By Patricia Dines

Published in The North Bay Bohemian

COLUMN -- Oct. 29, 2008

PDF VERSION OF THIS COLUMN (Click here if you need a PDF reader)


Adventures in Eco-Voting
Discerning between green fact and fiction
By Patricia Dines

Nowadays, it seems that nearly everybody wants to be seen as green. It's not just corporations jumping onto the bandwagon; politicos and ballot measures are hopping aboard, too. It's heartening that, even in these challenging times, so many mainstream folks recognize the environment's vital role in our economy, health and survival.

Still, this issue's popularity brings a new challenge: we as voters and consumers can no longer simply accept eco-claims on face value. As the biofuel backlash so aptly demonstrates, we need to look beneath the surface, especially with so much at stake.

Consider, for example, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Both speak for environmental cures such as alternative energy, which certainly is vital for addressing global warming, peak oil and more. But an analysis of the candidates' eco-credentials by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) reveals a greater difference. While Obama receives a lifetime LCV rating of 86 percent for his consistent pro-earth votes, McCain achieves only 24 percent.

Similarly, in Sonoma County's Fifth District Supervisor's race, both Rue Furch and Efren Carrillo speak of eco-principles. But the details tell a different tale. Furch's history, positions, awards and presentation clearly reveal her as an eco-wonk, diligently toiling for decades on essential local environmental protections. She's been endorsed by the Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action and current supervisor Mike Reilly, who's upheld this seat's strong eco-tradition for the past 12 years.

Carrillo, on the other hand, has quite modest environmental experience and vague positions. Two-thirds of his campaign contributions come from the development industry, and most from outside the district, at least according to Furch's analysis of campaign disclosure reports.

This same dissonance between green image and reality appears on California's ballot. While state propositions 7 and 10 both profess to encourage alternative energy implementation, they're opposed by major environmental, business, labor, consumer and taxpayer groups. Critics feel that fundamental flaws would actually harm environmental progress and waste taxpayer dollars.

Now, I'm not suggesting that all eco-claims should be distrusted as just another reason for cynicism. Rather, I see environmentalism at a new stage, one that calls on us to increase our discernment and engage more deeply in specific implementation decisions.

For example, I do support Proposition 2, which seeks more humane conditions for farm animals while improving food safety and reducing water and air pollution. This proposal is endorsed by the Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety, Humane Society, California Council of Churches, California Veterinary Medical Association and others. Reading the official description and big business opposition, I'm amazed that we'd even debate whether pens should allow animals to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely."

Other decisions are more complex, though, with sincere eco-people advocating notably different solutions. For instance, there's Sebastopol's City Council race, where those elected will determine the fate of the contested Northeast Area Plan (NEAP). On the one hand, NEAP's proponents feel that the current proposal to build intensively in the town's entry-area flood plain is ecological, based on New Urbanism's promotion of high-density and mixed-use. Candidate Jen Thille prominently features these claims for NEAP in her "Sustainable Sebastopol" campaign.

However, after examining the specifics, the overwhelming majority of citizens commenting at NEAP's final hearings opposed this plan as too big for the small town, and ecologically and economically infeasible in this location. They questioned spending millions to overcome nature's flood plain and earthquake liquefaction zone. They saw those millions making the area's houses and businesses more costly, thwarting mixed-use and conflicting with the plan's targeted low-rent businesses. They determined that the unavoidably gridlocked traffic would block the plan's required influx of new shoppers, cannibalize current businesses, generate greenhouse gases and harm livability.

Echoing these citizens is candidate Guy Wilson, who proposes downscaling NEAP to better respect natural and infrastructure limits, current businesses and the people's democratic choice. To me, this approach better embodies true green.

This is just a sample of the hidden eco-issues lurking on our ballots. By digging for the deeper story, we can all help ensure truly wise choices for our future world.

National LCV voting information is at www.lcv.org. California LCV endorsements of federal and California Congress people is at www.ecovote.org. A convenient summary of many group's proposition recommendations is at http://igs.berkeley.edu/library/hot_topics/2008/Nov2008Election/index.html. Local endorsements are at the Sierra Club's site www.sierraclub.org/ca; choose your local chapter.

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2008. All rights reserved.

NOTE: Original published copy of this column is online at


* (Re: NEAP and Sebastopol City Council Election) Opponents of Sebastopol redevelopment plan lead


* (Re: 5th District Supervisor Election) Carrillo clings to narrow lead over Furch


* Sonoma County Official Election Results -- http://www.sonoma-county.org/regvoter/elections/Results/results.asp

* John McCain's hot air, By Joseph Romm, salon.com, Oct. 9, 2008
"He may claim to be green, but McCain's environmental record is every bit as dirty as that of Sen. James "global warming is a hoax" Inhofe."


* McCain vs. McCain on the Environment, Green Piece Blog, May 2008
"since becoming the GOP's presumptive nominee, McCain has abandoned his past moderate environmental views and adopted the much less environmentally friendly platform of his party"


* Obama on the Issues: A look at Barack Obama's environmental platform and record, Grist, July 30, 2007


* Environmental group endorsements include -- Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Environment America, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, and Humane Society Legislative fund. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obama_endorsements)

* Sebastopol City Council Election

- More citizen analysis of the problems with NEAP are gathered at www.healthyworld.org/ABetterNEAP.html

- Info on all candidates http://www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/sn/race/5410/

- Guy Wilson site http://www.electguy.org -- Jen Thille's http://www.votethille.com/


* "Excellent article, Patricia!"
Hollynn D'Lil

* "Great article in the Bohemian! I was so glad to see and read it there. Really on target! THANKS !"
Sandi Maurer

* "This is a great article and so wonderfully on time! Thanks!"
Jane Nielson  [Ph.D., Geologist, Sebastopol Water Information Group, SwiG]

* "Very good article. I'm glad for your words about Guy Wilson, whom I endorse, and his interest in modifying the NEAP, not "killing" it as his opponents would have folks believe."
Sarah Gurney [Sebastopol City Councilmember]

* "Congratulations on your new column.  I know what a commitment a weekly column is (used to write one a long time ago). I have missed Byrne's Report. Your column will be a good substitute. I look forward to an erudite read each week.Liked your discussion of "green", "sustainable", and the other catch words. I liked the way you tied them to the elections and the choices. Keep up the good work."
Deanne Thompson

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