Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.16.07

Eco-Logical Living
A bike trip to check out our northern neighbors

Many people in Eugene have a growing concern about climate change, resource depletion, increasingly unruly international relations and economic instability. With those concerns in mind, Eugene can boast of a number of creative initiatives for “eco-logical” living.

But what is going on elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, and what can we learn from others? With that question in mind, during July I traveled more than 1,500 miles to central Washington state, Bellingham, Snohomish/Everett, Seattle and Olympia. People I visited showed me local examples of ecological culture change. I also gave presentations that touched on economics, global trends and human potential and explained how they relate to ecological culture change.

Of places I visited, favorite projects include The Hub in Bellingham — an expansive, you-fix-it, down-to-earth community bicycle center. Also, Zippy’s is an upbeat and casual java bar in Everett that is home to a wide diversity of meetings and community events focused on positive culture change. Tonasket can boast of a citizen based community culture center. Seattle has numerous creative efforts that advocate downsizing lifestyles, urban gardening and alternatives to the automobile. Snohomish and Okonagon have their own green movements.

Olympia seems to have the greatest density of ecological initiatives of the towns I visited. One can stay at a permaculture bed and breakfast. But my favorite community asset was GRuB, a well organized and funded nonprofit dedicated to local food production. One of GruB’s programs is installing raised bed gardens where people live, along with providing skill support for the gardens to be successful. GRuB is also youth education and volunteer oriented, collaborates with its next door neighbors and manages an in-town Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.

Elsewhere in Washington, I was shocked to find dozens of suburban style developments in rural areas, far from town. The bucolic names of these places did nothing to mitigate this terrible land use. Distant from town, often in hilly areas, sometimes on islands, they are all highly dependent on cheap resources. I called my two-day bike ride on Whidbey Island the Tour of Driveways.


Perhaps the most instructive and revealing encounter for me was in the Methow Valley in central Washington near Twisp, where I had breakfast at the end of a 2-mile-long dirt road with 10 alternative locals. I asked everyone there to describe who they lived with, how far from town, their ideals and on-site resource potentials.

Individually, they were all lacking important elements of moving towards their ecological and social goals of taking care of more of their needs close to home. Difficulties included not enough people to collaborate with, not enough space, not enough financial resources, not all the skills needed and not enough time.

I suggested they consider doing an in-depth inventory of their personal and property assets and then consider discussing among themselves their respective pluses and minuses with the goal of creating a strategy that would generate the most benefits. I recommended selling the dead-end properties and creating an integrated cooperative venture among themselves at the best location.

Of course, such a strategy presents enormous challenges. The smartest choices we can make for the environment, peace on Earth and positive human potential are sharing our assets and resources in both urban and rural locations. Such strategies are the most contrary to our individualistic cultural upbringing. They are also contrary to an economy and way of life that depends on people being separate, competitive and disempowered. That economy is the source of our greatest challenges, local and global.

The tour was sobering. Sitting at Gas Works Park looking across Union Lake to downtown Seattle, with all the staggering urban elements in view — dozens of skyscrapers, elevated freeways packed with cars, sea planes landing and taking off, residences of all kinds, marinas crowded with boats — I reflected what an enormous task it is to transform the world we know into something at peace with itself. I don’t think anyone really knows what sustainable is but any efforts in that direction must ultimately be honest and cooperative — and be judged not by human convenience but rather by Planet Earth.

Jan Spencer is a River Road area artist and activist involved in the Cascadia EcoFair, a “Culture Change weekend” coming up Aug. 23-26 in rural Coburg. For information and registration, visit or or email