In which I stumble upon one of the most happenin’ environmental conferences in the country
Last weekend I abandoned my cot in the supply closet at the Grist office to get out of Seattle for a spell and see the world. Specifically, I went to help celebrate a friend’s birthday down in Eugene, Oregon, and go to a Clumsy Lovers show in Corvallis. Sadly, the band’s bass player had strep, but I did discover that Corvallis’ Sunnyside Up bakery makes a tasty and cleverly-named treat called the “you’re doin’ a heckuva job brownie (with raspberries).” Hopefully a portion of its hefty $2.25 price tag goes towards ameliorating the heckuva disaster response that continues in New Orleans today …
The even more exciting part of last weekend’s adventure, though, was the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference going on at the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Though my emergence from the dark grey raincloud known as Seattle had me sporting the classic President-Bush-squinting-into-the-sun look all weekend, I somehow managed to spot a flyer for the conference and showed up just in time to see excellent keynote addresses by two figures that Grist readers are familiar with:
Evon Peter showed a clip from the documentary he’s featured in, Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, and spoke on a range of issues related to Indigenous peoples. He talked about how economic colonialism is exemplified in Alaska, and how it relates to the push to drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge. He also discussed his experiences becoming a leader for his people, combining traditional knowledge and beliefs with western politics, and his work with Native Movement.
I missed the first half of Jim Woolsey’s talk because I wanted to meet Evon, but I came back in just as he was stumping for alternative fuel options that can be implemented with relatively small changes to existing infrastructure. His repeated dropping of the switchgrass buzzword made me smirk, but he was an engaging speaker whose informed view gave me hope for the reality of alternative fuel use.
After dinner I went to a showing of Monumental, an excellent documentary about David Brower. Besides the inspirational qualities of the film’s subject, it had a great soundtrack and some stunning footage from the documentary that Brower made about Glen Canyon shortly before the dam went in.
I walked out of the film screening just in time to bump into Tory Amorello, a good friend from my alma mater, Whitman College. A senior this year, she took time off from writing her thesis to join environmental sociology professor Dr. Kari Norgaard and the rest of her environmental justice class to attend the conference. After we got past the “Damn, why didn’t I get to do this when I was going to Whitman” discussion, Tory filled me in on the meeting they had just had with Ron Reed, the cultural biologist quoted in the Seattle Times regarding the Klamath chinook fishing ban. In Tory’s words:
Saturday afternoon at the Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon, Ron Reed, cultural biologist for the Karuk Tribe of the Klamath River basin, gave a brief talk on themes of environmental justice and the historical significance of tribal knowledge and techniques. The Karuk tribe is currently involved in litigation talks with Scottish Power over the removal of several hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The case is based on the results of a study commissioned by the tribe that found that the lack of fish in the traditional diet of the Karuk tribe was placing them at acute risk for several deadly diseases, including diabetes and chronic obesity. Ron Reed is a fisherman on the Klamath River who uses the ancient techniques of his tribe.
Last year, only 20 fish were caught on the Klamath by Karuk fishermen, which is enough to feed hardly a fraction of the 3,000 plus members of the tribe. Chinook salmon are a critical part of the Karuk traditional diet, and are also imperative for the performance of several tribal rituals and ceremonies. Although it is hoped that the suit to stop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission re-licensing of the Scottish Power dam will eventually lead to the removal of the dams, it is less certain whether this will be enough to bring back the chinook. Pollution, increasing river temperatures and low seasonal runoff from the Sierra all make it an uncertain case. However, the dams are the most obvious barrier to spawning returns.
Ron also spoke on the theme of institutional racism and perpetuated neglect. He made comments about the fact that although he has had the same knowledge and been making the same cases for years, it was not until Dr. Kari Norgaard signed on to write the report for the tribe that they were able to garner any sort of public support. He commented on the deep irony of a system where tribal knowledge cannot be delivered by a tribal member but instead needs to be officially authored by someone who can “speak the language of politics” in order to start the ball rolling. As a result of Dr. Norgaard’s study, Ron has traveled to Washington, D.C. to give testimony about the state of the Klamath River. He has also been asked to sit on a California state legislative advisory panel and has become the unofficial voice of Northern California’s Native tribes.
After I said my goodbyes to Tory so she could get back to her thesis (on “the role of environmental NGOs in transitional governments and what their impacts are on state sovereignty”!), I got a call from a fellow Whitman alumni friend, now the development director for an environmental NGO in Eugene, who wanted to tell me about “the get-together” occurring later on in the evening. This turned out to be a bonfire kegger with live music out on someone’s farm, with tons of eco-folk in attendance. Earth First! had strong representation, and there was a funeral pyre effigy waiting to be torched. I didn’t stay long enough to watch it burn, but I ran into a colleague of Mitch Friedman, and I was handed a flier announcing an upcoming rally in Eugene in support of Craig Rosebraugh, who has been subpoenaed by a grand jury for his role as the unofficial spokesperson of the Earth Liberation Front.
Whew. Despite a distinct lack of “raging Celtic bluegrass” a la Clumsy Lovers, it was one heckuva weekend. Considering its epic-ness, I think one can expect Hollywood to pick up the story soon. I’m thinking Harold & Kumar II: Baked Goods At the Sunnyside Up Café would be an excellent title …