Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Coal: Two-Minute Drill

Coal Carriers vs. Ferries  (RE Sources)
Last Saturday I got to say in two minutes what one of my concerns was about the Gateway Pacific coal export facility proposed in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and what I’d like decision-makers to investigate when making a decision on the permit application.

The process itself is what’s called ‘scoping’ for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, supposedly the basis upon which local, state and federal jurisdictions will make their decisions. You can read all about what ‘scoping’ entails here.

Saturday’s meeting in Bellingham will be followed by public meetings on Nov. 3 in Friday Harbor, Nov. 5 in Mount Vernon, Nov. 13 in Seattle, Nov. 29 in Ferndale, Dec. 4 in Spokane, and Dec. 12 in Vancouver WA. Detailed schedule here.

If you choose to make a verbal comment at one of the public meetings, you have to do it in two minutes or less. It’s a good idea to comment on some aspect of the project that affects you personally and to conclude your comment asking that the environmental impact study address a specific question or an issue the project raises.

Two minutes, as many of us find out, isn’t much time to express your care for the Salish Sea and your concern about its threats. But it can be done and it’s really a fun exercise for the good.

Here’s what I said in two minutes:

“Over the last 25 years, I have worked with others to protect and recover our endangered Southern resident orca whales, the endangered salmon they eat and we eat, and the places the whales and the salmon depend on for their health. 
An oil spill in these waters would devastate the orcas whales and the salmon we are working so hard to restore to health. 
Every year, over ten thousand large vessels enter and exit the Strait of Juan de Fuca to and from the Pacific Ocean. Over the last 25 years, we have advocated for stricter oil spill prevention and for more rapid and effective response to oil spills. 
This proposed coal export facility and a proposed oil export facility in Vancouver BC will add over fifteen hundred large vessel transits to the narrow waterways in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. 
This EIS should examine:
One, how much will more large vessel traffic increase the risk of an oil spill in these waters,

Two, how adequately can our system of oil spill response and recovery protect our shores and waters when large vessel traffic increases,

Three, how much will more large vessel traffic affect the health of endangered Southern resident orcas —the effects of more underwater noise, more vessel interaction, and prey availability. 
And last, please examine all measures the shipping industry must take to minimize the risk of an oil spill and to maximize timely response and recovery of oil should a spill occur. 
If you cannot ensure the safety of our shorelines, our whales and our salmon, don’t permit this project.”

Now, you try— and let me know how it turns out.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Colors— You Mean It’s Not Jack Frost?

I thought it was simple: While I’m sleeping, this spirit— something between Jack Flash and Jack Black — paints fall colors on the leaves when it starts to get colder and the nights get longer.

Turns out that it’s a bit more complicated and, if you like chemistry more than myth, a bit more interesting

Trees, the kind whose leaves change color in the fall, produce green chlorophyll in their leaves to photosynthesize sunlight, water, minerals and carbon dioxide into sugars which they live on.

When the nights get longer and days cooler, trees make less and less green chlorophyll and different chemical pigments become more prominent in different trees or at different stages of leaves turning-- reds, oranges, browns — as the sap leaves the trees, go down the twigs and trunk and are held in the roots until spring.

Cool, eh?

That might account for how the leaves change colors but how do you think the frost gets dusted on the garden in the early morning this time of year?

--Mike Sato

Monday, October 22, 2012

“Obama Lies America Dies”

That’s what the bumper sticker on the SUV with the Romney/Ryan sticker said.

My first reaction in the post office parking lot was to punch out the old guy who got out of the vehicle.

Of course I didn’t but my visceral anger surprised me. I hear all kinds of ignorant people saying ignorant things and sometimes people know better, which makes them stupid people saying stupid things. And I usually shrug it off.

But this crossed the line. This was political hate speech.

I’ve disagreed with a lot of people but in only one or two instances would I have considered the disagreement based on the other person having told a lie, that is, made “a false statement with deliberate intent to deceive.” There have been false statements and misunderstanding but very rarely a deliberate intent to deceive.

The President hasn’t lied, and neither is America dying.

Some places and people are having a hard time of it and we need to fix a lot of systems to make sure everyone has a fair shot at a good living— but America isn’t dying. To say America is dying is an insult to all the people who are working hard to make it work better.

The real trouble with political hate speech is that it spurs hateful reactions, like wanting to punch someone out. It doesn’t invite discussion; it kills discussion. I want to live in a civil society where I can discuss the facts that support my values and differ in my conclusions without hating those with whom I might disagree.

This isn’t just about political speech during election years. It’s about how we conduct ourselves in advocating for and against a major project like coal ports and pipelines, shoreline developments, endangered species protection, mineral extraction, logging, fisheries regulation, water rights— you name your issue.

So, what say?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saving Puget Sound: Brand, Re-brand, No Brand

My colleague Joan Crooks of Washington Environmental Council wrote me a nice email on Monday dressed up just like a message from People For Puget Sound. She even got the typography of capitalizing the “F” in “For” right. Maybe it was meant to be new wine in old skin or maybe old wine in new skin or old wine in old skin —somebody help me here— but it just tasted weird and strange.

In essence the message was that the People For Puget Sound saving Puget Sound beat will go on— somehow and soon, stay tuned. I will. After all, Joan has my email address and everyone else’s that was in the massive database of the now-defunct 20-plus year-old organization.

The “People For Puget Sound” brand, however, is pretty heavily damaged. Here’s why:

The organization knew well in advance of founder and executive director Kathy Fletcher’s retirement in 2011 that it needed to rebrand itself from “Kathy Fletcher’s organization.” Hence, it spent nearly two years upgrading its administrative systems, updating its strategic plan and developing an executive director search and transition plan.

The new executive director would be chosen to carry out the strategic plan with all systems operational and move the organization forward into the next decade. The transitional pivot in the rebranding was the 20th anniversary celebration throughout 2011, first looking back on the organization’s accomplishments, then— and most important-- looking forward to the next 20 years under new leadership introduced throughout the Sound at community and member events.

New executive director Tom Bancroft and the board of directors chose not to follow the transition plan, instead choosing to reduce work force to reduce operating expense. Thence began the eclipse of People For Puget Sound: declining public engagement, declining public profile, declining influence. Members and the very people of Puget Sound weren’t told what, if anything, the organization was doing and accomplishing for the Sound. No accomplishments, no funds raised. No bangs, no bucks. Classic death spiral.

The board and Tom Bancroft never rebranded People For Puget Sound; they sank “Kathy Fletcher’s organization.” And now, WEC has taken the nameplate and says one day she will float again.

Will she float again as a USS Nimitz alongside WEC’s USS Stennis? Or a dinghy towed behind the WEC yacht? Will wait to see.

--Mike Sato