Category Archives: Environment

The Necessity of “Oil & Water,” a Local Documentary


Oil & Water is a documentary playing this weekend at the Social Justice Film Festival (7pm at the Northwest Film Forum on Saturday, to be specific). It originally screened at SIFF earlier this year, and will have an abridged version to appear on PBS in Seattle early next year. (It has been playing on PBS affiliates already, but will not be on public television in Seattle until January.) It’s well worth your time to check out the full 78 minute version this weekend. It is about the long term damage being done from oil companies in Ecuador.

The documentary is the newest from local filmmakers Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith. The two names you know from Busting Outa 2004 Showtime documentary about breasts that was unfortunate in reminding viewers that Tom Leykis exists. But, much to its credit, Oil & Water does not feature any talk radio blowhards.

What Strickwerda and Smith accomplish here is an engaging documentary that they spent a lot of time working on. It raised almost twice its modest $5000 goal on Kickstarter back in early 2011. What makes Oil & Water so compelling is that there’s a human element that should draw people in and make it accessible for people who wouldn’t normally care about an environmental documentary. The doc is told through two stories: Hugo, an Ecuadorian who is to the US to get an American education (he graduates from Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School in 2006) and David, and idealistic Massachusetts millennial who tries to start a company that certifies “fair trade” oil. Hugo’s from the Cofan tribe, an indigenous tribe on the Ecuadorian Amazon fighting for its survival.

I don’t want to delve too much into the personalities of Hugo and David, or their families, but I’ll just say that Strickwerda and Smith have done a remarkable job of putting a human face to a catastrophe. It is often that the stories of marginalized people get left out when the “freedom” for large companies to do what they want is at stake. I think a lot of people are comfortable with letting corporations do whatever the want when it’s under the banner of “job creation,” but a movie like Oil & Water pushes back against that idea. The humans affected by oil drilling are no longer an abstraction to be ignored, but actual people. It makes it all the more necessary. Oil & Water is not just important and accessible, but it’s also dangerous.

Woodland Park Zoo to host Fecal Fest for Fall 2014; burns local blogger on Twitter

Photo by Ryan Hawk for Woodland Park Zoo.
Photo by Ryan Hawk for Woodland Park Zoo.

For those of us that fall under the “local media” umbrella, the best press releases that fill up our in-boxes each day seem to come from the people at Woodland Park Zoo. Sometimes they send photos of zoo animals cheering on the Seahawks. Other times, like yesterday, they let you know about how they are holding a contest for the chance to buy animal excrement, as part of the occasional “Fecal Fest” event. The e-mail’s subject line was “The Price of Poo: Fall Fecal Fest begins at Woodland Park Zoo.” Even better were the puns. I think it might set a local record for most feces-related puns without using the word “shit.” Here’s the full press release:

Get your hands on the most desired poop in Seattle. Woodland Park Zoo’s fall Fecal Fest is right around the corner. The annual poop event attracts local gardeners to enter a bid to purchase the exotic, highly-coveted Zoo Doo and Bedspread that Dr. Doo, also known as the “Prince of Poo,” the “GM of BM” or the “Grand Poopah,” has been piling all summer.
Pick up where the animals left off. Zoo Doo is the richest, most prized compost in the Pacific Northwest. Composed of species feces contributed by the zoo’s non-primate herbivores such as elephants, hippos, giraffes and more, Zoo Doo is perfect to grow your veggies and annuals.
Bedspread, the zoo’s premium composted mulch, is a combination of Zoo Doo, sawdust, and large amounts of wood chips. Bedspread is used to cushion perennial beds and woody landscapes including rose beds, shrubs and pathways.
Due to the high desirability of Zoo Doo, gardening fans must enter a lottery to win the chance to purchase Zoo Doo or Bedspread. An online form is available to enter at beginning August 18. Only one entry per person is eligible for each drawing.
Entries will be selected randomly for as many entrants possible, and only selected entries will be contacted. Phone and mail orders are not accepted.
Entries accepted August 18-September 7
Pick-up dates take place September 20-October 2
Zoo Doo and Bedspread: Pick-up truck 8×4 bed: $60; 6×4 bed: $45; 6×3 bed: $35. Limit one full truck per person. Garbage cans: $8 to $10 depending on size; bags: $4 to $6 depending on size. Pint-sized buckets are available anytime at the ZooStore $4.95. 

Being that I can occasionally be a smartass on Twitter (and because I get so many press releases for parties/concerts, particularly in the summer), I tweeted this:

The zoo wrote back shortly after that, and got me pretty good:

It even prompted the very funny ladies at Seattlish to hashtag it:

…and here’s a helpful video called “What happens to all that poo at the zoo?”

Yoram Bauman writes the book graphic novel on climate change

climatechange-coverYoram Bauman is something of a favorite around SunBreak HQ. He’s a PhD environmental economist and calls himself “the world’s first and only stand-up economist.” MvB wrote highly of Bauman’s “Cartoon Introduction” books on microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Back in 2012, MvB wrote, “The part of the book he got the most pushback on, from other economists, was the chapter on climate change (“The End of Planet Earth?”), but as an environmental economist, Bauman wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip by.” It shouldn’t be a terrible surprise that Bauman expanded that chapter into an entire book for The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (Island Press).

Back with illustrator Grady Klein, Bauman uses his expertise to make the polarizing subject accessible for a layperson. It’s accessible and engaging, and often very funny. Reading it, I found that I understood the politics of climate change far more than the actual science. Yet, Bauman provides a good crash course on environmental science and makes a strong case for why this is such an important issue. A good example is this excerpt from book, the full contents of chapter two (A Brief History of Planet Earth).

The illustrations from Klein and text from Bauman present an important issue in such an accessible manner that it should be applauded. It also deserves much credit for pro-actively engaging climate critics in a manner that isn’t condescending, no matter how deserved condescension may be. It’s also surprisingly optimistic. As one of the book’s taglines goes, “Climate change is no laughing matter—but maybe it should be.”

{Yoram Bauman talks at Town Hall tonight, 7:30pm, $5 tickets.}

Zoo-Born Western Pond Turtles Making a Washington Comeback

Pond Turtle Release Ryan Hawk 8-12
Pond Turtle Measure Dennis Dow

Endangered western pond turtles being released to a refuge site by Woodland Park Zoo and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Photo: Ryan Hawk/WPZ)

Endangered western pond turtles will be weighed, measured and marked for identification before being released to a refuge site. (Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ)

Pond Turtle Release Ryan Hawk 8-12 thumbnail
Pond Turtle Measure Dennis Dow thumbnail

This week, Woodland Park Zoo will release more than 80 western pond turtles into the wilds near Lakewood, Washington.

It’s been 22 years since the inauguration of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, launched to save the endangered turtle; in 1990, their population in Washington had crashed to around 150.

Now, after two decades, there may be as many as 1,500 western pond turtles at six managed habitats in Klickitat, Skamania, Pierce, and Mason counties. Researchers believe the turtles’ brush with extinction was due to loss of healthy habitat, disease, and the appeal that baby turtles hold for ravenous, non-native bullfrogs.

Woodland Park Zoo is a participant — along with the Oregon Zoo — in what’s known as a “head-start” program for the turtles, in a partnership with Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each fall, workers comb the turtles’ nesting ground for hatchlings and eggs, scoop them up, and deliver them to the zoos, where they can be fed and raised in safety. After ten months, they’re released again, now as big as 3-year-old wild turtles, and ready to rumble with any bullfrogs.

Studies on their survival rates support the head-start theory, but even so the population’s recovery will be measured in decades, because it takes the turtles about ten to 15 years to reach sexual maturity. (They can live 40 or 50 years.)

Saturday, Alki is Going on a Beach Cleanse

Alki Beach (Photo: MvB)
Alki Beach (Photo: MvB)

The Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project would like to invite you to join them this Saturday at Alki Beach for a two-hour clean-up, from 10 a.m. to noon. KOMO 4‘s predicting partly cloudy and a high of 77. You can RSVP here; look for the Surfrider tent at the intersection of 59th SW and Alki Avenue SW.

Afterwards, those of drinking age are in the right place for a Surfrider-hosted celebration featuring Barefoot Wine and surf-inspired fare. Tacoma’s acoustic rocker Vicci Martinez advises you to come along with her to the celebration at Cactus Restaurant, noon to 2 p.m.

We’re mentioning this because we’re a little tickled at how well the Barefoot Wine sponsorship fits in — yes, you do want to go barefoot at the beach — but also to point out the good work of the Surfrider Foundation, who publish a continually updated report on beach conditions called “State of the Beach.”

In their section on Washington beaches, you learn that there are — believe it or not — about two dozen surfing spots, but that cities and town nearby have yet to promote them. That’s outside of Westport, a state leader in surfing tourism. The state also scores low on “shoreline structures,” if you include the beaches of densely-inhabited Puget Sound. Surfrider hopes to see the removal of shoreline armoring that kills beaches. Seattle earns praise on that account:

[T]he Seattle Department of Transportation, King Conservation District, and Washington Sea Grant have jointly spent $310,000 to install 18 concrete panels along Seattle’s urban waterfront. Each panel measures about 5 by 7 feet, with faux rocks or ledges at various angles. The scientists also stuck nine troughs to the walls and filled them with small rocks and gravel, creating mini tide pools. The goal is to create nooks and crannies where algae, tiny sea insects, small fish and crabs can hide out.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Waterfront

Collage created from Waterfront Seattle images.
Suitable for framing, MvB’s collage created from Waterfront Seattle images.

Across Seattle, a chorus of feeble, “Wait…what?”s are arising as people catch sight of artist’s illustrations of the new waterfront “boulevard” envisioned by city planners. Internet philosophe Fnarf anticipates much of the reaction with his article “City Proposes Waterfront Highway on Top of Tunnel” on Slog.

Seattle Bike Blog, while approving of the cycle tracks, says, “The new Alaskan Way, located mostly within the current footprint of the viaduct, will be four or five lanes for most of its length until it reaches Columbia Street. South of Columbia, it completely explodes with travel lanes and starts to look a whole lot more like a freeway than a waterfront boulevard.”

The assumption that, with a tunnel, the Viaduct would go away and be replaced by a meandering, flower-speckled goat-track was always suspect. From the beginning, a multi-lane boulevard was sketched out by the dead hand of history — how could the city replace Alaskan Way with anything less than its current lanes and retain its self-respect? The official Waterfront Seattle rhetoric soft-pedaled that, though, with talk of healing the scar created by the Viaduct, and stitching the waterfront back to the city.

Thus the surprise when images like this surface. Look at how tiny the people are! That’s because the streets are so big.

Waterfront Seattle illustration
Waterfront Seattle illustration

In these illustrations, the stitch to fix the scar is about as wide as the waterfront itself, and wider at parts. Tourists will share those remarkably spacious lanes with freight traffic delivering goods to the city. (The city-bypassing deep-bore tunnel also bans anything flammable or explosive, pushing those trucks onto the scenic drive as well.) The speed of boulevard traffic means the addition of parking/loading lanes, so that the “thin” north end is perhaps (with planted median) 80 feet or more.

That median separates north and southbound traffic, of course, but it’s also there because many won’t have enough time to cross the whole street in one go. The Street and Transit Update (pdf) avoids, anywhere, detailing the complete width of the boulevard. A street tree buffer is six feet wide, a sidewalk twelve feet, but lanes go unmeasured.

Isn’t this similar to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, some ask? It is. The difference is that San Francisco opted for a grand boulevard (and its tradeoffs) rather than spend $2 billion on a new tunnel, viaduct, or freeway. The state seems willing to spend $2 billion on a tunnel for Seattle and to clog its waterfront with cars and trucks.

(That said, with tunneling about to begin, the state is still trying to locate all of the $2 billion required, thanks to shortfalls in toll revenue projections. Neither has the Port of Seattle yet put paid on its $300 million, an amount that would have gotten them a much-needed overpass.)

Although the outrage “hook” is the view of nine lanes for motor vehicles (in part to speed ferry traffic to and from Colman Dock), Fnarf has a more insightful point to make as well:

But, as usual, what is missing from these photos is a city. The planners know how to build roads, so they build roads, but they have no idea how to build a city, so they just airbrush it out.

That’s to understate the role of cut-and-paste in this plan. If there is a street “enhancement” that’s been left out, it would be hard to say what it was. But they’re provided without context, plucked from cities and situations without regard for the environment that supports them.

All those verdant tree buffers and medians make sense in cities with a history of funding the kind of meticulous, ongoing landscaping care they require. Seattle’s budget doesn’t allow for its parks’ grass to be mowed weekly. Its sidewalks are everywhere in unsafe disrepair. The city has proven so averse to maintenance and upkeep that existing waterfront sidewalks sometimes swallow people up.

A city is always evidence of argument — sometimes of compromise, but at other times a single perspective has clearly won. Down at Seattle’s waterfront, there’s no possibility of agreement. Promenades and cycle tracks and places for leisure and sight-seeing can do nothing but clash with the exigencies of the workaday commute and the freight-delivery traffic that keeps downtown supplied. The tunnel was going to bury that argument, we were told, but here it is again.