The float plane ducked from the heavy clouds, gliding over Whale Channel. We left Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s coast, and cut deep through the Inside Passage. Our destination, Princess Royal Island, home of salmon-eating wolves and white Kermode bears, who prefer just the fish’s eyes and brains for a snack. The aircraft skidded across the glassy water to a dock on a barge.
On that barge sat a luxury resort, and in front of that luxury resort stood two athletic waiters with trays of champagne. I was handed a flute: “Welcome to King Pacific Lodge. No, no. Leave your bags here. I’ll show you the spa.”
It was Week Two at my new job in a new country. My husband and I had recently left Chicago for Vancouver, where he was to study anthropology and I was the communications advisor for a new environmental campaign.
I stared at coffee-table books documenting this place, dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest by photographer Ian McAllister. I quoted Edward Abbey in my journal: “There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”
The contrast was huge. My last night in Chicago was on deadline at the lefty magazine where I worked as an editor. This time, some guy tried to break into the office through the roof access.
Three days prior to my first campaign retreat, I suited up and met my colleagues in the Vancouver boardroom of Weyerhaeuser. Staff from the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Forest Ethics had formed the Joint Solutions Project with Weyco and three other logging companies when they agreed to stop sawing down old-growth after boycotts. But civil disobedience was now out the door. We had a different way of doing conservation – collaborative. Win-win. And the stakes were high: 21 million acres, hungry markets in China and the United States. It was September 11, 2001. We watched the towers fall on CNN as we sat around an exquisite cedar table.
I worked that job for two years. And by the time I left, I rarely saw my colleagues. We communicated via email, mostly, about ghost-writing PowerPoints. Executive staff flew in and out of Vancouver weekly, working from a conference room in our office in the financial district. Chanel was across the street. I never met an ordinary resident of the Great Bear Rainforest involved in the campaign.
That conference room door was rarely open. Foundation officers and consultants plump with high finance backgrounds jetted in from San Francisco and New York.
Now, if you want to visit King Pacific Lodge, it costs $4,999 for three nights. The best suite, with a view of the harbor, runs $12,600.
Now, if you want to work for an environmental, non-governmental organization, or ENGO, here are some typical phrases to log for interviews, which I’ve skimmed from recent job ads: “looking for a rock star organizer”… who can “increase our program and fundraising effectiveness” … and “support our organization’s thought-leadership.”
The foundation greenbacks are focused on climate change. But, in early November, the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta agreed to allow pipelines to empty on the Great Bear Rainforest. In a few weeks, oil will flow through TransCanada’s Gulf Coast pipeline.
A publicity video – titled “Strange Bedfellows” – by the mega-foundation Tides Canada, goes for the money shot. We see a beautiful woman wake up in a bedroom with posters of clearcuts and “Eat Local” taped to the walls. There’s a bongo drum. She’s clearly disoriented, and a bit disgusted, presumably after a one-night stand, as a lanky, cute, hippie boy sleeps next to her.
Beautiful Woman puts on her black suit and panty hose, grabs her briefcase, and dashes off to her Mini. She texts Hippie Boy: “Sorry I had to run. We should do that again sometime.”
“Yes,” Hippie Boy replies. “Thanks to Tides Canada for bringing us together.”
We can only assume that they put in a long night of high-powered, closed-door negotiations.
Now, that suit I wore to Weyco on September 11 doesn’t fit. I prefer the jeans and boots and advice of old man Abbey. “Yes, there are plenty of heroes and heroines everywhere you look. They are not famous people. They are generally obscure and modest people doing useful work, keeping their families together and taking an active part in the health of their communities, opposing what is evil (in one way or another) and defending what is good. Heroes do not want power over others.”
Published in the November 2013 issue of CounterPunch magazine.