The Myth of Hydropower. How “Green” energy is destroying the Columbia River watershed. Part I.

The word “Greenwashing” has been around since the mid-1980s, but the concept itself is much older. At it’s core, greenwashing is a marketing tool, a means of disguising and repackaging ecocide to make it more palatable for the consumer. As this culture grew (and continues to grow), the carnage wrought on the natural world began to become impossible to ignore. You can only pretend for so long, eventually you run out of closets in which to hide your skeletons (or in this case, toxic groundwater, melting icecaps, disappearing forests, etc, etc, etc). Any sane individual would look at these rapidly worsening problems and attempt to take corrective action in order to stop them, but of course, we’re not talking about sane individuals here. We’re talking about psychopaths. The admen and corporations saw these consequences firsthand, saw the destruction, and realized that all of this was a terrific opportunity for profit. By preying upon the consumers desire to “do something”, without actually doing anything, these companies began to label their products and practices as “environmentally friendly”, all the while continuing their war on the natural world without breaking a stride.  They made minimal changes in the way they made their products, but they made major changes in the way they marketed them. And made a shit ton of money in the process.

Greenwashing has been written about considerably by people much smarter than myself, so I don’t want to talk extensively about the general concept of it. It’s an easy enough idea to understand. Unsustainable and ecologically destructive behaviors, products, and practices being incorrectly labeled as “environmentally friendly” for the sake of profit and exploitation. What I do want to discuss, however, is how this practice is being used to facilitate the murder of my backyard, the Columbia River watershed.

Sprawling over most of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho (and small parts of several other states), the Columbia Basin totals about 250,000 square miles in area. To give you an idea of the scale we’re talking about, it’s main river and her tributaries contribute more water to the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America. When Lewis and Clark arrived here in 1805, they were awestruck by the diversity and mind-boggling size of the region (although this didn’t stop them and those they later brought from exploiting the shit out of it). They estimated the Columbia Basin to be comprised of about 13,000 miles of undisturbed river habitat, and claimed “The multitudes of fish are almost inconceivable”.

To say that the Columbia River watershed plays an important role in the health of the Pacific Northwest is like saying that gravity plays an important role in skydiving. The watershed doesn’t just contribute to the local ecosystem, it literally is the local ecosystem.

Human and non-human lifeforms managed to coexist along the banks of the Columbia river for more than 10,000 years, but in the last two centuries, an abominably evil culture hell-bent on destroying everything in it’s path has brought this once pristine habitat to the brink of complete annihilation. The reasons for this are not complex, they aren’t “multi-faceted”, as some would have us believe, they are simple and readily apparent to anybody willing to look behind the curtain. When Lewis and Clark first came here, yes they were awestruck. They were speechless. They were completely taken aback…but not by the grandeur of the towering doug-firs, or the hordes of surging salmon. No, they were taken aback by the dazzling, almost incomprehensible potential for profit that they saw. They readily said as much in their journals. They observed an easily exploitable landbase the likes of which had never been seen before by old world eyes.

Exploring the various, horrific ways in which this ecosystem has been systemically destroyed would take many, many thousands of pages, so I’ll just concentrate on one. Dams.

The above is a map of prominent dams on the Columbia river and it’s tributaries. As you can see, the number is staggering, they’re everywhere. These aren’t small, six foot tall dams either, these are massive, hulking, monoliths, many are hundreds of feet tall. I’ve personally seen two of the larger ones (the Bonneville dam and the Grand Coulee Dam), and I can testify that they don’t just impose on the landscape, they absolutely dominate it. Everything about the presence and look of a dam screams domination, they may as well just paint that word in blood on the side of them. Unfortunately, they are just as destructive as they are ugly. The aesthetics of a gigantic block of cement choking the life out of a river is the last thing we should be worrying about though, so lets concentrate on the raw, real, unavoidable carnage caused by these concrete weapons. Let’s dispense with the flowery language and simply call them what they are; weapons of mass destruction.

The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.

To be able to understand why dams are so destructive, we need to first understand the basic mechanics of the dam itself. The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us that a dam is, “a barrier preventing the flow of water or of loose solid materials (as soil or snow); especially : a barrier built across a watercourse for impounding water”. Okay, so we know what the structure looks like now, and that it’s purpose is to hold back a body of water, but building a dam on the scale of the Grand Coulee sounds like a helluva lot of work, what perceived benefit is this thing supposed to give us? A little research tells me that the vast majority of large dams are built for the purpose of harvesting hydropower and “collecting water or for storage of water which can be evenly distributed between locations”.

Electrical power and irrigation essentially.

We can obtain energy and irrigate crops without having to burn fossil fuels? That kicks ass right?

Awesome, I’m excited we’ve found a clean source of energy that doesn’t harm the already fragile ecosystem. I’m going to go ask the salmon and whats left of the old growth forest how much this is kicking ass…

*Goes down to the Bonneville dam to distribute high fives amongst the fish and trees. I’m already thinking about hanging my own “mission accomplished” banner behind me as I explain how well this “green” energy thing has worked.*

Hunh. Weird. So I’m down here at the dam, but I can’t find any old growth forest to talk to, there are a few Salmon around, but nowhere near the numbers I heard Lewis and Clark bragging about. The Salmon that I do find don’t seem to want to talk to me about “progress”, they just roll their eyes and go back to futilely throwing their bodies against the dam. This isn’t really what I was expecting, I’m beginning to think that maybe those who told me that dams were safe and sustainable were bending the truth a bit. Actually, maybe…just maybe.

Those fuckers were lying.

to be continued…

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Well…It’s true.

Consequences: Confronting Violent Culture

Fairly often, maybe once every couple of weeks, I go out to Overlook Park at sunset. It’s situated on a steep hillside, and provides sweeping vistas of the Portland area. To your extreme left is downtown, a cluster of buildings huddled together, almost always shrouded in fog. Directly center is the Northwest industrial area, including the strange, dinosaur looking cranes used to load and unload moored cargo ships. If you blur your vision they resemble a congregation of horses drinking at the edge of a river. To the right of the cranes is the solid green sprawl of Forest Park, the Vancouver docks, and then at the extreme horizon, the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

It may seem strange, but when I go to this place I often end up thinking about violence. It’s not something I do purposefully, it just happens on its own. What do I mean by that? There are probably all kinds of abusive dynamics playing out in the city as I look upon it, but I can’t physically see any of that from this bench. So again, what would cause me to think of violence?

Derrick Jensen wrote, “This culture is based on turning the living into the dead. Turning life into death”. I guess that’s what I always end up doing, I’m looking at dead things; office buildings, oil tankers, dinosaur-like cranes, etc. Death. When you begin to see these things for what they are, you begin to also see them for what they once were, and therein lies the violence. I don’t see high rise condos, I see mountains torn in half and old growth forests obliterated. I don’t see cars and trucks streaming down the highway, I see bloody mutilated children screaming for dead parents after a US airstrike to secure oil interests. Something as seemingly benign as a cellular phone contains an a level of suffering that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend.

Coming face to face with consequence. (WARNING: This is an extremely graphic video)

That was a 12-year old boy with his entire jaw blown off by munitions fired during the ongoing genocide in Syria. There have been millions just like him. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Vietnam and Korea, Laos, the list goes on and on. Ask yourself, is it worth it? More importantly, ask this kid… is it worth it? Don’t expect a response, he’ll never talk again with half his fucking face obliterated, in fact, he’s probably been dead for days now. Part of the reason that this culture continues to exist with such unrelenting support is that we can choose to ignore the consequences of our actions. We can choose not to watch videos like this. We can pretend they don’t exist, but they do, and one day we are going to be forced to deal with this shitstorm we’ve created.

Of course, what holds true for the human casualties of this worldwide war holds true for the non-human victims as well. Have you ever noticed that the only time environmental catastrophes (As if life on this planet right now isn’t just one giant environmental catastrophe) are reported on by mainstream media is when human beings are forced to confront the consequences of their culture. Take the 2010 BP oil spill for example, this event generated a media firestorm unprecedented for an ecological disaster at that time. The 3 months long oil leak had a horrific affect on the already long-suffering ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico. The world could not ignore this spill though, and why? Because of the extensive economic impact that it had on the fishing and tourism industries. It’s the same story, every fucking time. How many news outlets were reporting on the quickly growing 8,500 square mile dead zone in the exact same area long before the BP spill? Virtually none, because nobody gives a shit about consequence until it threatens our god given right to eat fresh shrimp in Denver and affordably drive 10mpg monster trucks.

I recently had a conversation with a pacifist friend of mine. He’s a kind and caring individual, and he steadfastly maintains that the use of violence, any violence, is an unjustified act. I ask him if he’s a violent person. He tells me no. I ask him if he believes violent action is ever a valid means of change. He tells me no. He tells me that violence begets violence. He tells me that if I want peace I need to visualize peace, I need to  practice peace, I need to fight violence with love and empathy.

That’s bullshit.

Everybody existing within this culture practices violence on a daily basis for one simple reason. Whether you want to admit it or not, violence is being done in your name. Every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. And now I’m wondering, if this pacifist friend of mine had to witness, or better yet, experience, the consequences of this violence on a daily basis, would he still feel the same way? If he had to live amongst the clear cuts and toxic rivers and bloated carcasses, would he still still sit idly by? Of course not.

Pacifism is an excuse for inaction, you are just as guilty as I am.

Gasland: Exposing the ecological horrors of hydraulic fracturing.

Angelrauwok Distro is up and running!

After months of preparation, planning, and clandestinely printing out hundreds upon hundreds of zines, Angelrauwok Distro is finally ready to go!

It took me a long time to figure out what direction I wanted this project to go in, and I’m still not exactly sure where that is. The difficulty in choosing a focal point is the fact that we as a community, are facing such a staggeringly large number of issues. Those issues are as diverse as this ecosystem we all exist in; some are more pressing than others, but they are all things that need our attention, and they need it now. One of the catastrophic results of globalization is that local issues don’t exist anymore, at least not in the same context that they once did. The ramifications of what happens here in the Pacific Northwest can now very easily be felt on the other side of the world. Just as seemingly isolated issues on the other side of the world can be felt here in our local communities. It may take some time, but be certain that your action, or your inaction, is being felt on a global scale.

Why the word “angelrauwok”? It’s an intimidating word to pronounce for many of us, but don’t be fooled, the sentiment is simple enough. It’s actually more of a concept really, the concept of “returning home”, of coming back to the earth. The indigenous tribes of the arctic regions of what is now Canada, the Inuit, understood this concept very well. It’s a beautiful notion, but it’s something that has lost it’s meaning entirely to most of us. We have strayed far as a civilization; we have detached ourselves from reality. Separated ourselves from the trees, the rivers, the oceans, the air, the earth and the sky around us. The most frightening thing of all, is that we have completely separated our actions from their consequences. The idea of responsibility has become about as meaningless and abstract as this culture we’re living in. A culture of murder, a culture of rape, and most importantly, a culture that is inherently suicidal. It all needs to stop, and we need to make it stop, because it will never relinquish on it’s own. It will continue until it’s consumed every last resource, until there’s nothing left. There simply are no other options left at this point.

At the beginning of this introduction, I called this “my” project, but that’s misleading. I want this to be “our” project. All of us. Every last one of you. I spent many sleepless nights despairing in deep deep sadness about what’s happening to us, what’s happening to the world. The crippling helplessness that many of us feel often leads to a sense of total apathy. I have been so incredibly guilty of this apathy, but that is changing. There is hope. I began to realize that hope existed when I began to see so many others feeling just as angry and frightened as I was. That understanding brought me to a critical realization.

I am not crazy. This culture is crazy, and this culture is trying to beat me down by attempting to convince me that I’m the one that needs to be fixed. That I’m the one who’s broken.

I hope a lot of people get involved with this, I really do! It’s time for action, and it’s time for education! I’ll be providing a more general framework for upcoming tabling events and actions in the near future.

-L