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How a Butterfly Makes a Tidal Wave

The old growth forest stands tall and strong
Picture huge old growth forest, expansive and alive with plants and animals; now picture urban sprawl at its finest. Picture the trees swaying from side to side and dripping water on the plants below; now picture the materialistic consumption of humans as it grows greater than ever before. In the distance you can hear chain saws and bulldozers getting closer and closer. The forests all around you are starting to drop like flies as human needs can't be met. The once lush forest are now hills of mud that crumble to pieces when it rains. Scared and frightened of the human greed, the trees stand and wait until it's their turn to be given up for the unnecessary consumption of humans. You are the trees, with chainsaws at your base ripping into roots, ripping into your thousands of years of life. You come crashing to the ground angered but helpless. As you lie on the ground in pain you realize you have lost the battle and greed has won.

 Mudslides are often results of clearcutting
This battle continues, ripping and tearing throughout the entire forest. The rolling hills of trees are no more. They have been replaced with rolling hills of mud. Huge mudslides crash into houses covering parts of towns and even killing people. Something must be done to protect the trees without harming people. If this continues there will soon be no forest left.

The sad truth is that logging has destroyed 96 percent of the Headwaters Forest that used to stretch from southern Oregon all the way down the Pacific coast to Big Sur, California. The Headwaters Forest today consists of six remaining groves of ancient Redwoods. They are protected in state and national parks, but these labels don't necessarily mean that they are entirely protected. Even though the Headwaters forests are state and national parks, they are still owned by the Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Company, which is very anxious to log the forests to pay off their corporate debt. The Headwaters forests provide an amazing ecosystem with trees like ancient redwood, Douglas fir, as well many plants and animals who depend on this as their home. As 96 percent of the old growth forest has been logged, the remaining 4 percent is still in great danger.

Why is the forest on the verge of being completely eliminated? We always like to point fingers at the loggers and the big corporations. Don't get me wrong; they play a huge role in the destruction, but so do you and I. We create the demand for all the supplies that are being extracted from these amazing forests. We use paper, we build houses, we have furniture, so indirectly we are also the ones responsible for the destruction of these forests. Don't you think that if a hundred years ago we had limited ourselves in the amount of paper and wood we consumed, there would be more forest today? But that's in the past, way outside of our lifetime isn't it? Yes, but at the same time, just think if we started to slow and control our consumption now. If we did this, just think about the positive effects that future generations enjoy.

Many people have already started to take initiative in many different ways. They have fought to protect wild places not only in Northern California, but all over the world. One good example is Earth First. Earth First is a network of local groups who battle against environmental destruction. Earth First is currently active in about 13 countries. They assist different community organizations in their battles and are notorious for their direct-action way of combating environmental destruction. They have held protests, blocking off lumber roads. They have chained themselves to trees, and put their lives on the line to protect the environment. This style of direct action has proved to be successful in some cases. They have even blocked off interstate highways in major cities to protest car culture, and how it damages the earth. "Earth First" really means putting life first. The earth is a living organism and humans are just one aspect of it, just like all other species.

Nick hangs out with the trees
There are other organizations, like the Sierra Club, who concentrate on lobbying for public policy rather than direct action. They have formed offices all over the country and lobby the government for environmental preservation by using petitions, phone call campaigns, and affiliating themselves with political groups to gain support. And like the Sierra Club, these methods are sometimes effective, sometimes not. All organizations have their problems and are constantly trying to increase their impact.


Running Around Lake Merritt / Lake Merritt is a nice little man-made lake

Many environmental activist and organizations have come together in solidarity with indigenous people, because indigenous people are connected with the earth both spiritually and culturally. And a very large portion of the environmental destruction that takes place happens on indigenous land.

Nick hanging out with some red woods
The environmental movement came out of the consciousness of the 1960's when people made great migrations from the cities to live "at one with the earth" in communes all across rural America. People learned how to build sustainable communities by growing their own veggies, fruits, meat, etc. This opened their eyes to how each and every one of us has a huge impact on our surrounding environment. Many of the same people who lived in these communes went on to educate people about the status of the environment and how to best live "with it, rather than on it." This consciousness is what carries the environmental movement today. But what keeps the momentum going is when the public sees people making sacrifices for the protection of the earth.

Recently the environmental movement had a huge regeneration when Julia Butterfly Hill spent over two years sitting in a tree to protest the cutting of the last ancient Redwoods. The action was intended to stop Pacific Lumber, a division of the Maxxam Corporation, from continuing their destructive process of clear-cutting all the trees, including an ancient Redwood named Luna.

Stephanie saddened by the destruction of the Redwoods
Julia went to college for business and began making money right away. Motivated by money and materials she strived do be successful in business. But things took a drastic turn in her life when she was in a severe accident in 1996. She was in bed for nearly a year. During that time she thought a lot about where she was going in life; she questioned her profession and eventually realized that she was no longer motivated by money. She began to search for satisfaction and for her true goals in life.

Julia was drawn to the ancient redwoods of California after learning a little about the struggle that was going on there. She went to a place called "base camp" to help as much as she could. Base camp was an Earth First action camp that got people ready for "tree sits". "Tree sits" are basically people climbing up trees and living on platforms for periods of time to protest the cutting of the surrounding forest. This was another form of direct action just like blocking logging roads or disabling oil rigs.

Julia Butterfly Hill from the top of Luna
The camp was getting ready to shut down because a stormy winter was on its way. Nonetheless, the Earth First'ers were looking for someone to sit in the famous tree. Julia went up and down the tree twice before she made her final ascent stand. On December 10, 1997, Julia climbed up the 180 ft tree named Luna for what she thought was going to be a two to three week tree sit. What happened was something that nobody could have guessed. She stayed in the tree for over two years. While in the tree she gained international fame and became the symbol of environmental direct action.

The first three months she spent every day educating herself on the history of the forest industry and the current situation in the Headwaters Forest and wild places all over the world. Before long she became a celebrity and spent hours and hours everyday talking to people on her solar powered cell phone. She talked to the press, environmental organizations, human rights organizations, politicians, and even Hollywood celebrities. People such has Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, and Woody Harrelson visited her in the tree, as well as many other activist and community leaders.

 Julia's home for over two years
Julia quickly became a leader, not only within the environmental movement, but for humans rights has well. She gave support to political prisoners such as American Indian activist Leonard Peltier and African American activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Her adventures didn't stop there. She lived through storms that shook her little tree house, and through helicopters flying around the tree to try to force her down. She stayed in there and refused to come down until a deal was made to save Luna and the surrounding trees.

Finally, after a deal was made to protect Luna and a 20 foot buffer zone around it, Julia Butterfly Hill descended from the tree, touching her feet on the ground for the first time in 738 days. Over two years before, she had been a businesswoman from Arkansas, but now she was an international hero for human rights, for women, and for the environment. She has even been called the "Rosa Parks of the environmental movement."

Julia on the ground for the first time in two years
Julia Butterfly's is one energizing story that shows how an individual can make a real difference in the world. She has woken people up all across the world to preserving the environment. Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done, everywhere. One thing that every individual can do no matter the age or condition is to be conscious about what you spend your money on, and the products you consume and possibly waste. Take a moment to do your part.

"Humankind has not woven the web of life, we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves, all things connect." -Chief Seattle, 1854


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Your life is in danger if your neighbor is a toxic dump
Rebecca - "I survived a nuclear meltdown...I think"
Making A Difference - Save the world, Superhero! It's going down faster than a speeding bullet
Stephen - Chainsaws and bulldozers are no match for crusaders for "living museums"
Stephanie - How many Styrofoam cups does it take to kill off all the animals in the world?