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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.8.07

Cultivating Corridors for the People

PIELC Keynote Intro

By Zach Welcker

EDITOR'S NOTE: UO Law student Zach Welcker received a standing ovation for his introduction of PIELC keynote speakers March 1. We've reprinted most of his speech with his permission. He thanks Becki Kammerling for speaking with him.

On behalf of the students of Land Air Water, I'd like to thank you all for coming to Eugene to help us celebrate the 25th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. We are honored to have Vandana Shiva and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. here. We are privileged to have many former co-directors in attendance. Because of their vision and dedication, this conference has grown from an initial gathering of 15 speakers and 75 attendees into the world's most important environmental law conference. The global reach of our 24 previous meetings has been staggering.

Despite our successes, we still have a great deal of work ahead of us. Powerful governments and businesses continue to exploit our natural systems for short-term economic gain. Neighbors continue to turn against neighbors while corporations steal the farm and dance stealthily away. The world cooks like never before while the chef in the big white house is just beginning to admit that we have turned on the oven. Subdivisions named after ecosystems they destroy continue to hoist street signs bearing names of threatened species. The politics of fear continue to shift our attention toward the personal losses we might sustain rather than collective losses we are all enduring.

As we look to meet these types of challenges in the next 25 years, we must respond to them systemically. For instance, we should not consider our work to stop a clear-cutting operation here in Oregon to be complete until we are certain that it won't relocate to Brazil. We should not deem the protection of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to be final until we have an energy policy that makes development of its oil reserves altogether unnecessary. We should hesitate to celebrate the recovery of the gray wolf until we have eradicated the mentality that nearly caused the wolf's demise.

Our work as citizens of this Earth requires us to tap into the depths of our imagination in order to reach out to people who are reluctant to join the environmental movement. We need to weave together solutions to social and environmental problems in such an intricate pattern that it becomes impossible to separate the two.

If a corridor of suitable habitat is created between two isolated grizzly bear populations, there is a good chance that a bear or two will keep walking as long as there are berries along the path and plenty of fish in the river it follows. Our hope is that all of you will use this conference as an opportunity to create a vision for the future that is so compelling and so inclusive that masses of people will wind up fighting to protect our planet without remembering when or why they even started along the path.

When the 50th PIELC convenes, may the participants look back to this conference as the spark that ignited a unified movement for justice. We need this catalyst like a polar bear needs pack ice, like a farmer needs fertile soil, like a spawning salmon needs the waters where it was born. We should not wait for the next Katrina or tsunami to exert our collective power. We need to start cultivating this power today.