Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Environment, Ecology, Livable Futures -- The Cacophony of Schizophrenia

This blog started with listening to NPR this morning grappling with the salmon vs sea lion story centered here in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, commercial fishermen and fisherwomen, both native and non-native, and the dams on the Columbia drainage, and the urban and rural pollution and degradation of river systems, none of that is on the table for discussion. It's about allowing the culling of sea lions waiting to eat incoming salmon. What a terribly unnatural act, sea lions eating marine protein.

But it's not just a fish story anymore, no matter how much I'd like to center it there -- it being the critical thinking and observation. Heck, I have background in marine biology and diving many parts of the world.  It's about thinking, about protesting, about really speaking against ignorance, speaking against this tool the corporations have used to prop up their profit kingdoms -- unending consumerism and opportunistic greed while a concerted effort to cull intelligent retorts to power are being strangled by a consumer and corporate society that has seen the middle class culled like those sea lions waiting for the food they have depended on for several million years.

While I listen to the fish piece on local Seattle radio, there are larger stories tied to the environment. Tim DeChristopher has been mentioned in this blog before. He was sentenced today. So, what do we do when an educated, peaceful American, using the best tools of democracy, that is, civil disobedience, is sentenced  to prison for two years for highlighting the imbalance of the oil-gas-energy industry going after some of this country's commons, land we hold as a collective society? Here's from Democracy Now --

Environmentalist Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to 2 Years For Disrupting Federal Oil and Gas Auction The environmental activist Tim DeChristopher has been sentenced to two years in prison for a bold action that prevented a mass sell-off of public wilderness in 2008. DeChristopher was convicted of interfering with a public auction when he disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights in Utah. DeChristopher posed as a bidder and won drilling lease rights to 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from oil and gas extraction. On Tuesday, DeChristopher was fined $10,000 and immediately taken into custody to begin serving his 24-month sentence. Twenty-six people were arrested protesting the sentencing outside the courthouse. Speaking in court, DeChristopher reportedly said: "You can put me in prison, but it will not deter my future of civil disobedience and it won’t deter others who are willing to fight to defend a livable future."

We have a bumpy crossroads to negotiate today, in a beat up Chevy running on ethanol with corporations gaining more and more power in our democracy, turning it into a corporatocracy. Here's the gist from Bruce Levine on how to defeat it:

Many Americans know that the United States is not a democracy but a "corporatocracy," in which we are ruled by a partnership of giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite and corporate-collaborator government officials. However, the truth of such tyranny is not enough to set most of us free to take action. Too many of us have become pacified by corporatocracy-created institutions and culture.

Some activists insist that this political passivity problem is caused by Americans' ignorance due to corporate media propaganda, and others claim that political passivity is caused by the inability to organize due to a lack of money. However, polls show that on the important issues of our day - from senseless wars, to Wall Street bailouts, to corporate tax-dodging, to health insurance rip-offs - the majority of Americans are not ignorant to the reality that they are being screwed. And American history is replete with organizational examples - from the Underground Railroad, to the Great Populist Revolt, to the Flint sit-down strike, to large wildcat strikes a generation ago - of successful rebels who had little money but lots of guts and solidarity.

The elite spend their lives stockpiling money and have the financial clout to bribe, divide and conquer the rest of us. The only way to overcome the power of money is with the power of courage and solidarity. When we regain our guts and solidarity, we can then more wisely select from - and implement - time-honored strategies and tactics that oppressed peoples have long used to defeat the elite. So, how do we regain our guts and solidarity?

1. Create the Cultural and Psychological "Building Blocks" for Democratic Movements

2. Confront and Transform ALL Institutions that Have Destroyed Individual Self-Respect and Collective Self-Confidence

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, "All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike."

3. Side Each Day in Every Way With Anti-Authoritarians

4. Regain Morale by Thinking More Critically About Our Critical Thinking

5. Restore Courage in Young People

6. Focus on Democracy Battlefields Where the Corporate Elite Don't Have Such a Large Financial Advantage

7. Heal from "Corporatocracy Abuse" and "Battered People's Syndrome" to Gain Strength

8. Unite Populists by Rejecting Corporate Media's Political Divisions

9. Unite "Comfortable Anti-Authoritarians" and "Afflicted Anti-Authoritarians

10. Do Not Let Debate Divide Anti-Authoritarians

Spirited debate is what democracy is all about, but when debate turns to mutual antipathy and divides anti-authoritarians, it plays into the hands of the elite. One such divide among anti-elitists is over the magnitude of change that should be worked for and celebrated. On one extreme are people who think that anything is better than nothing at all. At the other extreme are people who reject any incremental change and hold out for total transformation. We can better unite by asking these questions: Does the change increase individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and increase one's energy level to pursue even greater democracy? Or does it feel like a sellout that decreases individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and de-energizes us? Utilizing the criteria of increased self-respect and collective self-confidence, those of us who believe in genuine democracy can more constructively debate whether the change is going to increase strength to gain democracy or is going to take the steam out of a democratic movement. Respecting both sides of this debate makes for greater solidarity and better decisions.

To summarize, democracy will not be won without guts and solidarity. Risk-free green actions - such as shopping from independents, buying local, recycling, composting, consuming less, not watching television and so on - can certainly help counter a dehumanizing world. However, revolutions that truly transform fundamental power inequities and enable us to feel like men and women rather than children and slaves require risk, guts and solidarity.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist. His Web site is
So, how looney are we now in this world where salmon in the Pacific Northwest are on the brink of going extinct -- wild stocks, that is -- and now we see an attack on sea lions as part of the reason for the salmon species demise:

Washington, Oregon and Idaho officials should kill up to 30 sea lions a year to protect salmon trying to migrate up the Columbia River.

That's the recommendation of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which drafted it as one of four options for aiding salmon and steelhead that are scooped out of the water and eaten by sea lions below the Bonneville Dam. About one in four fish eaten there is from an endangered stock.

Like a dam on any river, migratory fish congregate at its base, making them easy targets for fishermen of any species. Sea lions, which are an endangered species themselves, have learned to take advantage of this, and no amount of harassment has deterred a few dozen persistent scavengers.

Dams are one of the major reasons that salmon are in such trouble. Besides impeding fish, dams also interrupt the normal flow of nutrients in river ecosystems, which upsets the productivity of the wildlife at the base of the food web.

Removing the dam was not among the options NOAA is considering. The options include:

1. doing nothing

2. maintaining the status quo (ineffective harassment)

3. killing those sea lions that ignore nonlethal harassment (about 30 animals)

4. killing any sea lion within five miles of the dam (about 150 animals)

NOAA recommends option 3. If the public supports NOAA's recommendation, the states would be allowed to kill only those sea lions that return repeatedly to feast on the salmon below the dam, despite being shot at with rubber bullets, firecrackers, noisemakers and other deterrents.

The episode highlights how difficult it can be to restore endangered species in the wild – or in this case, a natural system that has been highly altered by human activity. Ecosystems are complex, and wildlife is adaptable. There's no win-win when it comes to sea lions and salmon, short of reversing decades of human development – but we, too, are part of the ecosystem for these creatures

Read more:


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal government failed to explain why it lets state officials kill sea lions, while humans are allowed to take comparable or larger catches of the endangered salmon and steelhead.

Angry fishermen along the river have protested over the last decade as growing numbers of the sea lions clustered at the base of Bonneville Dam, where fish waiting to head upriver to spawn are easy pickings.

In 2008, the federal government gave Oregon and Washington state agencies the go-ahead to kill the hungriest of the sea lions, a decision challenged by the Humane Society of the United States.

In the last two years, 24 of the California sea lions have been killed. They are captured at the dam and taken to a facility where they are given a lethal injection by a veterinarian.

"The government's plan to kill sea lions for eating fish, while at the same time authorizing fishermen to take four times as many fish as sea lions, is irrational," Humane Society Vice President Jonathan Lovvorn said Tuesday in a statement.

The appeals court noted that -- depending on how large the yearly runs prove to be -- commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries are allowed under a separate federal assessment to catch 5.5% to 17% of the salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.
All of these sustainability issues tie into two large areas of this country's struggle -- as well as other countries' struggles: how real journalism is being gutted, and how education for youth -- K-12 and college -- is being co-opted by the corporate bottom line. Like Amtrak, education in this country SHOULD not have to MAKE a profit. Where did this concept come from? Now, we see rural and small USPS stations being staged to be axed because our society doesn't value public services like the US Postal system? Where do these ideas and collective amnesia moments come from?

Lack of critical thinking CAUSED by lack of journalism, lack of real education, the corporate bottom line.
"They tried hazing, often using loud noises, sometimes things like fireworks, to scare them away from where the salmon are," he says. "But particularly with the hazing, there are sea lions who have come every year who know what the hazing is about, and they aren't scared by it anymore. So ... that isn't entirely successful either."

Commercial fisherman and others involved in the industry have also taken interest in the situation. Manning says fishing practices have been central to court arguments.

"The argument being, 'Well, there are fishermen out there catching a lot of salmon. Why should we let them do it and turn around and kill sea lions for consuming salmon?' " Manning says.

Considering the commercial or sport fishing industry and money from the federal and state governments used to protect salmon, he says, "there are millions, even billions, of dollars at stake."

"In the middle of all this are sea lions," Manning says," who are very publicly and obviously eating salmon, so it makes it a situation where certainly politicians want to take some action."

Crazy news, crazy thinking.

More on Tim here --
Prison Sentence Handed Out for Environmental Activist Tim DeChristopher

On March 3, 29 year-old Tim DeChristopher was found guilty of 2 felonies for bidding on oil and gas leases (that he didn't have the money to pay for) in an attempt to save public land from oil and gas drilling. Today, a judge in Salt Lake City handed down a sentence of 2 years in prison and $10,000.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Defense attorney Ron Yengich said at trial that DeChristopher sought to give people hope in the face of environmental degradation, though the judge did not allow him to argue that his actions were necessary to save the planet. Before jury deliberations that some described as emotional, Yengich told jurors they would have to decide "whether a spur-of-the-moment desire for hope is a federal crime."

Prosecutors said after trial that they wouldn't seek the maximum -- 10 years for violations of federal onshore leasing law. However, they filed a sentencing motion last week rejecting leniency. A probation officer's presentence report had suggested a lighter sentence because DeChristopher had taken responsibility for his actions.

But prosecutors noted DeChristopher's post-trial defiance, including an impassioned speech on the courthouse steps saying others would have to follow him to prison "if we are to achieve our vision."

Since his trial, DeChristopher has been influential in helping to inspire other activists to stand up for climate justice. As government leaders fail to make any progress on working toward real solutions to the climate crisis, I wonder if we will increasingly see more folks stepping up en masse to engage in civil disobedience and perhaps some monkey-wrenching.

You can read a pre-trial interview that DeChristopher did with AlterNet's Tina Gerhardt --

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