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An eco-crime

In 2018 a wildlife habitat was destroyed on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It happened without much notice. A few dozen fir, hemlock, maple and cedar surrounding a meadow and a no-name creek were what remained of the re-growth from previous destructive binges. Our present day greed: petty, cruel and insatiable, is no different from the early white settlers’. On this spring day, bulldozer and chainsaw transformed the arboreal relics from the time before commodity, before progress, before history into value. Graded over were spirea, physocarpus and un-named, unappreciated brush along the no-name creek. Churned and ground up under the tractors and bulldozers was the habitat of countless animals including, moles, pheasant, deer, heron and coyote. On that day, from a distance, I cried for the no-name creek and the inhabitants that were killed or driven away.

Now, I no longer see the ring necked pheasant or hear its bark. One quarter mile away I no longer encounter mother pheasant with chicks in the meadow along the edge of a now seasonal creek that meanders near my home. Less frequent, too, are the deer and coyotes that roamed the space between these two wetland environments. These loses seem trivial to most but, represent the devastating reality underlying anthropogenic climate change.

Bainbridge Island is probably similar to other small communities (population 24K) where local politics is controlled by descendant landowners, developers and their enablers who scheme to extract as much money from the land as possible. Only 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle, this is a predominately white liberal professional middle class community. As such, we proudly proclaim, Black Lives Matter, feel badly about the affordable housing crisis, and affirm the science behind climate change, etc; as long as it doesn’t interfere with money making and unlimited consumption. And, when it does? Well, there are work-arounds, variances and carve-outs to the ‘comprehensive development plan’. In one recent example, the city will gift a 14 acre forested parcel it owns to developers so they may graciously build 100 affordable housing units. To insure the scheme is profitable for all involved, affordable housing is defined as meeting the needs of professionals with incomes up to 1.5X the Bainbridge Island yearly average of $100K. Moreover, it is estimated that gifts and tax breaks to developers will cost the city over $4M. Although, I have voiced my objections in city council chambers I must admire the brilliance of a proposal that hits the daily-double by satisfying the greed of the development interests and assuaging liberal guilt. If the City were really interested in affordable housing they could easily have supported this goal over the past several years instead of permitting a hodgepodge of highly profitable McMansion developments on multiple 5 acre plots that bear no relationship to the surrounding environment or community.

And that brings me to the 31, 4000+ sf, $1.5M McMansions that displaced the natural environment on both sides of the no-name creek. In late 2017/early 2018 the city was required to accept public comment regarding this development. After the city dutifully ignored public objections it then kicked the can to the final decision maker: the Hearing Examiner. In Washington State, cities may enlist the services of a quasi-judicial officer hired by a city to rule on land use issues in a “non-political” manner. When several members of the community and I objected to the scale, character and environmental impact of the proposed development, the developer’s attorney effortlessly dismissed our claims as irrelevant, without standing and that was a wrap. Most people probably think paying a judge to decide a case in which you are a party would be unfair, maybe even illegal. But, if you are the City, that’s exactly how it works. Interesting also, are the lengths to which governments will go to feign encouragement for citizen involvement only to ultimately declare citizens have no standing to object to their schemes. As the Senator from Utah, Mike Lee proclaimed recently, “democracy is not the objective” of government. Yup.

Soon, after most traces of the natural world were removed and before the concrete foundations cured, I began a one-man protest on the street fronting the eco-crime scene. The representative of the corporate developer appeared, full of amused bluster and clicked a selfie with me and my protest sign. Almost 800 days later I still bear witness every day (the brief pandemic shut-down, notwithstanding) with my presence. Realtors for the corporate developer have called the police on me after taking my sign (in my presence) and have called me crazy and vindictive because I advocate for environmental justice. Over the past two years, the corporate developer has gone through two local real estate selling companies and has now hired a German based realtor to sell the remaining, “stunning, modern-farmhouse style homes with high ceilings, and covered outdoor spaces. Open concept living spaces with custom finishes and high-tech upgrades and kitchen’s that are a chef’s delight, including Dacor® appliances and quartz counter tops. Homesites have fully landscaped, large yards complete with sprinkler systems”. Yippee, McModern, McFarmhouse, McMansions!

But where will the people live!? If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that question I might be able to afford a McMansion with Dacor appliances. No one has yet asked me where the animals will live. Or, about the direct effect environmental degradation contributes to global heating. Or, how we expect to survive when we destroy the environment that sustains us. But where will the poor-millionaire climate change refugees fleeing the high-tech poverty-inducing chaos of Seattle and California live?

Despite having had stuff thrown at me, cars passing within feet of me at high speed and the occasional taunts, I persist. In contrast, many people have been very kind, sharing encouragement, coffee and homemade treats.

James Halbrook, "An eco-crime," The News. 2020-10-19.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Global heating , Climate change , Corporate developer , Decision making , Liberal profession , Housing crises , Democracy , Washington