Monday, January 22, 2018

“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone”

Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk"*
Guest blog by Tony Angell

A song echoes in my mind these days as I read the news about the condition of our natural environments here in the Pacific Northwest. Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi includes the refrain, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?  Pave paradise, put up a parking lot."

We continuously read about the dire conditions of our regional fisheries and the resulting effects on populations of marine life, from orcas to marine birds, which depend upon them as a source of sustenance.  The pace of timber cutting is far faster than the efforts to restore and sustain our forests.  With the loss of our woodlands, specific species face extinction and the biological diversity within them is compromised.   The services these natural systems give us, such as providing sustained food sources, reducing our carbon burden, retaining and purifying our water supplies or moderating our weather conditions, are also lost.

My long-standing concerns for our environment here in the Pacific Northwest span more than half a century. Much of what is being said today by way of concern has been said years ago.  It's clear to me we continue to expect a lot from the Puget Sound and Salish Sea but give relatively little back.  It is arrogant greed when we take for granted that this region is ours to use and consume without investment, reservation and stewardship.  It is ignorance when we do not inform ourselves of the consequences of unbridled consumption, disposal of wastes and land use policies that remove and jeopardize the integrity of ecosystems.

 I recognize and applaud the outstanding environmental organizations that are seeking to do habitat preservation and education, but the pace of their actions seems insufficient to win the race to recover and sustain our region. But organizations can't do the job that individuals must apply themselves to.

It is a subject unto itself that our reliance on technology is detaching us from our natural environments.  In part we are allowing ourselves to be enveloped by iPads, computers and games that cut us off from genuinely embracing nature where we can apply the full range of our senses and learn lessons essential for a healthy future. And it is not enough to simply walk through nature. We need to touch, smell, see, hear, taste and move with nature to begin to understand and appreciate our place in it.  A machine will not be the salvation of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. The job will be done by willing minds and hands working in company armed with knowledge and wisdom gained from experience with the earth and waters of our region.

In the early l980s, when Ken Balcomb and I wrote our book, Marine Birds and Mammals of Puget Sound, we took the pulse of the region and noted the conditions and populations of the species that provide the character of where we live.  With few exceptions those populations of birds and mammals, along with their habitats, have dramatically diminished.  Yes, with legal protections, eagles, snow geese and harbor seals have done well as measured by their increased numbers.  Hundreds of other species have not and given the tide of toxins we know resides within the populations of marine birds and mammals, some of these will decline as well.

In cherishing this place we call home, take a minute to consider what you might do to preserve it.  If we remain on the sidelines and don't collectively do something, then the meaning of Mitchell's song will sadly be realized.  Next time you look around from some familiar spot, it will be true that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

* Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk," for Seattle University. Titled "Aspirations," the piece was cast in bronze and will be installed and dedicated this spring. (Photo courtesy Tony Angell)

Artist, author and environmental educator Tony Angell lives and works in Seattle and on Lopez Island. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are You Worried About The Bomb? I Am.

If the debacle of last Saturday’s nuke attack alert false alarm in Hawaii had happened a week earlier, we’d have been on the way to the airport to fly back to the Northwest. Makes me think about what I’d have felt in the 38-minute interval before the alert was rescinded.

Some of us are old enough to have grown up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. I remember in 9th grade assembling in school in Hawaii to be told about how Russian ships were sailing towards US ships blocking Cuba and that we should be prepared for a possible nuclear war.

That was October 1962 and what we lived through was subsequently called the Cuban Missile Crisis. It didn’t lead to nuclear war but led to decades of nuclear arsenal buildup and policies like “mutually assured destruction.” But fear and anger are what I felt during the crisis.

Fear of dying or even surviving after a nuclear explosion. The only images I had were terrible images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the survivors. And anger, deep anger, that people far away were deciding whether I, a 15-year old, would live or die. (There was a lot more fear and anger a few years later when people far away were deciding whether young men would live or die in Vietnam.)

Of course, in Hawaii no one died last Saturday and the best thing that can be said about the screw up is that it showed we aren’t ready for nuclear war. Now they’ve fixed the alert procedure so that one person can’t screw it up. But they’re going to have to figure out how the state and feds and military coordinate if there is a real nuke alert.

I wrote to friends and family to make sure they were OK after their bad Saturday morning and everyone was fine although shaken up. The biggest irritation wasn’t the mistake but the inordinate amount of time it took to recall the alert. One colleague responded: “Anyone who knows anything about PR emergency would have said ‘Get out in front of this story immediately.’ That is either the head of Civil Defense or the Governor of the State should have been in front of cameras explaining what happened. To just put out a text message that it was a ‘mistake as people changed shifts’ was simply not good enough.”

I’m sure the alert procedures will be improved and tested and found to be adequate. But I worry about Trump and Kim Jong Un and China and Pakistan and India and Israel with fingers on their proverbial nuke “buttons.” And some terror group wanting to make a name for itself with its little “dirty” nuke bomb. And I worry that, like most anthropogenic disasters, the screw up will be human error, technological malfunctions or a sad and deadly combination.

Maybe if an alert is “for real” we will have 15 or so minutes to prepare. But for what? My cousin described her feelings as “so is this how it is going to end?” After discussing what had happened on Saturday with others and watching the local news, she described what seemed to be a tendency for young people to be more upset and panicked than older people. “I thought about it and decided that it is because they have their lives to live. We seniors have lived our lives... It would be awful to have it end so abruptly in such a violent way, but we have lived our lives,” she wrote. “It seems to me that in as much as we all need to voice our thoughts about the idiocy of the administration in DC at this time, the young need to really fight because it is they who will have to live with the consequences of the actions of the idiot in the White House.”

I think I still have enough fear and anger to go another couple of rounds but really, it’s a fight for the young. Fight for it, save it, protect it— it’s your world.

--Mike Sato

“Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.” -- Maj. T.J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Martin Would Go. You In?

In Creative Battle (Mark Ulriksen)
Deport the Dreamers. Kick the Salvadoran refugees out. Raid Motel 6 and 7-11s for undocumented immigrants. Cut medical funding for poor children. Cut medical subsidies for poor people. Build The Wall and hire 100,000 more ICE agents. Give big tax breaks to corporations, banks, oil companies and the super-rich. Remove financial safeguards. Open up Alaska wilderness and coasts for oil drilling. Deregulate to make profiteering easier. Reverse gay and lesbian rights. Bust pot users. And, oh yeah, remember that the ‘genius’ has a bigger nuke button than ‘rocket man’...

Had enough? Don’t say you can’t believe it’s happening— because it is. Don’t say it will all work out somehow— because it won’t. Don’t say you just can’t deal with all this shit—because there is more, a lot more, to come. All in the name of Making America Great Again.

At the first anniversary of the Trumpian administration and his Republican congress collaborators, I’m especially grateful to be reminded to stand with Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the women and men who stand up and speak out for dignity and equality under law. I’m grateful to be reminded that voting even in Alabama, especially in Alabama, can bring change without violence and hatred. I’m grateful to see states and local governments taking actions to stand up to unjust federal mandates. We will feed and house the homeless and the poor when Trump turns his back on people. We will provide safety and sanctuary when Trump’s border patrols breaks up families. We will reduce pollution and carbon when industries  despoil the land, waters and atmosphere.

Suffering some “outrage fatigue,” the exhaustion that comes from too much outrage, the weariness of anger and powerlessness? Buck up, take a cue from Martin: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We have a lot of challenge and controversy in our way and coming our way. Martin would go. I’m in. How about you?

--Mike Sato