Suzanne Smith, Retired Senior Planner, Opposes Blue Lead Vesting

Suzanne Smith, former Senior Planner with the Nevada County Planning Department, here testifies in opposition to Blue Lead Mine’s application for “vested right to mine” before the April 22nd meeting of the Planning Commission. She agrees with and quotes the following passages from the letter sent to the Commission by the law firm, Shute Mihaly & Weinberger ((The letter was written by Ellison Folk. “Ms. Folk is a member of the Bars of the State of California, the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Eastern and Central Districts of California. ” From Shute Mihaly & Weinberger profile of Ellison Folk. ))

County staff is correct that Blue Lead has not submitted any objective evidence that mining activity was actively being pursued in 1954. For example, photos of sluicing operations in Missouri Creek do not demonstrate that mining activity was occurring at the Blue Lead site. It is the applicant’s burden to make this case; it is not the County’s burden to refute it.

… To make this assessment, at a minimum, the County should require the applicant to submit real proof of active mining at the project site in 1954, proof of the geographic area where the mining was located and to which the owner at the time had manifested an objective intent to mine, proof regarding levels of mining at that time, and proof that mining operations (and not just an abstract interest in mining) had continued through to the present.

Without such evidence and appropriate environmental review, the County’s vested rights determination will lack any foundation in law or fact, and should not be issued.

The State of the Earth, 2010

We’re in a very bad way. But we also know the solution would make most of us richer—even if not in the ways we are presently accustomed to counting as wealth.

by Rebecca Solnit

These days, I see how optimistic and positive disaster and apocalypse movies were. Remember how, when those giant asteroids or alien spaceships headed directly for Earth, everyone rallied and acted as one while our leaders led? We’re in a movie like that now, except that there’s not a lot of rallying or much leading above the grassroots level.

The movie is called Climate Change, and you can tell its plot in a number of ways. In one, the alien monsters taking over the planet are called corporations, while the leaders who should be protecting us from their depredations are already subjugated and doing their bidding. Think of Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and the coal companies as gigantic entities that don’t need clean water, or food, and don’t care much if you do (as you can see from the filthy wreckage in their extraction zones and their spin against the science of our survival).

My recent research into conventional disasters suggests that climate change, despite its unconventional scale, is unfolding in ways familiar from the aftermaths of numerous hurricanes and earthquakes: The ruling elites too often “lead” by creating a second wave of destruction, while the rest of us pick up the pieces and do our best to do what’s necessary. This is a movie whose crisis is upon us and whose resolution is out of sight, but if we are to be saved, I’ll put my money on the small characters mitigating the crisis and getting us through the rough times to come.

The Day the Earth Got Stood Up

Last December, the Copenhagen Climate Summit gave the heads of state supposedly negotiating a future climate-change treaty a clear-cut choice between short-term profits for the few and the long-term survival of practically everyone and everything. As I’m sure you’ll recall, they chose the former. You, the summer ice of the Arctic, about half the species on Earth, the shorelines of quite a few places, the glaciers of Glacier National Park, the birds in the trees, the marmots on the mountains, and the long-term future of just about everything were sold out for the sake of the market status quo, not by all the world’s nations, but by the most powerful among them.

Not all of the elected leaders failed us. President Evo Morales of Bolivia called a people’s summit on climate change which is going on right now, and the most threatened countries did a heroic job of facing up to the world’s most powerful ones—tiny Tuvalu, soon to go beneath the waves, told off China, for example. Thanks to their stand and so their insubordination, Bolivia and Ecuador both lost their shot at State Department funding meant for poor countries which need to prepare for future climate-change disasters.

Forbidding Planet

Bill McKibben offers another compelling plot for this horror movie in his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Its premise is not that something terrible came to Earth—after all we were the ones, over the last 200 years, who sent all those billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere—but that we ourselves have landed on a strange, dangerous, unfamiliar new planet he calls Eaarth. Think Forbidden Planet without Robby the Robot; think The Tempest with neither Ariel nor Prospero.

We no longer live on the kind, comfortable, stable planet we evolved on, he begins:

For the last ten thousand years that constitute human civilization, we’ve existed in the sweetest of sweet spots. The temperature has barely budged; globally averaged, it’s swung in the narrowest of ranges, between fifty-eight and sixty degrees Fahrenheit. That’s warm enough that the ice sheets retreated from the centers of our continents so we could grow grain, but cold enough that mountain glaciers provided drinking and irrigation water to those plains and valleys year round; it was the “correct” temperature for the marvelous diverse planet that seems right to us. And every aspect of our civilization reflects that particular world.

We built our great cities next to seas that have remained tame and level, or at altitudes high enough that disease-bearing mosquitoes could not over-winter. We refined the farming that has swelled our numbers to take full advantage of that predictable heat and rainfall; our rice and corn and wheat can’t imagine another earth either. Occasionally, in one place or another, there’s an abrupt departure from the norm—a hurricane, a drought, a freeze. But our very language reflects their rarity: freak storms, disturbances.

And then he begins to make the case that this planet, the one we’ve always lived on, no longer exists.
Nobody marshals facts better than McKibben. The first two chapters of Eaarth line up the evidence in a devastating way to show that climate change is not (despite the political rhetoric of the past decade) some horrid thing to be visited upon our grandchildren. It’s here right now, visiting us. Here’s just a sample of our world today:

A NASA study in December 2008 found that warming [of more than a degree and a half Fahrenheit] was enough to trigger a 45 percent increase in thunder-clouds that can rise five miles above the sea, generating ‘super-cells’ with torrents of rain and hail. In fact, total global rainfall is now increasing 1.5 percent a decade. Larger storms over land now create more lightning; every degree Celsius brings about 6 percent more lightning, according to the climate scientist Amanda Staudt. In just one day in June 2008, lightning sparked 1,700 different fires across California, burning a million acres and setting a new state record. These blazes burned on the new earth, not the old one … In August 2009, scientists reported that lightning strikes in the Arctic had increased twenty-fold, igniting some of the first tundra fires ever observed.

According to the [National Sea Ice Data Center]’s Mark Serrenze, the new data “is reinforcing the notion that the Arctic ice is in its death spiral.”

Then he mentions that a trillion tons of Greenland’s ice melted between 2003 and 2008, a mass ten times the size of Manhattan. Someone recently pointed out that the term moving at a “glacial pace” makes no sense any more, not now that Greenland’s ice sheet is pitted and undercut by rushing torrents of meltwater and the glacial landscape of mountaintops from the Andes to the Rockies is changing with almost blinding speed.

Weird stuff is happening everywhere: Since McKibben’s book went to press, numerous news sources reported that a two-mile-long island in the Bay of Bengal, long fought over by Bangladesh and India, is no longer a bone of contention. The rising waters have erased it.

McKibben doesn’t say a lot about himself in the book, except for some New England anecdotes to which the Massachusetts-raised Vermonter was a witness. Too bad, since he himself could star in the movie you should be watching, the one about the low-key writer-guy who, upon realizing that his excellent writing on climate change isn’t waking us up enough, takes to dashing around the planet to do the job as an activist.

Mr. Smith Goes to Copenhagen. (People eager to suggest that flying is carbon-intensive should check themselves; the world is not going to be saved by individual acts of virtue, only by collective acts of change of a kind that would lead to China and the United States radically revising their energy policies.) In recent years he seems to have become one of the figures I’ve run across occasionally in my own activism: someone so filled up with purpose they’ve become a conduit for change, and a lot of the personal—like ease and comfort—get washed aside for the sake of the mission. He’s achieved remarkable things. Notably with

350 Degrees of Inseparability

A word about that number, 350. For a long time, McKibben relates, the premise, or pretense, was that the parts per million of atmospheric carbon we needed to worry about was 550, double the historic concentration. As it turns out, it was also a random figure, easy to calculate, not too alarming. We weren’t anywhere near there yet, which is why we could frame global warming as some terrible thing that was going to happen way down the road—the grandchildren theory of climate change.

Then the scientists got more data and so more precision about where peril lay: In December of 2007, NASA climatologist James Hansen announced at the American Geophysical Union that 350 was about the upper limit at which life on Earth as we know and like it was likely to continue.
We’re now at about 390. We don’t get to go up dozens of more degrees before the peril strikes. We need to go down now, dramatically. Imagine that change of numbers as like shifting from worrying about whether the butter on your toast was going to clog your arteries way down the road to worrying about whether you’d just swallowed a dose of really creepy industrial sludge and should start puking. The crisis was, in fact, in the past, and the future was upon us.

”The day Jim Hansen announced that number was the day I knew we’d never again inhabit the planet I’d been born on, or anything close to it,” McKibben writes in Eaarth. So he co-founded a grassroots organization,, with a posse of younger activists he’d met through a climate-change campaign in Vermont.

That small team proved something important: that we could respond to what’s happening on our planet with a speed nearly commensurate with the growing danger. The group’s numerical name, with its crystal-clear target, worked in every imaginable language on Eaarth as words would not have.

A year after Hansen’s announcement, McKibben sent me an e-mail:

What we need is a rallying cry, an idea around which to coalesce. That’s why we’re running, and why we’ll do a huge global day of action on Oct. 24. We need a measuring stick against which to critique Copenhagen, and 350 ppm CO2 is the best one we’re going to get. It implies dramatic and urgent and apple-cart-upsetting action, but it comes at it from a position of strength, not defensiveness. Our hope is that a huge worldwide outpouring on Oct. 24 will set a bar to make any action in Copenhagen powerful.

It worked.

It Happened One Day

At this point, let Climate Change, the movie, zoom out from following our protagonist to pan the amazing October 24 visual spectacle of groups of all sizes around the world pushing the number 350—spelling it out (and into our consciousness) with their bodies for overhead photographs, holding signs in tribal villages, schoolyards, and urban plazas, everywhere from Madagascar to Slovakia. In one poignant case, a lone girl in Babylon, Iraq, who—you might think—had enough to worry about already, held up her hand-drawn 350 sign for a photographer who somehow managed to send the picture in to the organization. (I did my own little bit for the day, getting a few writers—Diane DiPrima, Ariel Dorfman, Barry Lopez—to contribute 350-word pieces they’d written to spur on the participants.)

There were more than 5,000 actions in 181 countries, which is to say, in most parts of the world. I’ve asked some groups and it’s clear that quite a lot of people now know what the number 350 means. So did a lot of politicians and policy-makers by the time Copenhagen came around. The action mattered. Things changed.

That day of actions added a key tool to a previously faltering dialogue: suddenly, ordinary people, organizers, and elected officials had a concrete goal to reach for and a point of entry into the complex science of climate change. By the time the Copenhagen conference rolled around, 112 of the participating countries had endorsed that 350 ppm goal, the majority of nations at the conference—if, alas, the poorer and less influential ones.

Still, this took place a mere two years after Hansen first proposed the number as a measure of our global health, an astonishing adaptation to new ideas. The list of 350 endorsers begins at “A” with Afghanistan, which on this issue at least proved a much saner country than the United States, and on through a long list of most of the poor nations, island nations, and African nations, to Vietnam, Yemen, and Zambia.

The list offers a new way of sorting out the world in which the United States finds itself on the wrong side of history, but also of science, nature, and survival. Of course, this country is always a mix: The nation of Jim Crow was also the nation of the Montgomery bus boycott and Freedom Summer, and the nation of the greatest climate emissions per capita is also the nation of Hansen, McKibben, and a host of innovative activists offering practical solutions to the problems climate change poses.

V for Viable

The early part of Eaarth offers the grim news about the way one species, ours, remade our world—so radically that it has become a turbulent, surprisingly inhospitable new planet. And here’s the bad news: No matter what we do, it will continue to get worse, at least for a while, though how much worse depends on whether we act.

Fortunately, the second half of McKibben’s book offers a kind of redemption and a lot to do, and so gives the book the shape of a “V,” if not for victory, then for viability: You tumble into the pit of bad news, then clamber up the narrative of possibility—of what our responses should look like, could look like, must look like. This is where this particular book diverges from the mountains of recent publications on the facts around climate change: If the first half is a science jeremiad, the second half is a very practical handbook.

My friend Patrick Reinsborough of the Smart Meme Project likes to talk about the “battle of the story, rather than the story of the battle,” of the need for activists to pay attention to narratives, because at least half of any battle turns out to be over just what the story is, and who gets to tell it. If we’re ever going to get much of anything done about climate change we’re going to have to change the story—not the scientific story about parts per million of carbon, and black soot, and methane in the atmosphere, which we need to find ways to broadcast over the white noise of corporate-funded climate denial, but the story of what we might want to do about it.

Right now, the story that everyone tends to tell, no matter what their political positions on climate change, is about renunciation: we’ll have to give up cars, big houses, air travel, all our toys and pleasures. It’s a story where we get poorer. No one but saints and ascetics likes giving things up. What’s exhilarating about Eaarth is that McKibben has a surprisingly different tale to tell. His version of the solution would make most of us richer—even if not in the ways we are presently accustomed to counting as wealth.

His vision is kind of delicious, at least if you like participatory democracylocal powercommunityreal security, and good food. Okay, it requires renunciation—but of things a lot of us would love to give up, including the whole alienated mode in which both power and production are centralized in remote and politically inaccessible sites—from food produced overseas to decisions made in furtive board meetings of multinational corporations. These things are awful for a lot of reasons, but the salient one is that they’re part of the carbon-intensive conventional economy. So they have to go.

Eaarth is actually an exceedingly polite, understated cry for revolution, but one that makes it clear how differently we need to do a whole lot of basic things. If it’s all about how you tell the story, then McKibben tells one that hasn’t, until now, been associated with climate change, one in which life, in ways that really matter, gets better. And it’s a winner, maybe even a game-changer.

Cheap Is the New Expensive

Another writer, David Kirby, was on my local radio station, KALW, the other day talking about his book, Animal Factory, and making the case that cheap meat is actually very expensive—if you count the impact on human health and the environment. Swine flu, which killed tens of thousands, sickened millions around the globe, and cost us a lot in terms of vaccines and treatments, likely evolved on one of the giant animal concentration units that pass for farms nowadays, and so host antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as concentrations of pollution from animal waste that harm hundreds of thousands or millions directly. “Should the multibillion [dollar] cost of swine flu be factored into the cost of every pork chop sold?” he asks, and adds, “And if so, what would that come out to, per pound?”

In the same way, the American way of life—often portrayed as a pinnacle of affluence—is in many ways deeply impoverished. We’re not poor in material goods, from new houses to hamburgers, though their quality is often dubious, and the wealthiest country the world has ever seen produces surprising amounts of hunger, poverty, and homelessness through the misdistribution of that wealth.

Even for the affluent, everyday American life is often remarkably impoverished, if measured in terms of free time, social connectedness, political engagement, meaningful work, or other things harder to calibrate than the horsepower of your engine or the square feet of your McMansion. And this way of living produces the carbon that is replacing the planet we evolved on with McKibben’s Eaarth—about as high a price as we could pay, short of extinction.

Cheap oil requires our insanely expensive military whose annual budget amounts to nearly as much as the rest of the world’s militaries put together, a crazy foreign policy, and in the past decade, a lot of death in the Middle East. It also pushes along the destruction of nearly everything via climate-change, a cost so terrible that the word “unaffordable” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Unimaginable” might, except that the point of all the data and data projections is to imagine it clearly enough so that we react to it.

McKibben’s vision of a world in which we might survive and even lead decent lives features decentralized food and energy production. Farewell, mega-corporations! (Though, unlike me, he’s pretty polite about their influence on our society and the environment.) His suggested mode of doing things—a vision of an alternative to capitalism as we know it—could be flexible, adapted to the peculiarities of regions, and low-carbon or carbon-neutral, unlike the systems on which we now rely. It would also require people to become more involved in local economies, ecologies, and policies, which is the scale at which viable adaptation seems likely to work best. (This is ground he covered in his 2007 book Deep Economy.)

His is, in fact, a vision of the good life that a host of flourishing institutions like farmers’ markets and community-assisted agriculture, organic farming, and small-scale farms are already embracing. In many ways, the solutions to our crisis are under development all around us, if only we’d care to notice.

They are here in our world in bits and pieces, as well as in parts of the so-called underdeveloped world that someday may turn out to be the sustainably developed world. They need, however, to be implemented on a grand scale—not by scaling them up, because their smallness is their beauty and efficiency, but by multiplying them until they become the norm. If they require losing what we have, they promise to recover what we’ve lost.

(Not So) Titanic

McKibben ends his book by marshaling a host of statistics and stories about just how this kind of agriculture works, now, around the world, and ways, in the future, alternative energies could be similarly innovative and effective. So, of course, could a commitment to energy efficiency. The first changes we could make, starting tomorrow, undoubtedly involve reengineering everything frombuildings to transit in the name of energy efficiency.

I live in a state that decided to implement such efficiency measures after the oil crisis of the 1970s. As a result, the average Californian now uses about half as much energy as the average American, not out of saintliness, but out of sophistication. We need to reduce our energy consumption by a huge percentage, but McKibben points out we could achieve the first 20 percent of the necessary reduction through efficiency alone, which is a painless step. I can testify that it doesn’t feel like renouncing anything to live in better-built structures with better-designed machines.

To survive, McKibben suggests, we’ll also need a lot of flexible, responsive institutions that aren’t too big to fail or too big to adapt to the coming climate chaos. Describing a little inner-city savings and loan in Los Angeles, he writes:

There’s nothing that Broadway Federal could do to trigger a recession, and that’s the other advantage of smallness: mistakes are mistakes, not crises, until they’re interconnected into a massive system. Many small things breed a kind of stability; a few big things endanger it—better the Fortune 500,000 than the Fortune 500 (unless you want to be an eight-figure CEO).

A lot of people don’t even want to take in the reality of climate change, let alone do anything about it, because it seems so overwhelming. Eaarth’s most significant strength lies in the way it breaks our potential response to climate change’s enormity down into actions and possible changes that not only seem viable and graspable, but alluring. One of the most interesting phenomena of the Bush era was the way addressing climate change here in the United States devolved to the level of states, regions, and cities—the U.S. Council of Mayors got behind doing something for the environment (and us) at a time when the federal government was intent only on making the world safe for oil barons. It was in this same period that the state of California set emissions standards for vehicles that the Obama administration has now adapted.

But that administration isn’t doing nearly what’s required either. Last year, speaking of the economy, Barack Obama said: “Look back four years from now, I think, hopefully, people will judge [our] body of work and say, ‘This is a big ocean liner, it’s not a speedboat. It doesn’t turn around immediately.”

It’s an unfortunate thing to say, since the most familiar image of ocean liners in popular culture involves a calamitous meeting with an iceberg 98 years ago. If we were imagining climate change as a movie, our ship of state would still ram the iceberg, but this time the passengers would have debarked ahead of time.

If the ship of state can’t turn in time to avert catastrophe, it’s time to jump ship and put ourselves into small, mobile lifeboats, canoes, outriggers, and kayaks. The age of the giants is over; the future belongs to the small fry. If we want to have a future, that is. It’s really your choice because, whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you’re also starring in this movie.


Rebecca Solnit is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, and regular writer for—where this article first appeared. She is the author most recently of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.

Copyright © 2010 Rebecca Solnit – distributed by Agence Global
All Rights Reserved

Warning: Water policy faces an age of limits

by Dan McCool

Dan McCool

Change comes hard to Western water policy. The Prior Appropriation Doctrine, interstate compacts, groundwater law, the “law of the river” — all of these seem set in stone in the minds of the region’s policymakers. Of course, the West’s rivers aren’t bound by such a static existence. Indeed, they are changing in fundamental ways, opening a wide chasm between our water policy and our water sources. This is particularly true for the Colorado River Basin.

Climate scientists are predicting a 10-to-30 percent reduction in flow for the Colorado — a stark contrast to the rosy assumptions that underlay the Colorado River Compact when it was signed 88 years ago. Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently predicted that Lakes Mead and Powell have a 50 percent chance of going dry by 2021. These days, Lake Mead is at 45 percent capacity and Lake Powell is at 57 percent capacity.

Farther south, water shortages are predicted for northern Arizona communities, including Flagstaff, by 2050. The Central Arizona Project, which provides water to Phoenix and Tucson, may run short of water as early as 2012.

And farther downstream, Mexico is looking at a disaster along its stretch of the river due to inadequate flows, prompting one Mexican official to declare, “We are clearly on a collision course with a catastrophe,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Then there are the numerous environmental problems in the basin. Six aquatic species are threatened or endangered, though the invasive quagga mussels are doing just fine. The river corridor in the Grand Canyon, deprived of sediment and choked with tamarisk, is dying; the river’s delta is already on its deathbed. The Colorado is plagued by water quality problems, especially salinity, perchlorate rocket fuel, runoff from agriculture and inadequate sewage treatment.

The shortage of surface water has pushed some communities to mine groundwater. Communities as diverse as Tucson, Ariz., Las Vegas, Nev., and Cedar City, Utah, are experiencing subsidence because of their excessive withdrawals of groundwater.

The sediment that once was the lifeblood of the river now forms a giant plug at the junction of Cataract Canyon and Glen Canyon. It is simply a matter of time before Lake Powell becomes the world’s largest mud catchment, rendering the 710-foot-tall dam useless.

Water shortages in the Lower Basin will be greatly exacerbated by proposals to build giant pipelines. Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, wants to build a $4 billion pipeline to central Nevada to pump groundwater from beneath several valleys in the Great Basin. This 300-mile pipeline is likely to lower groundwater levels, threatening a national park, national wildlife refuges, an Indian reservation, and local ranchers and farmers. The resulting loss of surface flora is not just a cosmetic problem; it could result in huge dust storms that blanket Salt Lake City.

St. George, Utah, sort of a Las Vegas wannabe in terms of growth rate (but without the sinful fun), wants to build a billion-dollar pipeline that sucks water out of Lake Powell — despite the imminent demise of the lake. In the Upper Basin, Aaron Million, with dreams to match his name, wants to build a 560-mile pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range and divert 250,000 acre-feet. In addition to these proposed pipelines, the city of Denver wants to dramatically increase the water it pumps out of the Colorado River Basin, and the state of Wyoming recently created a new state “Dam and Reservoir Section” to investigate the feasibility of new diversions on the Green River.

These grandiose schemes for new diversions are not “the way of the future,” but rather the last gasp of a dying water ethos. The myriad problems of the Colorado River point to one inescapable conclusion: Western water policy is hopelessly, irrevocably unsustainable. Policies that once created stability are now an albatross, preventing the West from making fundamental changes in the way it allocates and uses its water.

It is time for a new era in water management. The first step requires dispensing with the absurd notion that infinite growth can take place in a region with severely constrained resources.

The second step is to realize that agriculture, which uses the lion’s share of the river, is going to take a big hit. Many of the crops grown in the basin are low value, such as hay, or are commodity crops that are already over-produced in the United States.

And the third step requires improving the quality of the water by forcing all polluters to clean up their mess. That includes agriculture, mining and municipalities with inadequate urban treatment. These changes will not be easy — it’s like prescribing a root canal for an entire region without offering nitrous oxide. But the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to make the transition to a policy that meets the reasonable needs of cities, a service economy and the age of limits.


Dan McCool is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is a political science professor and director of environmental studies at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

First published in High County News, April 22, 2010
Reprinted with the permission of Writer’s on the Range Op-Ed Syndication Service of High Country News

Heidi Hall Speaks to Planning Commission, Opposes Blue Lead

Here Heidi Hall, representing CLAIM-GV, urges the Planning Commission during its April 22nd meeting to review especially the letter from Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger and the other legal analyses in opposition to the application of the Blue Lead Mine for “vested right to mine.”

Heidi stresses to the Commission that their decision in this case is very important for how it might represent a precedent, and expressed CLAIM-GV’s goal that “Nevada County not become a dumping ground” for such cases.

This is an especially important point. The Commission needs to understand that if they are lax — rather than strict — in their handling of vested rights claims, this could open a Pandora’s box of such claims, which would not serve the interests of the Commission or the people of Nevada County.

Kavita Ramdas: Radical women, embracing tradition

In this beautiful TED Talk, Kavita Ramdas explores — through some personal stories of women — the amazing paradox in the contrast between the brutal treatment of women throughout the world and their abundant energy and drive for recreating cultures everywhere.

She tells the stories of some women who combine radicalism and the use of tradition in surprising ways.

She asks:

“Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of cultures in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change? Is it different women who are doing the preserving and the radicalizing? Or are they one and the same?”

Whatever Happened to the Men’s Movement?

I recently ran across a whole set of audio tapes from a weeklong men’s conference I attended in Mendocino almost twenty years ago, back in June of 1991. I’ve kept them stored in a box on a shelf in our den all these years. Although I was at every session when they were recorded, I never listened to any of these tapes until now.

A day or so ago I got out tape eight, labeled:

   Gary Snyder reads Yeats, Jeffers and Sakaki
   Michael Meade and James Hillman read poems.
   Snyder on Buddhism and Mythology.
   Snyder on Practice, Place and Animals.

As I heard the voices of Gary Snyder, Michael Meade, James Hillman and the other men in the room, the wonderful mixture of poetry, good talk, some serious some not, the laughter, it all started coming back to me. All those years involved in men’s groups, going to conferences, spending a year as a “househusband,” working in a daycare center and taking care of our children full-time for a year.

Whatever happened to the men’s movement?

Most people will probably say, “What men’s movement?”

It did happen, and I was a part of it.

Or was it all a dream?

Dream or not, here’s how I remember it.

In the first place, the men’s movement was part of the women’s movement, which as we all know never went away, and is still going strong.

The feminist adage, “The Personal Is Political,” guided my understanding of my life as a young new husband and father, as it continues to guide my understanding of my life as a husband in a long-term marriage of 45 years, and as a father of grown children.

I continue to see the way that some forms of  politics are expressions of male insecurity and aggression, even down to our local level. Remember how Bush strutted and swaggered, effective subliminal messages for those tuned to his wavelength? Ever notice the aggressive tenor of much of the anonymous chatter in The Union online threads?

Back in the mid-1970s, when our son was six and our daughter two, I — rashly, it must be said — quit a very stressful job in the Finance Department of the Stanford Medical Center. Soon afterward I saw an announcement for a meeting in Stanford’s Business School to discuss the formation of men’s groups. I had no idea what they were about, but I went to the meeting out of curiosity, and before the evening was over I signed-up for a men’s group in Palo Alto. Soon we began meeting regularly.

I wrote about the men’s group experience in an essay two years after the Mendocino conference:

The process was empowering in several respects. First, when any of us began to complain about anything, say, our relationships with the women in our lives, all we would hear from the other men was, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” The encouragement was always to work it out, listen, seek mutual understanding. The implication was always that we had the power to do that. I never heard any trashing of women, or attacks on anyone not in the room. I learned that blame is disempowering.

Also empowering was the tremendously egalitarian nature of the process. Ultimately this men’s group evolved into a Men’s Center in Palo Alto, meeting in the basement of the old sixties’ Peace Center on Lytton Avenue. We became an outreach organization, hosting events, facilitating the formation of more men’s groups, going out to local industries to talk about our experiences as men, speaking at Stanford Coffee House luncheons, working with the elderly at local nursing homes, with children in the local elementary schools, etc. We took turns “leading” the group, that is, taking responsibility for whatever process was on the agenda each week.

In the same essay I described what it was like to be a “househusband,” with full-time responsibility for taking care of the kids:

I remember one particularly hectic day, after going to the Employment Department with the kids in tow, then to the grocery store, then home at last, past lunchtime, past naptime, the kids whining and whining and whining. I had just put all the grocery bags on the linoleum floor in our little kitchen. We were all miserable. The whining was incessant. Something went adrift in my brain. I got down on the floor on my back, among the grocery bags, and just stared up at the ceiling, completely defeated. Strangely, this had the odd result of interrupting the melodrama. The kids stopped crying and just stood over me, looking at me in puzzlement. I could almost imagine their thoughts: “Dads aren’t supposed to lie on the floor!”

One of the great, influential books which I read during that period was Arthur and Libby Colman’s Earth Father, Sky Father. In their view, father in our traditional, patriarchal system, is a distant and awesome figure, like Zeus on his throne. His power is in the world. He is like a celebrity in his children’s eyes. When he comes home after a day of great accomplishment, they are excited and thrilled by his presence. He is the “Sky Father.” All the while, Mom’s power, because it is so intimate and familiar, is taken for granted. It is part of the background.

I learned two great, consoling things from this book. First, it is possible to be an “earth father.” Men have an innately nourishing side. There is much support, surprisingly, in myth, for the image of a nourishing male. We have so relegated the soft, nesting virtues to the feminine in this culture that it is easy to miss this fascinating reality. One almost has to experience it to believe it. It was helpful to me to have this interpretation of my own experience.

Second, I learned that the one who takes on the role of day-to-day nourisher, will necessarily be taken for granted, and become, so to speak, part of the background. This meant that if I truly wanted to become an earth father (rather than the traditional and distant Sky Father) I would have to willingly give up that heady celebrity status. Thanks to the Colmans’ book, I decided to make that bargain consciously. I’ve never regretted that decision, but I still sometimes feel a melancholy longing for that lost heroic status.

My understanding of the connection between the personal and political was influenced by my reading of Jung at that time. Here’s how I expressed it in the same essay:

Jung said “… rather than develop our unconscious, we marry it.” But this fact, if it is a fact, conflicts with another deep force inside each of us, pushing us toward wholeness. To be whole, we each need to express and be conscious of all the varied energies within us: nourishing, selfish, ambitious, giddy, soft, powerful, etc. These qualities encompass what have traditionally been associated with both the male and female roles. Each of us needs to develop what Jung called the “contra-sexual” qualities.

Men have had particular difficulties in this work. I’m convinced that most male violence against women explodes from the terror and panic men feel when women withdraw from this role of soul-carrier for men. A man in the San Francisco Bay Area recently killed his two small children and himself after his wife left him for another man. He had told her that if their marriage broke up it would be just like death. It is for this reason that the greatest political responsibility men have is to do this long and difficult work of developing their own inner life of feeling. Men must, for their own sake, for women’s sake, and for the sake of the whole community, learn to be less dependent on women as the carriers of soul values. They must learn how to do this for themselves.

Over the years, since my most active involvement in the feminist men’s movement in the seventies, I have from time-to-time been reminded of the importance of these issues.

Once was a few years before my father’s death from emphysema in 1980. We were standing by a lake in the foothills above Palo Alto. It was a beautiful spring day and there was a soft breeze rippling the surface of the lake. He was then about the age I am now. There was something about that day that roused his melancholy, and as he started telling me about the death of his brother and of so many of his friends as he grew older, his eyes began to fill with tears.

I did what — as a father of young children — felt instinctive to me: I moved forward to comfort him by putting my arms around him.

And he did what — as no doubt an ordinary father of his time — felt instinctive to him: He pushed me gently away.

I was sorry he couldn’t accept my comfort.

I thought of these men’s issues again more recently —  last year — when we were going door-to-door in the neighborhoods surrounding the Idaho-Maryland Mine here in Grass Valley, passing out fact sheets explaining the serious environmental impacts of re-opening the mine.

We rang the doorbell at one apartment and a young man — apparently a young father — answered the door with one child in his arms and another clinging to his leg.

Was he unemployed, as I had been over 35 years ago when I spent a year as a househusband? Was he home taking care of the kids to save money on a babysitter, as I had done?

The young father greeted us kindly and warmly but — seeing his plight — we just handed him a fact sheet and asked him to look at it when he had time. Having been in that situation myself, I doubt that he ever did.

We live in hard times, and lately it’s been harder on men, who have been suffering higher rates of unemployment than women in this Great Recession.

In such times, while men are rebuilding their economic lives, they could use the wisdom of feminism more than ever.

But there seems to be little of that kind of support for men in our communities these days.

I do know a good man here in Grass Valley — a therapist — who has been driving weekly to Sacramento for over twenty years to meet with his same long-standing men’s group, a relationship surely more rare even than marriages of that duration.

Reinette Senum Speaks for Blue Lead Neighbor Tom Brown

In the following 6-minute video, Reinette Senum, Mayor of Nevada City, reads the letter sent by Blue Lead neighbor, Tom Brown, to the Nevada County Planning Commission.

Here are some of the words you will hear from Mr. Brown:

‘My wife and I are the owners of APN 38-391-04 which is adjacent to the three parcels described in this request and has a common border with two of the parcels (APN 38-390-12 and -21). When we purchased this parcel in 1986 we were California residents. In 2004 we moved to our current residence in Virginia which makes it impractical for us to personally appear at the public hearings pertaining to this matter. Therefore we have authorized Reinette Senum to represent us by reading this statement to the Commission.”

” … On October 1, 2008 we received a letter from William Haigh, Field Manager in the Folsom Field Office of the BLM inquiring about “the legal rights Mr. (Tucker)White holds through your property.” This letter of inquiry was prompted by Mr. White’s application for a right-of-way through BLM land. In his letter Mr. Haigh also wrote “Since he (Mr. White) has done considerable widening of the road on your parcel, we might assume you have deeded him some sort of easement.” This letter from Mr. Haigh was the first time we became aware that Mr. White had indeed trespassed on our land and irrevocably damaged it while doing a significant amount of unauthorized road work. Mr. White never requested permission to enter our property. Had he requested such permission he never would have received it.’

Truck Rule Based on Flawed Data, ARB Staff Admits

By Daniel Weintraub

A computer model that the Air Resources Board used to justify historic restrictions on diesel emissions from off-road construction equipment may have attributed twice as much pollution to those heavy trucks as they actually produce, according to interviews with ARB staff.

That error, coupled with the effects of the recession on the construction industry, means that the excavators, backhoes and graders that operate in California are producing only a fraction of the pollutants that the board believed was the case when it adopted the regulations in 2007.

The industry has been pushing the air board to repeal or at least suspend implementation of the rule, which requires contractors to get rid of old, heavily polluting engines and retrofit others with filters to capture the diesel particulate matter before it reaches the ambient air.

— Read full story here.

Excerpts from J. Pelton’s Letter Re Blue Lead Mine

Excerpts from J. Pelton’s “Open Letter to Planning Commission Re Blue Lead Mine” (April 25, 2010):


Thank you for allowing additional time, at least until your next meeting on May 27th, before deciding on the vested rights application from the Blue Lead Mine. I have read all of the written materials and letters that were posted on the Commission’s website. I stayed through the entire meeting on April 22nd, and listened carefully to verbal comments from the lawyers and from members of the public.

This much is abundantly clear:

BURDEN OF PROOF: Blue Lead has not met its burden of proof. It is not up to the Planning Commission to show that the former owners had or lost a vested right. Rather, it is up to Blue Lead to prove that the legal right to mine existed in 1954 for each parcel (this is still an open question), what kind of mining and, further, that the right if it existed was not lost when the former owners were unable, for whatever reason, to “get it (their mining project) off the ground” to quote Blue Lead’s lawyer, Mr. Chadwick.

… OFFICE OF MINE RECLAMATION: The representatives from OMR were correct in saying that Blue Lead can’t have it both ways: if there was continuous legal mining at the site, even allowing for idle periods, but the required procedures including annual reporting were not followed then big fines have accrued and are payable now. If, however, the vested right was lost due to inactivity by the former owners, and Tucker White started a new, unpermitted operation in 2007, then big fines have accrued and are payable now. OMR has received many complaints from Nevada County residents about the Blue Lead Mine since 2007. If Nevada County enforcement of mining regulations is lacking, the State Office of Mine Reclamation can and will step in.

… ZONING: The site is not zoned for mining, a further indication that legal mining was not occurring at that site. Attorney Robert Joehnck points out that “future mining activity was prohibited when the zoning classification was applied to the property by the County, unless a conditional use permit was first obtained by someone wanting to pursue mining activities”. There is no indication that such a permit was ever obtained.

MINERAL RIGHTS: Attorney Ellison Folk points out that the property title conveyed in the quiet title judgment in 1966 excludes mineral deposits that were known to exist prior to 1878.

Read full letter here.

Eyewitness Testimony of Blue Lead Neighbor Rita Jennings

Almost no one from the neighborhood of the Blue Lead Mine ((Pronounced “blue leed … “)), much less any other affected citizen of Nevada County, was present at the meeting of the Nevada County Planning Commission on March 25th, when Blue Lead’s application for “vested right to mine” was considered and provisionally approved.  The reason for the scant public turnout was the poor — though nominally proper ((The meeting notices are effectively buried obscurely in the newspaper among other hard-to-read legal notices. The meeting agendas are posted online a few days prior to each meeting.)) — prior notification of the meeting.

A significant exception was Rita Jennings, who is a neighbor of Blue Lead and was present at the March 25th meeting. Her subsequent letter ((Comments re Blue Lead’s bid for “Vested” mining rights in the PlanningCommission meeting of March 25, 2010 in email from Rita Jennings to Jessica Hankins, Planner. Notice that the Docushare directory in which this letter is available online also contains other interesting public comments.)) to the commissioners — printed below — thus makes very interesting reading.

Notice the sad irony in her letter when she says that “neighbors of mining properties lose many of their rights with a ‘vested’ designation.” And later she says that “to deny our neighborhood ‘vested’ rights as long-term residential property owners is unjust.” Could this also constitute a legitimate “takings” claim in law?

To the Nevada County Planning Commissioners:

I attended the March 25 hearing for Blue Lead’s bid for vested mining, and immediately noticed that I was the only non-mining attendee from my neighborhood. Later I queried a few neighbors. Only one other knew of the hearing. Planner Jessica Hankins assured me that everyone within the required distance of the Blue Lead operation had been notified. This, as I recall, was 500 or 1000 feet. This makes little sense in a neighborhood measured by acres, not feet. The 75 acres owned by Blue Lead is part of the larger 1100+ acres of “diggins” historically mined in the distant past, and vesting will likely set a precedent for the whole.

The same parties who sold the Blue Lead to the Whites are now promoting further parcel sales of the original 1100 acres with “vesting” as a carrot:

Neighbors who live only 1/4 mile from the “diggins” will be affected by any Planning Commission decision applied to the Blue Lead operation, which is more than a mile away. Thus we neighbors did not receive sufficient and appropriate notice. I have lived in this neighborhood since 1976 and have no knowledge of any mining activity whatsoever occurring in the 1100 acres. I met various Brady’s and also Lyle White during this time. No one spoke of doing any mining. Because the “diggins” functions like an “echo chamber”, I assure you that all of us would have heard any significant mining operation. We hear un-muffled motorcycles and shooting from miles away. Furthermore, the natural tendency of off-road enthusiasts to explore every possible trail would have led to some kind of conflict with a mining operation. I believe Tucker White can attest to this on his own property (and I give him credit for having both the courage and where-with-all to stand down the motorcycle incursion).

At the hearing, one of the commissioners explained that she toured the Blue Lead site and found it both ugly and “obviously” mining property. She apparently did not tour “all” of the “diggins”, parts of which are enchantingly beautiful. Those who live in the Red Dog-You Bet environs do not see our back yard as “ugly”, rather as land which has been horrifically mistreated. In fact, we have been fighting for over 30 years to keep ATV/OHV’s off private property and County road, which have been further ravaged by illegal vehicular traffic. Most of us care deeply about what happens to the land in our back yards. As mentioned above, noise from around the diggins can be horrendous due to the echo factor. Scientists have visited and studied how sound waves vibrate across exposed quartz landscapes.

I was disappointed in the hearing that the ramifications of a “vested” vs. “non-vested” designation were neither clearly understood or explained by the Commission. What was implied, from my understanding, is that neighbors of mining properties lose many of their rights with a “vested” designation. Does this mean that we have no recourse for environmental noise and road traffic/road degradation? Or for hours of operation? Does this further mean that the trees, which have had some time to re-establish themselves and lend a eerie beauty to the landscape, can summarily be removed?

Forgive me if I missed this point, but I don’t recall that any Planning Commissioner addressed the precedent raised by Ms. Hankins and Ms. Mayberry that, in the 1980’s, the County rigorously determined which properties were actively mining. The “diggins” was not thus identified in either pass. Why does this not stand as “evidence of abandonment” in the minds of the commissioners?

Finally, for the sake of brevity, as a member of the audience I could not understand why the commissioners contended they “had no choice” but to vote for the vested designation. As I witnessed Mr. Chadwick’s presentation, his graphically depicting “burden of proof” impressed me as a lawyer’s ploy to convince you/us that he had more evidence of timely and continuous mining than was actually the case. It is my hope that one of my neighbors, more expert on the history of mining in this area, can convince you that Mr. Chadwick’s evidence was not appropriately researched (and obviously slanted toward Blue Lead’s case). At times I was horrified by implications which should have prompted an “I object” from the opposing attorney in a court of law.

I do not deny miner’s rights to mine. But given the historical rape of this land from mining, before anyone can raise another pick in our back yard they must be required to follow modern enlightened mining practices/permits/regulations which have been determined as right and fair to both the environment and neighbors. To deny our neighborhood “vested” rights as long-term residential property owners is unjust and a move towards the lawless detrimental mining practices of the past. Consider the behavior of the Blue Lead owners in neighboring Plumas County, with their similar attempts here! Nevada County should be embarrassed for the lack of stewardship should they approve “vesting” per scant evidence. As one who has had to deal with the OHV problem without support of law enforcement for the majority of the time, I assure you that we locals do not deserve to take on further vigilance in regards to mining operations. We need the full participation of all possible monitoring agencies, particularly those within the county.

I urge you to reconsider the evidence, and find the Blue Lead bid for “vesting” to be both historically and morally unjustified.

Rita Jennings

See all Sierra Voices articles on Blue Lead here.

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