identifying neighbor skills and resources in which individual household preparedness kits (no guns or ammo) were a part.

I’m still trying to get my mind around my possible demise. I don’t have Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson living in my neighborhood to take me to safety and if I’m in the masses that die in the disaster, that’s that. But the tough part is what happens if I and others survive, and it would be great to prepare accordingly.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Heat and Drought. Is This The New Northwest?

Sockeye salmon (Barry Sweet/AP)
Some summer: Consecutive days of record high temperatures, little rain and low river runoff, rising water temperatures in rivers and Puget Sound... You staying or planning to leave?

In the environmental organizing business we talk about events like oil spills or fish kills or finding toxic chemicals in breast milk as “wake-up” calls that could be communicated in a way that would move people from awareness to action.  In many cases, like a one-day sale, it worked in the short term but could not be sustained in a longer campaign.

You might or might not find the science of climate change compelling but you have to admit if you’ve been here awhile that this isn’t the Northwest that we thought we knew. Maybe next month enough rain will fall and temperatures will moderate so rivers will flow again for returning salmon and toxic algae will dissipate when Puget Sound’s temperature drops. Might even be able to forget about this summer and return to our lives as usual.

That’s human and understandable, and that’s what we’ve been doing for years about carbon emissions and the decline in Puget Sound’s health. Wake up to a crisis event, then go back to our lives as usual. Our government has done it for years, lurching forward and backwards in gridlock.

Last weekend we entertained family from out of town and drove to dinner and plays in Seattle and Skagit County round trip from Bellingham. There was no way those trips could be done on a mass transit schedule and for now, the most rational alternative was to fill up the tank with gas and drive. One day, some day but not today, owning and driving an electric- or hydrogen-powered vehicle or taking mass transit will be a reasonable alternative.

Last month I answered the door and chatted with a young lady working for Puget Sound Energy promoting their Green Power program where, for a few extra dollars each month, I would be buying and using non-fossil fuel generated electricity. I asked her how selling the virtues of the Green Power program jibed with Puget Sound Energy’s Energize Eastside project  which proposes to construct a new transmission line on the east side of Lake Washington so the utility can sell its dirty Colstrip coal power outside the state. I got a polite smile from the young lady and a promise that she would look into it.

My neighbor David this summer had solar panels installed and is rightly proud of the amount of solar energy he is collecting. On a trip to Hawaii this summer, I saw solar panels galore on rooftops; the main problem was the bottleneck created by the local utility’s footdragging in buying back energy generated by individual households.

One day, some day but not today, I’ll have an affordable solar array and wind turbine system with battery storage so Puget Sound Energy is an energy partner rather than an energy purveyor.  One day, some day but not today, there will be rational alternatives that enough people can partake in to reduce individual carbon footprints in a way that makes a difference in moderating climate change.

But why not today? Bill McKibben in a June 29 New Yorker article “Power To The People” finds hope in the results of the energy make-over done for Mark and Sara Borkowski in Vermont. “The numbers reveal a sudden new truth—that innovative, energy-saving and energy-producing technology is now cheap enough for everyday use,” McKibben writes. The take-away? “Why the rise of green energy makes utility companies nervous.”

One of the early slogans in protecting Puget Sound was, “We all live downstream,” meaning the rain that falls in the Puget Sound basin ends up in Puget Sound. This summer wake-up call is that life in the Sound is stressed by low water flows in the rivers and by higher water temperatures. Dead zones due to oxygen depletion, early shellfish harvest closures, toxic algae, fish kills... (‘The Blob’ may warm Puget Sound’s waters, hurt marine life )

This summer’s stress brings to the fore many of the problems of Puget Sound’s health discussed and grappled with mixed success for at least the last 30 years. We now have another in a series of wake-up calls like the past discovery of liver lesions in English sole, an early morning oil spill in the fog, sea star wasting disease, death of an endangered orca whale... After all these years, do you need another wake-up call about the declining health of Puget Sound?

Another wake-up call can’t hurt but the problem is that there really isn’t anything I can do about dead zones or toxic algae or fish kills or liver lesions or ships spilling oil or shellfish disease or a dead orca. I can pick up dog poop and recycle and conserve water but those, honestly, are nice-to-do actions that have very little to do with the real problems of Puget Sound’s declining health. Someone once angrily said in a meeting, “People are the problem with Puget Sound.” I don’t think so. We just haven’t figured out where we fit in solving the equation of Puget Sound’s health.

The state’s Puget Sound recovery goals now include measurements for human well-being and human values in considering the Sound’s resources. ( Healthier Puget Sound depends on healthy people, report finds ) These human values, the result of scientific research, are meant to help determine how money and effort are spent in Puget Sound recovery. If you fix those things people value most, people will be happier. I might be missing something but I’m not sure this puts us any closer to knowing how I will be meaningfully engaged in actions that result in fixing the problem I think most important to fix.

One day, some day but not today, there will be reasonable and meaningful alternatives that I can take to reduce my carbon footprint from my transport and my energy use. One day, some day but not today, there will be reasonable and meaningful actions I can take to remedy the real problems of Puget Sound’s health. One day, some day but not today, my actions and your actions will be measured in a way that shows the power of acting in concert. Until that day comes, there will continue to be wake-up calls that will echo and pass over us as we go back to our lives as usual.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Let’s Talk About Sex For A Change

He/She/He Limpet (Jan Delsing/BioLib)
How about that Bruce Jenner? Makes that trans-sex transformation to female and gets the exclusive and the cover of Vanity Fair which is then picked up by every major and minor news outlet in the world. Reminds me of the time a few years back when the ribbed Mediterranean limpet (Patella ferruginea) was found to be able to change its sex from male to female and back again.

Mr./Mrs. Limpet had neither the vanity nor the desire to try for the cover of Vanity Fair but was described by John R. Platt in a Scientific American blog as nearly extinct and the subject of efforts by scientists to learn how it breeds and reproduces to save it from extinction. (The Incredible Mr./Mrs. Limpet: The Endangered, Sex-Changing Sea Snail)

Most limpet species possess both male and female characteristics and change gender in their lives due to external environmental factors; Patella ferruginea, however, is unusual in changing gender then back again, scientists discovered. When and why still remains a mystery.

The scientists wrote in a paper that, this discovery provides "new direction for research into the mechanisms and factors driving sex change and its effects on the population dynamics" for the species, which may help to inform conservation strategies to keep it from extinction.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to ride the media frenzy on June 1, the endangered smalltooth sawfish muscled in on the news with the discovery that they are resorting to “virgin births” in the wild— perhaps in an effort to survive.

According to The Washington Post, “Female sawfish in Florida estuaries were found to have produced living offspring without the help of a male. Researchers found that 3 percent of sawfish in their study were the result of this unusual reproductive strategy.” (On the verge of extinction, female sawfish resort to ‘virgin births’ to survive)

In rare instances some vertebrate females have been known to switch between sexual and asexual reproduction depending on the availability of a mate. Reproducing without mating is called facultative parthenogenesis where an egg absorbs a genetically identical cell to create offspring about half as genetically diverse as the mother. These offspring often don't survive but enough are around in Florida to be counted.

OK. You read it here and in Scientific American and The Washington Post.

Vanity vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

--Mike Sato

Monday, May 4, 2015

Whither Puget Sound Starts Here?

Governor Inslee proclaims the month of May as Puget Sound Starts Here month. The Puget Sound Partnership laments that, due to funding cuts, Puget Sound Starts Here needs to find another home. Do you care?

A reader last week pointed out that the Puget Sound Partnership home page announced coming changes in staffing and program focus as a result of earlier EPA funding decisions. (Hard to tell when this was “announced” by the Partnership since the home page entry isn’t dated, nor is there any news release associated with the “announcement.”)

Earlier in the year, the Partnership sent out a news release expressing its support of EPA’s “new framework for distributing federal funding directed toward Puget Sound recovery.”

According to the Partnership’s web page, upcoming changes include:

  • Realignment of staffing: some positions will not be funded in the future and other positions will be added to meet new demands.
  • Transition of programs funded by the expiring Stewardship Grant: the end of this grant requires the transition of many of these efforts to sources of support outside the organization.
  • Enhanced board support: for the Leadership Council, Ecosystem Coordination Board, Science Panel, and Salmon Recovery Council to meet increased responsibilities under the new model.

At the end of last week, Skagit County’s EcoNet coordinator posted an email from Partnership executive director Sheida Sahandy. Sahandy said that the end of the Stewardship grant required finding other sponsor “homes” to take over stewardship programs like Puget Sound Starts Here, that the EcoNet program would be integrated into county Local Integrating Organizations, and that, for now, two positions in the Partnership’s Stewardship and Policy Integration section were eliminated.

According to Sahandy, there are many details to be worked out but, “Most of the operational changes will be in place by July 1.”

Do you care? Maybe the legislature in its special session budget deliberations has already taken care of Puget Sound stewardship funding. Maybe Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks are ready to step up as new program “homes.”

“I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to swim in Puget Sound, catch a salmon to roast over the campfire, and enjoy shellfish grown right here in Washington. I want them to inherit an economy that is thriving. When it comes to a sustainable environment or a sustainable economy, it’s not one or the other,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Join me in creating a Puget Sound legacy we can be proud of.” ( Governor Inslee proclaims May as Puget Sound Starts Here )

Puget Sound: swim-able, fish-able, dig-able. An educated and engaged constituency. Who cares?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Last Week in Baltimore, Charm City

I spent last week in Baltimore, Charm City. I returned home late Friday before the first outbreak of violence on Saturday, for which I would have had a front row seat around Camden Yards. Now more rioting on Monday, National Guard on call, law enforcement moving in from around the region. What does the rioting solve, Baltimore’s mayor asks? What happens to the charm, I ask?

I’ve come to like Baltimore, the parts I see as a visitor downtown and around the inner harbor.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the National Aquarium and see what some folks in Seattle meant when they said they wanted a first-class waterfront like Baltimore’s. The guy at the visitor’s center wanted to know how Big Bertha was doing; I just shrugged.

There are restaurants I like: The Thames Street Oyster House and The Point, both within walking distance at Fells Point; the B&O American Brassiere in downtown’s restored Monaco Hotel; and great kabobs, eat-in or take out, at Maiwand Kabob behind the Marriot Renaissance.

I also figured out how to get to Washington DC and the Smithsonian on the MARC out of downtown paying the geezer fare of $7 round trip. Cheap out-of-town entertainment.

My favorite ride is the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus service (Orange, Purple, Green and Blue) running round trips in four directions through the downtown core.

Last week, I took the #11 bus from downtown on Charles to get to the Baltimore Art Museum (free admission!) near Johns Hopkins. I got on and asked the driver whether he went to the Art Museum and he said he did; he also refused to take my reduced fare of $.55 because the fare box was broken.

As we rode away from downtown, the bus filled up with black people, old and young. I was looking to get off at 31st Street but bus turned right on 29th. I got up to the front to the driver as he turned left on Calvert.

“Are we near the Art Museum?” I asked.

“I thought you knew where it was,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Uh, 31st,” I said.

“Get off next stop on 32nd,” he said. “Walk that way (he pointed left) and go back to 31st and go right.”

You have to get off the bus at the rear so I need to make my way through all the black men standing to get to the back door and wait for the door to open.

Nothing happened.

“You have to push the handles,” the man standing next to the door said to me, softly.

Alright! I pushed the handles, the door opened and I said, “Thank you!” and exited the bus.

I had read all week long about Freddie Gray’s death and the circumstances of his questionable pursuit, arrest and “nickel ride” transport in the police van. I’d followed the mounting protest.

Maybe it is simple naïveté that allows me to feel safe among a group of people. I’ve never felt unsafe in Baltimore or in any city as long as I’m around other people. I have no idea what they must have thought about this guy wandering around on the #11 bus or even if they noticed. But I thought about my fellow bus riders when I heard about rioting breaking out. I think about my fellow bus riders and want justice to be done for them and Freddie Gray.

I think about my fellow bus riders and want the charm put back into Charm City.

(The larger issue of what’s at stake for Baltimore and this country is addressed in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun editorial, Why Freddie Gray ran )

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Eating Together… Can We Talk?

I’m anticipating the day when the waitperson serving my chicken pad thai sits down and wants to talk about eating. I guess I’d have to start off with the one thing I don’t like:

It’s papaya, the fresh luscious tropical delicacy my granddaughter can eat halves and halves and halves of until stopped by her mother, the jewel of the farmer’s market offered to me by my late mother with the query, “You still don’t eat papaya?”, the papaw, "fruit of the angels" according to Christopher Columbus and “deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency,” according to Whole Foods.

No, thanks.

Some people don’t eat some things for health reasons, some for religious reasons, some for philosophical reasons. The list of what one doesn’t like to eat is hopefully shorter than the list of those things one will eat, because it will be hard to find that McDonalds Happy Meal or KFC chicken while in India, Peru or Mongolia, not to mention in Hana or Lopez Village.

I’ll eat just about anything. Well, not the fermented soybeans called natto prized by many. I’ve seen it eaten with relish in mochi cakes, on hot rice and even served on pasta.

No, thanks.

The island comedian Frank DeLima had a stand-up routine where he said that every group that came to Hawaii brought some kind of “stink food.” The Japanese brought natto, the Portuguese brought bacalhau, the Koreans brought kim chee, the Filipinos brought bagoong. And, Frank said, every one thought that their stink food was the best kind of food.

That’s probably true around the world. In Sweden there’s surströmming (source of a near-international incident when British Air demanded that a Swede not bring a can of the delicacy on board). Go to Iceland and natives will tell you about the sublime pleasures of eating their fermented shark, hákarl. Like cheese? Like Limburger for its smell?

There’s a popular reality television show hosted by Andrew Zimmern called Bizarre Foods.  “Bizarre” seems a bit overblown since foods in their cultural context don’t seem that unusual.

My mother would soften the dried, strongly fragrant bakalhau just enough to get pieces of it into jars of pickling sauce with pieces of green and red peppers and chunks of onion. We’d vacation spear fishing and shore fishing on Kauai and my aunt would immediately clean and pickle the young goatfish, oama, after getting home from the beach—and we couldn’t wait to eat them whole, head, tail and all. When Mr. Dan from Maui visited, he’d bring the Hawaiian waters version of the puffer fish and clean the fish free of its venom sack and prepare the rich, oily fugu soup. Not stink and certainly not “bizarre” by my tastes.

“That will put hair on your chest,” my father with hairless chest used to say to me, who to this day is without a hairy chest despite eating most everything.

Now, let’s eat—together.

You can have my papaya.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Talking About Race, With or Without Coffee

It’s OK to talk about race if you have something to say about it and you’re not just talking about talking about race. I’ll start with a personal disclosure:

I am a Japanese person born in Hawaii and identify myself as a Hawaii Japanese. That sometimes confuses people who think that I am saying I’m part Hawaiian and part Japanese, which I am not. But I am not Japan Japanese nor am I mainland Japanese, a distinction that means a lot when you grow up Japanese in Hawaii. In any case, being Japanese makes me part of the Asian “race” as it were, or, as I would have been quaintly called in less enlightened times, an “oriental.”

My spouse is Caucasian. When in Hawaii, my spouse is a haole or white, the same kind of “white” I assume Esther Borg of Lopez Island meant in the ‘70s to describe me as “that fellow with the white woman.”

My two children are part Asian and part Caucasian. My grandson is one quarter Asian and three-quarters Caucasian. Folks say he looks like me but he’ll outgrow that. My granddaughter was adopted from Nepal. I carried her as an infant in the Hilo Hattie store in Honolulu and the Filipino sales women thought she was Filipino; a merchant at the farmer’s market complemented her on having a nice suntan. These days she’s fluent enough in Spanish to run around the playground and chatter away with her Hispanic playmates. These are the citizens of the new Pacific Century.

When I grew up in Hawaii there were more Asians than other “races” so I never felt like a member of a minority. It wasn’t a melting pot of fondue with different cheeses; it was a stew with different ingredients that I lived in. It was the norm. The “Japs” I watched in the war movies were the enemy, not the heroes. Our parents expected me to do well, to excel in school—and I did as I was expected. My best friends in school were Japanese and Chinese and Hawaiian; I dated a Japanese girl (didn’t like the way she kissed) and went steady with a hapa girl, part Hawaiian, part haole. The first black person I met in Hawaii was at a Quaker meeting.

The “mainland” is not Hawaii. In my first month away at college, the clerk at the college business office pondered cashing the check my parents had sent me, first wondering out loud what the exchange rate might be, then saying, “Oh, I guess it’s part of the states now.” First I thought that was stupid, then I thought it was ignorant. You know the difference, right?

I sat in a northern California restaurant in the late ‘60s with my girlfriend and her mother and heard a stone-faced woman sitting at a table across the way say in a voice loud enough for maybe only me to hear, “That poor woman, her heart must be broken.” Maybe it was my shaggy long hair and Fu Man Chu mustache that was breaking a heart, maybe being Asian, who knew?

Traveling across the country, I was refused service in Wyoming by a waitress who said, “We don’t serve Indians in here.” Stupid? Ignorant? 

I once stood around with some old white veterans in Sedro-Wooley as they chewed the fat and listened to them refer to chinks, Japs and niggers. I didn’t say anything, just thought, “I don’t know about the niggers but the chinks and Japs are going to kick your asses.” I thought the same thing when some Republican senator forgot his mic was hot before a Watergate hearing and called Senator Dan Inouye the “fat Jap.” His friend, Richard Nixon, got his ass kicked.

As a Hawaii Japanese I grew up knowing I was in the majority and knew I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than those around me. In Hawaii, I grew up with all the racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes but it didn’t affect my behavior or how I treated anybody else. I couldn’t.  We played on the same team, went to the same schools, lived in the same town, on the same island.

Living on the mainland, I still think of myself as being in the majority. Seattle bookseller David Ishi wanted me to know that we, meaning us Japanese, had to stick together because we were like a Third World country. I told David I never felt like a besieged minority. But others have. The pain and shame of the World War Two internment injustice was still raw for many mainland Japanese Americans.

I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than others; I never had problems of self-confidence or self-esteem. But I sat in a Japanese-American Citizen League meeting with Lori Matsukawa talking about mentorship to build the self-esteem of Washington Japanese kids and to encourage them to enter the news media.

In Seattle my daughter was bused and, as a member of a minority group, I got a job with the City of Seattle as a “minority fill,” meaning the position was open only to non-Caucasians. Mayor Charlie Royer’s administration had set a policy that city departments should racially reflect the communities they serve. That’s still a good policy to follow today.

When environmental groups decide to define issues in a way that is relevant to groups other than white, college-educated liberals, their staffs, their messengers, will begin to reflect the communities they serve.

While it’s a good first step to learn Spanish and Mandarin to live in the Pacific Century, there’s no understanding without knowing the difference between Mexicans and Guatemalans and between Beijing Chinese and standard Chinese speakers on Taiwan.

In Hawaii, it’s good to know the difference between Hawaiians, Tongans and Samoans because, as with Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, it’s easy to offend by not understanding the differences. Like me being a Hawaii Japanese.

Talking about race, with or without coffee, is easier than talking about religion. I think it begins by telling one’s story and taking the time to listen to the stories of others.

What say?

--Mike Sato