History Lesson: How 40-Year Old EcoNews Articles Inspired a Master’s Thesis on the Green New Deal

Saul Levin is a climate activist focused on racial, economic, and environmental justice. He studied Environmental Planning at Harvard and Environmental Studies at the University of Chicago.

Saul is interviewed by NEC Board Member and former member of the Emerald Creek Committee, Dan Sealy. 

Saul, How did you make the connection between the current Green New Deal and the efforts of the NEC and Emerald Creek Committee (ECC) in support of the 1978 Redwood National Park Expansion Act?

Saul Levin is a senior climate advisor in the office of Congresswoman Deb Haaland

I have always been interested in the redwoods, but I am especially interested in developing a socially  “just transition” to support the current workforce which is linked to fossil fuel extraction on public lands as we move towards the pro-environment, conservation jobs embraced in the Green New Deal. When searching for positive examples of that kind of  transition in the United States, I was directed to “what happened in the Redwoods” and was fascinated to learn that the Redwood Employment Protection Plan (REPP) is a tremendous, and in some ways the most complete, example of extractive industry workers receiving enough compensation and benefits that they eventually advocated changing jobs.

 

 

You and I met while I was bartending at a Northcoast Environmental Center Open House in Arcata. How did you make the connection to the NEC and the infamous Emerald Creek Committee?

When I was in Arcata looking for further resources on the expansion legislation, I found the NEC website. I felt it might be deeply connected to this story and found in the Resources tab that EcoNews issues going back almost 50 years could be accessed onsite. I decided to just go to the NEC personally and other places like EPIC and see if I could meet people who were involved and look at archives. The warm NEC staff readily offered me an opportunity to look at all the back-issues of EcoNews, which was perfect. The invitation to the Board mixer was a big bonus – I met you guys and got a feel for your community! 

Who are some of the people you interviewed that are, or were, connected to NEC and ECC and what did they provide you?  

NEC’s second Executive Director, John Amodio, told me about his and others’ work on the political side in Sacramento and Washington, DC. Steve Madrone and you told me about the adventures in Emerald Creek watershed with HSU Professor Rudi Becking and other ECC folks to document the forest ecosystem destruction and designation of cultural tribal sites. Suzanne Guerra, who worked with ECC and NEC, gave me details about archives that would help, and Tom Wheeler of EPIC told me about the lawsuits and history of the region. There were others, of course, including faculty at HSU, members of the Yurok tribe, and on the organized labor side. Park Service staff gave me essential information about the restoration work that followed the expansion bill. People were friendly and helpful even when I walked into places without warning.

What is a big take-home from all your work that we can learn from?

First, building coalitions outside of your first priority is critical and can be done. I was inspired by the class consciousness of your organizing and the environmental focus of unions such as the International Woodworkers of America. Some of those unions knew there were not many years left of traditional redwood logging and their jobs were contingent on the survival of the forests. Second, we can learn from the Redwoods that what is needed and possible is to develop a dignified path away from the fossil fuel industry that is most preferable. That means significant wage replacement, a bridge to retirement, benefits during that time, and options for retraining and relocation money where relevant. Then, just as was done in the Redwoods, a low-carbon economy needs to be built employing the skills that industry workers still have so at least some can work in the area. 

It has been a pleasure to work with you, Saul. Tell us more about your work. 

There are three points I would like to emphasize about what this project adds. First, the role of you and other activists in driving this process was obviously fundamental, but has been frequently overlooked by historical accounts – I tried to remedy that, including it because it serves as inspiration to climate activists today. Second, I highlight the political process that made this outcome possible, which relied on immense skill and courage from a huge range of advocates. Among them were lawyers who both successfully defended the benefits of REPP recipients, and proved that claims of fraud and overuse of benefits were ill-founded and played up by conservatives and moderates unhappy with the outcome. Third, I highlight the complex and central role of Indigenous people in this story, which is often glossed over or ignored by historical accounts offsetting labor and environment – the fish wars and timber wars happened in the same woods at the same time, and connecting them is vital to understanding the coalition we need to deliver climate and racial justice in the present.