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Balance not impossible


I'm back in my exile to the hemisphere's most northerly banana republic. Louisiana. 7 days spent in what I fondly refer to as middle earth. Some call the Pacific Northwest the country's Far Left coast. Others refer to it as the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ecotopia. My stay had the sense of being home again in a place I had lived for 15 years and never meant to leave. So it goes.

On the western side of the Cascade Mt range there is a markedly different ethos. Simply stated, earth comes first. Sure, there are problems. Developers will always behave as developers no matter where they are found. For them development, the act of, is the main thing. With one developed tract of land completed time to move onto the next. Loggers have never, will never, complete the acts of dotting Is and crossing Ts. They refuse the recognition that deforestation results in the none too infrequent mudslides, not to mention general degredation of the land. Still, there is a difference in the PNW. It is as ethical as it is practical, practical in the political sense.

Some twenty years ago state legislation was passed forming what is called the Land Growth Management act. Not surprisingly, it was a matter of three women legislators pushing through the bill. Until recently there were three states in the union with similar laws governing land use. Now there are only two: WA & OR. FL's Gov Scott, a tea drinker, scrapped that state's land use laws.

The law has made all of the difference, from the very small to the very large. It is as close as anyone can come to giving the earth a self-determining voice. Developers, city, county, state governments, all are governed by the act. As are property owners whose most cherished belief, that they have a right to use their property however they see fit, is directly challenged. In the extreme examples of a contest of wills, all parties are brought together before an officiating board, each with his own petition or special interest, case is heard, judgment given. Judgment can be appealed to the state's supreme court. But that rarely seems to happen. And so what gets protected are watersheds, forests, prairies, marshes. Said again it is as close as the earth can come to having some say in how she gets used. To me this is what is key: environmentalist become politician, even lobbyist.

I left the PNW in '02, having visited twice since. Both times I've been surprised by how successfully the brakes have been put on land use. For example, there developers are required to foot the bill, not local government, for all infrastructure development necessitates. Service and auxillary roads especially. Another example is how farm owners can't just sell off large tracts of land to the highest bidder. Sale has to be approved, land use regulated. Then there are the little things, what itself speaks to a certain ethos. Almost no monster trucks and SUVs on the highways. Many compact cars instead. City streets made friendly to pedestrians and bicycles alike. Neighborhoods whose intersections have round abouts, traffic circles, intended to slow down traffic. And maybe the best recycling programs I've ever seen. Recycling not even something most people think twice about anymore, having become a reflexive action.

Question I keep asking myself is: why there and not here? Why the PNW for such an ethos and not the deep south? Reasons must be several. The PNW has a long tradition, reaching back to the late 19th C, of both populist tendencies and utopian visions. More than a few communities were first founded around idealistic principles involving communality. Certainly no patrician heritage there, unlike in the deep south. Then there was the marked influx of hippies and environmentalists, they call them old growth hippies now, in the early 70s. Many of whom got smart, infiltrated the system through both education and politics. And they can be extreme. I remember one story about when McDonalds decided to build a restaurant in the town of Port Townsend. They received threats of fire bombing. The compromise struck was for that dreaded McDonalds arch to be constructed at half the usual size. I have personally witnessed how extreme Seattle's environmentalists can be, not afraid to organize and take to action. The lesson many PNW environmentalists have learned is that power begets power. The successful reaction to bad habits and practices involving environmental degredation results in further such reactions. Finally there is this. An ethos is not an ethos until it becomes an unquestioned attitude prevailing through out an entire community. That seems to be the case in the PNW, at least west of the Cascades. Eastern WA a different story, staunchly republican.

Something else I noticed not entirely tangential to these reflections. Olympia, state's capitol, has its embedded, literally speaking, OWS encampment on the shore of Capitol lake, downtown, across the water from capitol campus. At least 2 dozen tents I counted on a very cold and rainy afternoon. Not a cop in sight. Park grounds clean of trash and garbage.

In the PNW they seem to do things differently. Not perfect and the forces at play not always benign. Still, balance not impossible.

Tere
Nov/28/2011, 4:27 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: Balance not impossible


Sounds like a fine place to re-charge, Tere. Reason for optimism,

Chris
Nov/28/2011, 4:51 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 


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