by Tina Buttell
Sometimes we forget that we’re all in the same boat. Despite our differences, we all prefer clean air and water, safe homes, good jobs, convenient transportation, and we mostly don’t even disagree about climate. We want livable futures for our children, abundant crops, lush forests and recreation opportunities.
Unfortunately, some organizations pit us against each other by exacerbating perceived differences. The Cascade Policy Institute, one of about 160 right-wing think tanks under the SPN umbrella, is one such organization in our area. SPN is a deceptive acronym for State Policy Network, which makes it sound local. It is not. It’s a nationally funded membership group of extremists in the Republican Party that pretends to support low-income, rural folks but is closely aligned with wealthy, corporate business interests, including the fossil-fuel industry. They are known for union busting, voter suppression, climate denial, expanded law enforcement and are associated with ALEC, a notorious ultra-conservative lobby.
Another detractor from our common good is J.P. Morgan Chase Bank that invested over $67 billion between 2016 and 2018 in environmentally destructive tar sands, ocean drilling, LNG (liquid natural gas) and coal. Bank of America and Wells Fargo are right up there too, with more than $39 billion and $35 billion respectively, in oil and gas during the same time. Whether you drive a Tesla or a large pickup truck, where you save and invest, and which credit card you carry, may matter more.
Meanwhile, there are some hopeful examples of constructive collaboration. Rural Development Initiatives, a nonprofit based in Eugene, assists communities to create jobs, connect to financial opportunities and coordinate value chain projects such as the Cottage Grove “Food Hub” and the Garibaldi “Fisheries Hub,” to generate long-term community wealth and economic vitality. Their goal is to shift rural economies away from inequitable extraction of resources and towards a collective, inclusive vision of the future.
A frequent argument against Timber Unity and allies is that “they don’t get it.” This isn’t really true. They are resisting taxation and other changes because they do “get” the threat of rapid, impending change to their way of life. The climate justice movement needs to ease the transition to sustainable industries and lifestyles for those most at risk for loss. In contrast, a frequent complaint against environmentalists is that Oregon’s carbon emissions are too small to matter. Oregon is small in size but is a significant global model for land-use policy, forestry, livable cities, ecotourism and more. Just as each vote counts, each person’s carbon footprint adds up and sets an example. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
An interesting new Clackamas County-Americorps partnership is the RARE program — Resource Assistance for Rural Environments — which will focus on local solar projects and carbon-emission reduction. The Urban Rural Ambassadors Summer Institute between students in La Grande and Portland is yet one more example of a collaborative vision for the future, involving a summer student exchange program with discussions of shared goals, as well as appreciation of differences.
We all can benefit from the transition to renewable energy. Besides contributing to a cleaner, cooler environment, renewables will become more prevalent and affordable even as oil and gas prices continue to rise. Rural communities are earning income from solar and wind farms, and PGE is scheduled to shut down its coal-fueled Boardman plant very soon, closing Oregon’s era of coal-generated electricity.
There are rarely simple solutions to complex problems, but together we can keep our boat afloat. As said by Abraham Lincoln, “We can succeed only by concert. It is not ‘can any of us imagine better,’ but ‘can we all do better?'”
Tina Buettell has lived in rural and suburban Clackamas County for 44 years.
Originally published in Clackamas Review.