Clark Williams-Derry is research director at Northwest Environment Watch, a nonprofit research and communication center that promotes sustainability in the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, 6 Oct 2003


I am in a completely foul mood. What on God’s so-far-still-green earth was I thinking when I agreed to do this stupid diary?

Oh, that’s right, here’s what I was thinking, or should I say “thinking”: There’s an old managerial adage that, if you really want something done, you shouldn’t give it to an employee with time on her hands. You give it to your busiest employee: They’re the ones who tend to be the most productive. And since it’s crunch time at work — I really, really, really need to get a lot of stuff done, and fast — I guess I figured that the best strategy to improve my productivity was to make myself even busier. Duh.

The crunch at work is this: I’m supposed to be writing a book. Or, at least, coordinating the research for a book, which is the culmination of three years of research for my organization. And the deadline’s drawing nearer even as I write; with every second I spend on this diary, I plumb new depths of procrastination. But at least I’m keeping busy.

I’m the director of research for Northwest Environment Watch (NEW), based in Seattle. In marketing speak, NEW is a “research and communication center,” but I describe it to my friends as a think tank. The organization’s mission (more marketing speak, but this time a little more serious) is to promote an environmentally sound economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest, an area that includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and parts of Alaska, Montana, and California. It’s a region defined not by politics but by ecology: It contains all of the watersheds that flow through the temperate rainforests of the Pacific coast.

The project I’m working on is simultaneously simple to explain and maddening in its hubris: We’re attempting to assess the well-being and sustainability of the people and ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. But rather than try to capture everything, we’re just going to measure seven key trends — a sustainability scorecard, of sorts. In fact, that’s what we’re going to call it: the Cascadia Scorecard: Seven Key Trends Shaping the Future of the Northwest.

The maddening part is this: We have a staff of just three researchers, plus a handful of interns and volunteers. And together, we’re supposed to be tracking the health of a bioregion with 16 million people, give or take a few, and a land area exceeding 600,000 square miles. A tall order, indeed. It’s hard enough for me to keep track of my wallet and keys, let alone a bioregion nearly as large as Western Europe. Sheesh.

When I agreed to write this diary, I had intended to talk about all of the fascinating details (irony intended) of working on an environmental indicators project: the difficulties in selecting just a few indicators from hundreds of candidates; the pitfalls in finding reliable data; and the problems of communicating our results effectively, especially when the results are, well, kinda boring.

And I will talk about that some. But what I really want to talk about are my neuroses. I work for an environmental nonprofit, so I can’t afford a pricey psychiatrist. So perhaps you, dear reader, will do in a pinch.

So can I sit on your couch tomorrow?