Monday, 20 Mar 2000

FORT WALTON, Fla.

Today started as an endurance test. We arrived via taxi from the Fort Walton airport at the rental beach house at 4 a.m. No empty beds, no instructions, so two of us slept on the living room floor. For two hours, that is, until the breakfast-makers appeared and began to work. Oh, this takes me back a long time — to my college days!

During the day we meet and talk in a group of 20, as well as in smaller groups. We talk about strategies to save wild forests by mounting market campaigns, that is, grassroots activist campaigns targeting corporations that buy or sell forest products unsustainably.

The passion and commitment of the participants are palpable. This is what keeps me going in this work. I feel honored to be among this youthful group of young adults and young-at-heart adults.

As a biologist (I have a PhD in ecology), I believe that our planet’s life support systems are in danger, and fundamental changes are needed to achieve a sustainable materials economy — or any other kind of sustainability. Grassroots, bottom-up activism is needed to challenge the status quo and effect the kinds of fundamental changes that are needed.

Why is a recycling group at a meeting of forest activists? We are seeking ways to link our zero-waste vision and America’s passion for recycling with campaigns to protect wild places. Ultimately, I think, that is why I recycle at home and spend most of my waking hours doing this work — to save the cathedral-like forests and other wild lands that have inspired me.

Two-thirds of all U.S. forest products (paper and wood) are thrown out every year, making up almost half the trash we send to landfills and incinerators. For my money, trying to save forests without dealing with the wasting treadmill — the linear path from forest to landfill — is a shell game. Landfills and incinerators function to remove resources from the economy so that new resources can be harvested to replace them.

It is the same shell game I played while fighting landfills in South Georgia in the early 1990s. Hit with a barrage of proposals for megadumps for out-of-state waste, we were fabulously successful in defeating them. But several years later, our nation’s rate of wasting resources continues to increase. We just push the waste elsewhere. Some forests are saved while overall tree cutting increases elsewhere. These trends are not sustainable.

It is not easy to convince forest activists engaged in campaigns to stop old-growth logging to take recycling seriously as part of the solution. But this group is receptive and eager to integrate recycling and zero waste demands into their forest campaigns.

In the evening, we all go out to a Thai restaurant and enjoy beer and camaraderie. Afterwards, the party moves on and I retreat for a good night’s sleep.