News from the Center | September 2022

Larry Glass, NEC Board President
Caroline Griffith, NEC Executive Director

In order to envision the future we want, it’s imperative to look at the past. Not just to see how we arrived at this point and to avoid making the same mistakes again, but also to help us to imagine a time when things were different. Sometimes, when looking around at the mess we are in when it comes to climate catastrophe, prolonged drought, and persistent inequality, it can be difficult to imagine that we could have, or ever will, take a different path. In this issue, we have a couple of articles about history: the history of plastic packaging and the history of cars and how we’ve built our communities around them. Both of these phenomena, and the environmental degradation and pollution associated with them, are not that old in terms of human history. We have lived without them and being reminded of this fact can help us to envision a future in which these amazing and destructive inventions become rarities. One thing that both plastic and cars have in common is a dependence on petroleum. There seems to be consensus among the environmental community that petroleum has got to go, but what will the replacement be? There are trade-offs and impacts from every source of energy, from emissions to the methods used to extract the resources they are made from. As we embark on this transition, it’s vital that we use our imaginations to rethink how and why we use resources and work to envision alternate ways of living that are less consumption based, less dependant on energy and resources, rather than just seeking a silver bullet solution that will allow us to continue on with business as usual. 

Nuclear Energy

One energy source that is butting its ugly head into the conversation about non-carbon energy is nuclear, which the NEC has worked against for years. We’ve been surprised by the number of emails showing up in the NEC inbox lately touting the false climate solution of nuclear power. If you only look at the best case scenario and ignore the pesky problem of waste and radiation exposure, then yes, nuclear power may seem less polluting than fossil fuels. But doing so ignores the hard truth that nuclear power, specifically the waste products produced by this carbon-free energy source, are a threat to this and future generations. Unfortunately, the push to focus only on the carbon impact of energy sources is leading to a resurgence in nuclear power innovation and we would do well to look to the past for a reminder of the work that has been done, locally and nationally, to move past nuclear power. Currently, 39 percent of PG&E’s clean energy mix comes from nuclear power, and although we no longer have a nuclear power plant in our region, we do still have the waste from that plant stored in Humboldt Hill. We need to be careful not to allow our demand for unlimited power lead us down a path that will leave behind a trail of waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years. 

Fire’s Effect On Private Property

At the time of this writing, fire season has officially begun in Northern California. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in high-severity wildfire in Western forests, specifically in California, and there is a strong connection to past and present forest management along with drier and hotter temperatures. To add to the complexity, a recent study by researcher Jacob Lavine found the odds of high-severity fire on private industrial forest lands was 1.8 times greater than on “public” lands. Importantly, he found high-severity fire incidence was even greater in areas adjacent to private industrial land.

Another big factor in all this is how non-industrial property owners maintain their lands. Has there been any attempt at fuel reduction? Most of the time the answer is no. In California today, creating a defensible space is the law in fire prone areas, but that’s only one hundred feet around structures. What about all the rest of these properties? This job may be too much for the typical land owner. It’s clear that along with education there will have to be a concerted and funded effort to really begin to reduce fuels by cultural burning techniques and mimicking those effects when burning is not possible. Part of the problem is how rapidly the climate has changed and how slow many of us have been in adjusting to it. It’s time for local agencies and governments to dedicate the funds and people-power to forest management and to start subsidizing and empowering small landowners to do this work. 

Racism In Our Community

On the morning of July 20, our friends at Jardin Sanctuario, a space nurtured by Centro del Pueblo and Cooperation Humboldt, arrived to find their sign (which welcomes visitors to the garden in English, Spanish, Mixteco and Soulátluk) had been defaced with the words “America” and “USA.” Centro del Pueblo works to support Indigenous immigrants in our community and the garden is a sanctuary for all people, regardless of immigration status. Here at the NEC we see this as an attempt to intimidate and silence valued community members and we want to make it clear that we stand united with our allies against hate in our communities. Although we talk a lot about environmental racism within these pages, we want to be explicit that all forms of racism hurt the environment because they divide us and work to silence and negate community members whose knowledge, experience and passion is vital to healing our planet. To support the work of Centro del Pueblo visit