Navarro River Redwoods

Catching trout and steelhead in the Navarro River are among my earliest memories. My family owns a small parcel of land near the town of Navarro, and I spent a lot of time up there as a kid. If you've never heard of the Navarro it's because it's a small river in the coastal range of California, backwoods redwood country. In my lifetime the runs of steelhead were enough to spot many fish in the deeper pools, enough to catch a meal with little work.

The last time I caught a steelhead in my river was 14 years ago. I can remember one year, it must have been the early or mid-1990s, when the timber company that owned the huge tracts of land surrounding the Navarro's north fork and main channel made devastating cuts far up the watershed. Mud poured downstream as the winter rains came and went. Gills choked with mud and the river scoured thoroughly by molten earth, few of the fish survived to spawn. Many of the river's trout were killed along with other wildlife. On the logged hillsides top soil that built up over thousands upon thousands of years was washed away just like that.

It was the Louisiana Pacific Corp. in one of their last liquidations of the redwoods that caused this disaster. The river is recovering slowly, as are the hillsides, but it takes time to heal a forest ecology. LP sold out its Mendocino holdings afterward to Mendocino Redwood Company, a corporation set up by the Fisher family (owners of the Gap clothing stores). Other timber giants sold out to other similarly set up companies like Humboldt Redwood Company, etc.

After the early 1990s the last of the big profitable timber was all but wiped out in California's coastal range, if it wasn't saved and protected in parks like Headwaters. Having destroyed the "resources" they were exploiting, and making a terrible name for themselves in the process, the corporate timber industry has been busy in recent years pursuing a new strategy to make the forests profitable again, and to rebuild a good name in the rural communities they trashed and abandoned.

The first part of the strategy is plain and simple greenwashing. Companies like Mendocino Redwood Company have gone to great lengths to portray themselves as stewards of the land, as though they were more interested in creating habitat for Oncorhynchus mykiss and Sequoia semperviren than filling their profit margins. Truth is MRC et al. are just as hungry to cut timber as a commodity and make profits for their corporate parents as the past bad-boys like Maxxam and Louisiana Pacific. The difference now is that there's not a major stand of profitable trees for them to destroy. Thus sitting on twenty, fifty, or one hundred year old trees and waiting for the magic decade down the line when they'll fetch a pretty penny isn't difficult. They're investing for a longer-term take here. Much of the forests can't be cut because they're so immature and filled with tan oak, madrone and other growth that is vital in mother nature's work to heal the land, but isn't economically worth anything to corporate landholders. So they'll wait.

The second part of the strategy has been to tie up foundation and public money and attention in this process. I'll be writing more about this kind of subsidization to the timber industry in the near future, so I won't go into here, but it has everything to do with public relations and getting capital besides their own to shoulder the process of healing the forests and regrowing mature redwoods, firs, and pines.

If you'd like to see a prime piece of pro-timber industry PR check out the October, 2009 National Geographic Magzine article "Redwoods, the Super Trees."

My buddy Will Parrish and I published a little letter to the editor a recent Anderson Valley Advertiser ("Ameirca's last newspaper!") to critique the article. We've got a lot more in store soon, so stay posted. In the meantime you can read our letter below.



Dear Friends,

Back in October super-adventurer Michael Fay arrived in Caspar for a talk about his recent transect (a fancy word for a hike) through the redwoods, from Oregon to Big Sur. His presentation coincided with National Geographic Magazine’s feature story written by John Bourne on the redwoods in that month’s issue.

As dwellers in some of the remaining stands of coastal temperate rain forest in Mendocino County, we found Bourne’s convivial portrayal of the Pacific Northwest timber industry in its present incarnation detestable. Whatever his good intentions may have been, Bourne scarcely could have provided more favorable coverage to the corporate chameleons who currently seek to maximize their profits at the expense of our local ecosystems. Fay’s advocacy of this corporate greenwashing campaign, portrayed throughout Bourne’s article, is equally disturbing. In Caspar this agenda was on full display.

The main thread of the story is Michael Fay’s politically misguided, essentially pro-industry line, which maintains that “better managed” forests can provide “high-quality lumber” while actually preserving forest ecosystems. Despite their newfangled paens to “sustainable forestry,” the timber industry’s goal in this area remains fundamentally unaltered, even under the green-washed auspices of companies like Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) and Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC): to turn forests into a commodity, so as to accumulate profits in their own coffers and those of distant banks. Altruistic notions of jobs for locals and clean rivers for fish factor in only to the extent that they benefit the company’s public images. Their PR operations have grown far more sophisticated under the direction of the Fisher Family than they were under the stupidly brazen Maxaam and Georgia Pacific multi-national timber firms in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The carefully crafted “green” image of HRC and MRC rests largely on the image they have cultivated with help from their chief forester, Mike Jani — a man invoked in Bourne’s piece as a model proponent of the new politics of sustainable forestry. Notably, Jani is known to many forest defenders in Santa Cruz as “The Butcher of Butano,” in connection with his role in the liquidation of the final 4,000-acre tract of unprotected residual old growth redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains while serving as chief forester of Big Creek Lumber Co. in the early to mid-nineties. Jani accomplished this feat in spite of Santa Cruz County’s logging regulations, which are perhaps the most stringent in the country. This sort of bureaucratic acumen makes Jani an ideal representative of a pair of firms that seek to maximize their profits while maintaining the appearance that they are complying with the loophole-ridden standards for “sustainable timber harvesting” set by the Forest Stewardship Council (of which Jani happens to be a director).

The massive swaths of ecosystem to which MRC has laid waste during its decade-plus “stewardship” of Mendocino County forestland provide the clearest testament to the dangers inherent in a greenwashed timber industry. As the Redwood Coast Watershed Alliance and other local activists have copiously documented, MRC has fragmented and eliminated thousands of acres of redwood and conifer forest via dozens of clear-cuts, including in sensitive (and now significantly more polluted) river ecosystems of the endangered coho salmon.

We find equally disturbing the complex schemes to financialize the redwoods and other forest ecosystems, whereby large swaths of wooded land are sold as “carbon offsets” to major polluters like the coal industry. These “carbon markets” do not meaningfully protect forests, nor do they transparently address the problem of global warming and industrial pollution. You’ll hear more about these carbon offsets in the near future as financial giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are very excited about them, eager to press National Geographic’s staff in their service.

Michael Fay’s desire to provide jobs for timber workers at the same time that forest ecosystems are preserved is admirable. However, the corporate application of his ideas will invariably lead to the further destruction of what little is left of the vitally important remaining wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. After all, corporations are profit-generating machines by their very nature — never forget that their primary legal responsibility to their shareholders is to turn the largest profit possible, not to support local economies and healthy ecosystems.

Will Parrish / Darwin BondGraham
Laytonville / Navarro


The Copenhagen Accord: Suicide Pact?

The COP15 talks in Denmark are over now. The "accord" reached is nonbinding, asking states only to "take note" of its objectives.

What are its objectives? Drafted by the USA with input from major industrializing states whose CO2 emissions are rising fast —China, Brazil, India, South Africa— the "accord" aims to keep temperature increases only within 2 degrees C (3.6 F). It does not set any emissions targets for any nations to ensure meeting this global goal.

The accord vaguely describes a plan to spend $100 billion a year in "aid" money in those nations that are already feeling the effects of desertification, sea level rise, storm intensification, and other disruptions associated with GHG emissions. This $100 billion —a sum that is less than 1/6 of the USA's annual military budget— will furthermore not be available until 2020. Anyone who has researched the current and coming impacts of climate change on impoverished nations knows that $100 billion is very inadequate figure. Africa alone is expected to experience upwards of $195 billion in economic losses each year in the very near term due to changes in weather patterns.

Expedited funds have been proposed for the next few years, but like the $100 billion called for in 2020, impoverished nations are being asked to endorse the US drafted plan in order to receive "aid," a situation many have recognized as blackmail. The recognition of these "aid" packages as a climate debt owed to impoverished nations by wealthy industrial nations has been rejected by US and European heads of state, just as past calls for reparations for colonialism have been derided, just as the global movement for debt jubilee has been ignored.

For all that the accord doesn't do, it's worth noting what it does accomplish. It does prime the pump for the globalization of carbon markets, a goal lusted after by major western banks, financial corporations, and polluters like the coal and oil industries who seek ways to continue and expand their operations while making profits off the privatization of forests, soils, and indigenous lands (see the Indigenous Environmental Network for more info).

Unacknowledged in many news accounts of the Copenhagen Accord is the logic by which the deal was reached. It appears that the USA working principally with China has drafted a plan that more or less extends the global economic status quo far into the future. These two enormously interdependent economies (China as a global manufacturing base, the US a a consumer market and finance capitol) appear to have agreed on an accord that does not significantly alter either economy's growth rate, or the fundamentals of their relationship, which it should be noted is entirely based on the massive emissions of CO2 and other toxic industrial pollutants in both states.

Europe, Australia, Canada and other so-called "developed" nations appear to be going along with this deal as it protects their similarly parasitic relations with their former colonies in the global south. Rising powers like Brazil and India were instrumental in the deal, acting from a perspective similar to China.

The global south (i.e. the majority of the world's peoples), including nearly every African nation and dozens of states in Latin America, and Southeast Asia responded to the deal with condemnation and outrage. The negotiator of the G77, representing the world's 130 poorest nations said:

"[This accord] is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries. It's a solution based on values that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces."

Wealthy states quickly condemned his comparison, but in terms of the scientific data available, a 2 degrees C increase in global temperature would objectively make much of Africa uninhabitable with water sources disappearing, rainfall ceasing, crops collapsing, and worse (see http://www.cicero.uio.no/fulltext/index.aspx?id=5249&lang=NO and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602204259.htm for just two brief summaries of some available data). Current geopolitical realities, immigration policies, and the paltry "aid" package proposed by the USA would in fact then seem to be condemning the peoples of Africa and beyond to a furnace.


Copenhagen as Farce

A Short Theatrical Performance
Scene: The State of Denmark
Belgian negotiator - "The planet is imperiled."

French negotiator - "Deserts of forests!"

Brazilian negotiator - "Bile of oceans!"

Al Gore - "Everyone look at this graph!"

German negotiator - "We must work together to avert catastrophic climate change."

Danish diplomat - "We must produce an agreement that limits greenhouse gas emissions, transitions the world toward sustainable forms of energy, and invest state and private capital in technologies and infrastructure that mitigates already occurring climactic disruptions. All while growing our economies, of course."

African negotiator of unidentified state - "I must say that...."

Australian negotiator - "Oh boy, looky there!"

[Barack Obama enters from stage left]

Obama - "Through the UN, and our sovereign governments, we leaders must choose policies that utilize the power and choice of the free market to cap CO2, sequester it, and develop alternatives fuels. Bla bla, hope, bladi bla change. Future of little children and changey hope stuff...."

[All gather round to ink a global agreement (binding or nonbinding, whatever), agreeing to reduce carbon emissions by X percent of such and such year's levels by such and such future date. The delegates sign on the dotted line. The markets for carbon get going. The world marches on, free markets, nation states and all. Lights
dim, Obama and all exit, stage right to triumphant music, perhaps this?]

Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark

A Critic Responds

A farce is a comedic form that emphasizes ludicrously improbable situations. Audiences are expected to recognize the improbability of the plot, the absurdity of characters, and the impossible resolutions reached, or not. When a people mistake themselves for an audience, and believe they are viewing a great drama upon the world stage, when in fact a farce is playing out before their eyes, these people become victims of an epic tragedy. This is us, and this is Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen climate talks aren't really about "climate change," or "global warming." That would be too narrow a view of what the core capitalist nations are attempting to justify, preserve, and expand through their proposals, including the Danish document that was leaked last week. Equally, it would ignore the way in which the "developing" peripheral nations of the capitalist world system are approaching things, the deals they're trying to cut with the core nations, many of which would sell their own people out in the name of national "progress" and "growth."

The Copenhagen proceedings are actually about the future of everything: planetary levels of economic activity, energy production and consumption, state and private capital investments, industrial organization, labor relations, the global financial system, state subsidization, regulatory powers, biopolitical interventions, trade regimes, and core-periphery relations. The list goes on and on.

What Copenhagen represents is an attempt by the international state system and the largest transnational titans of capital to produce a solution to a planetary ecological, social, and political crisis born out of capitalism's developmental telos. Destabilizing CO2 pollution in the atmosphere is only one of the many ecologically destructive aspects intrinsic to this developmental trajectory. It is, however, the most systemic and existentially threatening; it affects every corner of the planet and very likely will produce conditions leading to the collapse of agriculture, acidification of the oceans, loss of freshwater sources, and destruction or disappearance of habitable lands. Therefore CO2 pollution is the most politically and socially disruptive challenge facing the continued expansion of capital and state power.

What is farcical about this is that the expansion of capital and state power is the greatest impediment to the expansion of capital and state power, and yet we are watching heads of state and corporations propose vast expansions of their dominion over earth and sky as a solution to the problems born out of their already disastrous dominion over earth and sky. Absurd.

Capitalism and the international state system cannot solve this problem. This is the most important thing for us to recognize. The states and corporations cannot overcome the crisis, for they are the crisis. Therefore our demands must must be tempered to transcend them, building the new society within this old one that is dying. We've got to aim toward obsolescence of the state and capital. We've got to scream, "no!" and hold fast that their solutions are not ours. We've got to be honest with ourselves that this theater in Copenhagen is not a drama, but a farce, and we don't intend to be any mere audience.

It's All About Power, Physical and Political

CO2 and related toxic emissions is, was, and will remain, an inescapable product of the most efficient sources of energy. Carbon-based energies far surpass any other technology, be it wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal, in terms of the quantity and concentration of energy produced. The bang-for-your-buck gotten from coal, petroleum, and gas is impossible to surpass. Nuclear cannot compare to the cheapness of petroleum or coal. No amount of hopeful investment, be it through our emotions or dollars, in clean and green energy sources will negate this fact. This matters in a political sense because it constrains the field of action in which state agents and capitalist executors can think and act in response to the problems they have created.

The unrivaled efficiencies and quantities of hydrocarbon energy still readily available are deterministic facts within the context of global capitalism and the state system; there will be no transition to a clean/green economy through any kind of treaty or any combination of domestic policies and state subsidies. It doesn't matter if the UN produces a binding treaty, not that it will. It can't. It doesn't matter so much if the United States puts billions into "green jobs" or clean energy infrastructure. The USA, like other states, will never invest itself in these forms of energy to the extent that is necessary because it would mean more than a transition from one source to another. It would actually be more accurate to describe it as a transition from one level of energy to another, from an astronomically high level of giga-wattage required to carry out state-building and corporate growth, to an earthy level kilo-wattage, one that neither massive states nor earth straddling corporations can subsist and expand upon.

If you think that a state or any sector of capital will willingly reduce the amount of energy it produces and consumes within its borders or flows then you haven't been paying attention to the entire reason for the existence of the state and capital. The point is to produce more power, and to do it in a physical-chemical sense that is also deeply political.

There are Thantosian forces at work underneath the veneer of "democracy," and "diplomacy" in Copenhagen that will prevent any realistic plan to transition away from the toxic carbon basis of capitalist civilization. The key to understanding why Copenhagen is a farce has everything to do with the dynamic relationship of the state system to capitalism. Capitalism and the state system have a basis in violence and the forced imposition of an industrial-technological development logic, the ultimate aims of which are to produce social relations that create conditions for the ever more intense accumulation of capital. Violence and rabid economic competition between states, from war to sanctions, trade imbalances, debt predation, structural adjustment programs, espionage, sabotage, economic rivalry, assassination, embargoes, and so on, are central dynamics of the state system. These are not aberrations. They are normal state relations. The world of states and corporations really is a Hobbsian nightmare, and the terrible giants like the USA, Europe, Japan, and increasingly China and India use their economic and state/military power to expand their dominion. Economic and state/military power, lest we forget, are more or less equivalent to CO2 emissions, precisely because carbon energy produces vast amounts of the most efficient and available energy, most easily controlled by and utilized by corporations, war machines and bureaucracies.

The capitalist world system wasn't created via the voluntary adoption of conceptions such as private property, corporatism, labor-capital relations, etc. It was created through conquest, colonization, mass enslavement, genocide, and unthinkable forms of industrialized war making. From the very beginning the mercantilist states and their corporate adventurers sought the most potent fuels for their factories, ships, plantations, mines and cities.

Capitalism continues to rely on force for its operation and expansion. Full scale war between states, or war by another name, call it "free trade," or "immigration policy," remains integral to the capitalist world system. The use of state violence to pry open societies in order to incorporate their peoples and "resources" into the system is endemic. States and corporations with symbiotic alliances compete with one another to expand, to grow their own power, capitalize their own industries and cities, mechanize the countrysides under their guns, rationalize and make legible the labors of all who live within their borders.

It all runs on carbon energy, the most potent source of power, again in the physical-chemical sense that powers machinery, as well as in the political sense of powering the Mumfordian mega-machine. To think this system would willingly convert itself away from CO2 emitting forms of energy is roughly the same as thinking it would ban war. Carbon energy isn't going anywhere so long as capital and the state exist.

So carbon-based energy isn't the problem. The problem is the political and economic system. The problem is the nation state and capital. So long as both of these formations are hegemonic it's hard to imagine a transition away from the most potent and readily available forms of energy locked within hydrocarbon molecules. So long as the state and capital are the arbiters of our future, we are doomed.


Steven Seagal, Lawman, PR Flak for Racist Police Force

Steven Seagal has been a deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office for two decades. Now he's filming a reality show with A&E to put a spotlight on law enforcement in southern Louisiana. News outlets across the country have been reporting on this using a "gosh-isn't-that-neat" approach for months now, drumming up an audience for the show's debut.

Unfortunately the spotlight is being shone on JPSO's carefully crafted good guy image. An article in today's SF Chroncile quotes Seagal, acting now more as a PR man for the Sheriff than as a deputy;

"I believe it's important to show the nation all the positive work being accomplished here in Louisiana - to see the passion and commitment that comes from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in this post-Katrina environment."

A few months ago I had a run-in with the Jeff. Parish cops. I'll preface this story by saying I'm a white man, college educated, from California, and I generally have all the socioeconomic privileges that keep me from being a target of police profiling. When these JPSO cops stopped me though, I feared for my safety. I was simply riding my bike along the River levee and decided to cruise through Kennar. Big mistake. The two JPSO deputies that followed me for three blocks and then pulled me over first physically threatened me when I asked, "is there a reason why you stopped me?" Then after searching me and running my ID, they informed me to leave the area or else: "this is a crack neighborhood." They said. "White people don't come back here." I was riding not four block off Kennar's main strip.

The message was, 'don't ride through black areas, white boy'; 'don't come into Jeff. Parish at all.' JPSO enforces segregation in order to further criminalize the black poor that live in Kennar and other parts of the mostly white Parish. I was outraged but powerless. Seeing Seagal playing police man to bolster JPSO's image upsets me deeply. That is a terribly troubled and violent police force that need a different kind of exposure.

But it upsets me even more given the draconian way JPSO treats black men and women. My run-in is tame by any comparison. Take the case of James Williams. James was riding in a car with a white woman, Pam Nath, when a Jeff. Parish cop pulled them over. Again, another JPSO deputy decided that whites and blacks together, in practically any context, cannot be tolerated and must involve criminal dealings, so he interrogated James and Pam, eventually ordering James from the vehicle, running his ID, and finally arresting him. According to James:

"I was the passenger in a car that was pulled over in Harahan for minor traffic violations. Apparently, I angered the officer by asking why he wanted my driver’s license rather than the driver of the car. Next, the officer ordered me out of the car in a visibly agitated manner and proceeded to both verbally and physically abuse me. He then arrested me without telling me – or the driver of the car – the reason. I was later charged with “Battery on a police officer” and “Resisting Arrest,” although I did not fight with or resist any officer on that night.”
Check out James Willaims' video on the arrest and his struggle to have the bogus charges dismissed.

And consider writing to A&E's producers if you're also upset with this show's focus. There's also an online forum on A&E's web site where complaints and criticisms can be logged.