Coalition Works Toward a Sustainable Society

In 1991 when the debate over logging in the Northwest centered almost entirely on owls vs. jobs, a consortium of major religious, environmental, labor and community organizations came together to come up with some solutions to the growing crisis in timber dependent areas.

One of the first things they did was play an instrumental role in the development of the state's Jobs for the Environment program which employs displaced forest workers in environmental efforts.

By February of 1994, member organizations, including the Washington Environmental Council, the Washington Association of Churches, and the State Labor Council, had formally established the Coalition for a Livable Washington. The coalition's shared values focused on economic justice and environmental sustainability.

"Issues over the environment and our economy are going to continue to converge," says coalition director Don Hopps, "and we can sit back and continue to get ourselves into disastrous situations such as what has happened with our ancient forests, or we can come together to develop solutions that are mutually compatible."

Such solutions are at the heart of the Rural Voice Project, one of the coalition's current endeavors. The project arose out of a request from citizens from timber communities who were concerned about growing hostility between community groups and timber workers.

"Many people in timber communities felt that so much hostility had developed - hostility that was really based on stereotyping - that a sense of connection had really been lost," Hopps says. "As a result, they felt a great need to bring people together in a kind of retreat setting as opposed to more common environments where people just reiterate their positions."

The coalition agreed to sponsor the retreat. By framing the reasons why the conflict was occurring, outlining reasons for common ground, and providing an environment where participants could share their experiences on a personal level, the coalition was able to encourage reconciliation.

According to Hopps, the general consensus of participants was that the voice of people from timber communities had been excluded from the debate. The interests of the forest products industry, labor organizations, and environmental organizations were all represented, but the voice of people who lived in the communities affected by the crisis was absent.

"(Rural communities) cannot expect their views to be represented by environmental groups or farm groups," Hopps says. "Rural groups are looking for solutions that will sustain both local communities and the environment. It isn't that one side is any better than the other. It's just that they have a different focus."

In response to the discussion, the coalition has identified a small group of leaders from timber communities who are interested in finding sustainable solutions to problems. A small conference has been set for this spring to address whether or not an independent organization should be formed to advocate the sustainability of rural areas.

Expanding the range of debate and presenting new persectives on old problems is a value that underlies another brainchild of the coalition-the Religion and Public Life Program. The program will be similar to that of the coalition's quarterly policy forums to ask such critical questions as: What is the role of religion in the public arena? What is an appropriate and responsible role for religion in a pluralistic society? What kinds of religious values are important to public debate?

"Unfortunately, the groups who claim a religious affiliation and are the most irresponsible seem to get the most attention, so that the public perception becomes this either/or choice of 'Either I choose this far out religious candidate or I remain completely secular in my beliefs, and I don't think that is reality at all," says Hopps, who worked in the Justice and Peace office of the Catholic Archdiocese prior to his role as director of the coalition.

To reach the Coalition for a Livable Washington: 4759 15th Avenue NE, Seattle, 98105. (206) 524-1557.

-Holly Borba

New Report on Washingtonians' Diminished Dreams

Contrary to the official government line that the economy is on the upswing, economic reality for most Americans is pretty dismal. Wages and benefits have fallen in real terms, median family income has fallen, and families are working more for less.

While there's no big newsflash in all that, a recent report published by the Coalition for a Livable Washington, co-authored by Donald Hopps and Mark McDermott, provides a comprehensive look at these economic trends for our state. Entitled "Diminished Dreams: Underemployment in the United States and in Washington State," the report both summarizes these changes and offers an economic and political analysis of them.
Among the report's many findings for Washington state are:

The report goes on to provide a particularly valuable analysis as to why this current period of economic change is so different from that experienced at other times in history. It states that three major periods of explosive changes in trade, technological capacity, communication and the use of information have occurred during the 20th century: the period of the first World War, post-World War II, and the present. Only the present period however has seen a dramatic and continuing decline both in the quality of work and the quality of life. The report contends that the present period's uniqueness lies in the convergence of economic decline with a retreat from democracy.

Public confidence and participation in democratic processes have sunk to new lows. According to the report, there is hardly a sufficient public mandate in the U.S. for government to govern. Private interests have stepped into the breach, leading to the deregulation of industry (most notably banking, which led to the Savings and Loan scandal) and the inegalitarian tax policies of the Reagan administration. Wealth was redistributed upward, the deficit skyrocketed thereby reducing the capacity for government to act, and thirdly, the tax system was manipulated to encourage such practices as leveraged buy outs and off shore investments.
The decline of the labor movement - which the report asserts is the result of deliberate attack - has left our democratic system without its most important internal check. Although the changing structure of the American workplace has certainly contributed to the decline of the labor movement by eroding its traditional manufacturing base, the destruction of legal mechanisms protecting workers' rights to organize, bargain collectively and strike has had the greatest impact.
As a concluding note to its analysis of the roots of decline, the Coalition for a Livable Washington's report argues that the parallel loss of unions and political parties has been joined by the decline of other mediating institutions such as social service organizations, community groups, and even churches. These factors are generating a profound social crisis in which community life is giving way to a radical individualism which threatens our democratic experiment. Economic decline is but one outstanding example of this social crisis.

See above article for more information on the Coalition for a Livable Washington, and on how to obtain a copy of this report.

-Holly Borba

Americans Favor Renewables
Nearly two-thirds of the American people believe that the highest priority for federal energy research dollars should be energy efficiency or renewable resources, according to a national poll conducted in December by Republican pollster Vince Breglio. The poll showed only 11 percent of respondents believe that energy efficiency or renewables research should be chopped first when the new Congress reduces the Department of Energy's budget. In contrast, 44 percent said nuclear research should be cut first.
See accompanying chart. (Northwest Conservation Act Coalition)

BGH Manufacturer Acting Like a Bully
Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) manufacturer Monsanto, continues to use fear and intimidation tactics to push its product on the U.S. market. The biotech company has been rallying "pro-market" forces within the federal government and using them to trash existing laws that would benefit those fighting the industrial use of BGH.

BGH is a bio-engineered additive injected into dairy cows in order to stimulate their milk production. One year after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Monsanto permission to market BGH, its use continues despite nationwide reports of the hormone causing illness and death in cows injected with it. Most befuddling, the FDA is allowing Monsanto to go on producing BGH and wield influence over federal regulations regardless of a very angry, very vocal nationwide consumer base that has repeatedly come out against the use of such chemicals.
The latest victory for the biotech company occurred when US agriculture officials warned all dairy companies labeling their products "BGH Free" that they could have their products confiscated from store shelves. FDA officials maintain such labels give these companies "an unfair market advantage." Threats such as this have caused many dairies, and dependent companies such as Ben & Jerry's of Vermont, to remove the "safe" labels from their products.
Interesting side note: USFDA Deputy Commissioner, Michael Taylor, a proponent of BGH, was formerly counsel to Monsanto and other biotech firms. (Humane Farming Association)

Please see A reader response to the above piece.

Worse Living through Chemistry
UW researchers report that cancer-causing environmental toxins cause a greater amount of DNA damage than previously thought. The researchers examined fish in heavily polluted waters and discovered that as many as one in every fifteen molecules that carry the genetic code were damaged. This finding bolsters the hypothesis that DNA damage, such as that caused by toxins, may trigger cancer in animals and humans. The same research team, led by Dr. Donald C. Malins, has discovered similar DNA damage in women with breast cancer.

Danish scientists have struck new evidence linking pollutants to sperm count declines. Workers in Danish organic farms have more than double the sperm count of other blue-collar workers. The study was reported in The Lancet, a British medical journal. (Alternatives)

Around Washington
The Department of Ecology has been notified that the city of Ketchikan, Alaska will be shipping solid waste to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County, Washington. RABANCO, the firm operating the landfill, is required to notify the state of shipments of solid waste from outside the state. The first shipment is 100 tons and future shipments will arrive about twice a week.

In other news, Dept. of Ecology fined Weyerhaeuser $15,000 for violations of air quality at its lime kiln in Longview. The lime kiln is part of a process recycling chemicals used to initially digest wood chips, which are ultimately made into paper products. The violations were recorded last May and July. The company may apply to Ecology for relief of the penalty or appeal it to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days of receipt of the penalty. (WA State Dept. of Ecology)

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Contents on this page were published in the February/March, 1995 edition of the Washington Free Press.
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