Russell D. Hoffman Interviews Victor Rozek, Native Forest Council


Interview with Native Forest Council General Manager Victor Rozek

An interview by Russell D. Hoffman on his radio show HIGH TECH TODAY.

The following full transcript is from a radio show broadcast on radio station WALE. The views expressed are solely those of Russell D. Hoffman and his guest and do not necessarily reflect anyone else's point of view.

May 17th, 1995

Russell Hoffman ("Host"), High Tech Today
Victor Rozek ("VR"), General Manager, Native Forest Council

Host: And my guest today is Victor Rozek. Victor is the General Manager of the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Oregon, and he's going to be talking about ecological concerns, and what high technology has to do with ecological concerns. Good morning Victor.

VR: Good morning Russ, how are you?

Host: I'm fine thanks. Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about the Native Forest Council, and what you do there.

VR: Alright. The Native Forest Council was actually founded back in 1988 and it was founded out of the concern of several people that were previously members of the Sierra Club. It was found that the Sierra Club just wasn't doing enough to protect the ancient forests here in the Northwest.

Originally our position was that we wanted to save all the old growth, because only about 10% of it is left in the Northwest and Nationally, only about 5% of the original old growth is left. And most of that--about 95, 99% is on Public Land. So our position was: No more old growth cutting.

But as we evolved, and we saw the incredible damage that has been done to our public lands, we really evolved into a position of Zero Cut. No logging at all on public lands, no grazing and no mining, and we're calling for massive amounts of restoration.

Host: What relationship does technology have to the environment, and how are you using technology to accomplish the goals of the NFC?

VR: I think it has three--it relates in three ways. There's a positive side obviously to technology. Technology has helped us to know and understand the world like we've never understood it before.

I think there was certainly a watershed point were we first took those pictures of earth from outer space. And we realized that the earth was just a very fragile ball that was hanging in a very hostile darkness. And we understood for the first time how connected everything on the planet was. And in knowing the earth, we also [are] allowed to exploit it like we've never been able to exploit it before, through the use of technology. Technology has really sped up our ability to destroy the planetary life support systems.

The problem with technology basically is that it allows us to do things but it doesn't tell us whether those things are the right things to do. So that, you know, a hundred years ago men would log for example with axes and horse, and it would take them entire days to cut down several trees and drag them out of the forest. Now, you can do it with chain saws and mechanized machinery of all sorts and level a football field sized plot of earth in no time at all!

The way we use technology at the Native Forest Council--of course, is, we're computerized like everyone else these days, and we have databases, and we're in communication with other environmental groups, and we have membership--we track membership on the computer and so forth. So, like any other organization we moved into the twentieth century.

But, in working with the technology, especially the digital revolution, cyberspace and all of that, what I've come to understand is in some respects, that technology keeps us separate from the world. It's a very artificial place, and the more time we spend there, I think the further and further we get from the planet.

Host: Um, How do you mean that? I don't quite follow that. Certainly technology is not necessarily a virtual reality, so how would you mean that it takes us away from the earth?

VR: Well, for some people, it is a virtual reality, and the problem with cyberspace and virtual reality and all of that is as one fellow said, "Old men don't play checkers there." It's basically a very lonely and isolated place--you know, kids don't swim there. You can't play Frisbee there. And what it does is it encourages people not to work on human relationships. You don't see anyone's pain there. You share no one's joy there. Virtual communities get all of our attention but our actual communities are disintegrating around us. So what happens is, in some instances, relationships I think, become distant. They become safe. They become risk-free. We've developed an intimacy, you know in terms of email and that sort of thing, without any responsibility. We can turn it off at the end of the day.

And it's interesting. There was a bit of research that was done recently that showed that just a single evening that was spent with friends can measurable enhance the immune system for two days. That's a pretty extraordinary--That's a pretty extraordinary system. So my fear is that we're beginning increasingly to isolate ourselves.

Host: Lost in a sterile environment sort of thing?

VR: In a very sterile--in a very unreal environment-- I mean, there's no 'there' there. In fact it is simply an electronic environment, and because of that, that distancing from each other, and distancing from the earth, we start to view the planet as sort of a puppet of technology, right? We dam all the rivers, we strip mine the oceans. Half of the world's primary forests are gone. And I think a lot of that stems out of that distancing.

It's very much like the technology of war. They found that the further distance you are from the actual killing, the easier it is to accomplish the killing, so that a fellow dropping a bomb out of an airplane has a lot easier time of it than somebody trying to kill somebody hand-to-hand. It's the same thing with the planet. The further removed we are, the further we encase ourselves in concrete and glass and electronics, the more likely we are to spoil that which supports our very life, and not even be aware of it.

Host: My guest is Victor Rozek of the Native Forest Council. He's the General Manager there. You're listening to High Tech today with your host, Russ Hoffman and Victor, you have many years--almost two decades of experience working for IBM, so when you talk about technology, you're not talking about it from the point of view of a Luddite who is afraid of the machines in any way.

VR: No, No. And obviously there are so many, many good things about technology and technology is here to stay, so I'm not suggesting that we abandon it and return to the cave, but we are, first and foremost biological creatures, and we're the products of billions of years of very slow and very methodical evolution.

We are in fact part of the earth. It's interesting, the preceding show talked about water, and in fact 70% of your surface is ocean water, and 70% of our bodies is basically ocean water--it's salt water, and the rest is simply made up of minerals, and chemicals that exist here on the planet so we are actually biological, and a part--very much a part of the planet. But we set ourselves apart, and I think technology is one of those barriers. So it's a matter of choosing to use technology wisely, I guess.

Host: ...[break]... Victor, you're going to tell us a story now?

VR: Yes. You know, children are such wonderful teachers, and I recall something that happened about two years ago that I'd like to share with you. I was driving down the Mohawk Valley where I live, just east of Eugene with some friends of mine, and among those was a little girl who at the time was seven years of age. And we were kind of dialing you know, through the different AM radio stations, and caught a little bit of Rush Limbaugh, talking about the forest issue, and he was, you know, ranting on and on about how logging is absolutely essential, and that there are no problems, and there is plenty of forests, and jobs are more important that owls, and all of that.

And the little girl listened carefully and she kind of looked around at the valley, which when I got here about eight years ago was pretty pristine, and now was that the hillsides were all covered with massive clearcut. Which, for audience members who aren't aware is basically a logging method by which every single living thing is stripped from a twenty, forty, eighty acre parcel, and then the marketable timber is carted away and the rest is simply burned.

So, these hills were horribly scared. She looked at the hills, and she kind of looked at the radio, and she turned to me and said "I don't think that man gets out much!"

Host: (Laughs)

VR: And I guess that's the point I guess that I'm trying to make. That, you know, if you do live in a New York studio, and you go from the studio to an air conditioned limousine, and from a limousine to a penthouse, and from a penthouse to a restaurant, you've lost a very primary connection. When we open a tap and we get water, there's no sense of where that water comes from, and what it is that keeps that water pure. When you buy food in the supermarket there's no sense that it grows out of the earth, and there's no understanding of what it takes the earth--what it takes for the earth to keep replenishing itself so that we can have food without adding massive amounts of poisonous chemicals.

Host: Well, when I flew over Oregon for the first time last year, I was really amazed at the 'patchwork quilt', the way the forest looked from the clearcutting. I guess what, they take about forty acres and remove it, and then take another forty acres?

VR: That's on public land. But on private lands, there's a 48 square mile area of devastation...that Weyerhaeuser has stripped, I mean, it is absolutely appalling what we're doing. And technology, I think, moves much quicker than our wisdom does, as a species. So we do things because we can, not because they're right.

There's a wonderful story about Jimmy Carter, just after Mt. St. Helens blew up here, in the Northwest, Jimmy Carter toured the devastation. As he was being helicoptered to the site of the explosion, he looked down and he said "My Gosh, I have never seen anything like this. This is just unbelievable--beyond comprehension." And what his guides had to tell him was that they were not at the site of the explosion yet. What he was seeing was the results of logging! Clearcut logging!

Host: (Laughs)

VR: So, technology to me, also has become, I think, a massive distraction. And I think we're good at that. Especially now that we've combined television, and computers, and telephones all into single devices and so forth. You know--every silence is filled, every surface hollers at us. There's an unreality. We are watching actors that imitate life, and we talk about life, and we're not living it.

Host: What about those of us that do both? Is that a problem--you said you don't want to go back to the caves. Where do we stop? What's the right direction to move in?

VR: Well, I think it's a matter of choice, and it's a matter of awareness. I think the real revolution is not so much the technological revolution but the revolution in human awareness.

Host: The knowledge revolution?

VR: Not so much knowledge, knowledge for knowledge sake, but awareness--consciousness. My belief is that that's where the real progress is. That out of consciousness comes a lot of different decisions--which knowledge to use, which knowledge not to use, and so forth, and that's where the struggle, I think, is in humanity.

One of the real tricky things about technology is that it really doesn't allow very much for diversity. If everybody has to be hooked up, and modemed, and linked with everybody else--what about the rights of indigenous people, who do not use technology, who for a millennia have lived a certain lifestyle that's very compatible with the planet. What about the rights of those people, to exist? And what we're finding is that technology is encroaching on the worlds those people have built, their homes, their forests, are being just absolutely slaughtered at unprecedented rates, and these people have nowhere to go. And they may not be ready yet, for technology, but there's no respect for that. It's very homogenous, and that troubles me.

So I think it's a matter of making wise choices, and keeping technology as a tool, and not using it as a substitute for connectiveness to other beings and to the planet.

Host: The digital revolution is inevitable though, right?

VR: Well, it's certainly marketed as inevitable, is it not?

Host: Yeah--

VR: --I think it's something that is inevitable. Obviously, human imagination, we can't somehow slow--slow that process down. Human beings will evolve, and develop new technologies, and it may not be desirable necessarily, to slow it down.

The question is not whether it's inevitable, but whether it's a virtue, and whether the way we apply it is virtuous, and that's a day-to-day decision, in some respects, so, yeah: We can track the movement of whales by satellite now, but if we choose to use that as a method to hunt them down to extinction, is that a wise use of that particular technology? Those are the kinds of questions we have to ask.

Host: I think that that sort of thing is happening a lot, where we are using technology to define a very exact limit to how much damage we can do, when in truth doing damage just isn't really a good idea.

VR: Indeed. And that's the awareness revolution that I'm talking about, I think that that's what people are grappling with.

The real tricky part is that the system--the social structures--are going to evolve a lot more slowly than our awareness is--than our understanding is. So, the structures are really set up and to a great extent, for example: Corporate structures are set up to work off of quarterly profitability, and they embrace a paradigm that says that it's possible to infinitely grow, and that there are basically infinite resources available to corporations, and that simply isn't true, and we have yet to change that structure. We still embrace that structure, and yet we know that in fact it cannot work forever. The only thing that grows indefinitely is cancer, right?

Host: Well, I think that corporations have an Ace in the Hole, that they can pull out any time they want. Dow Chemical just pulled it out, uh, yesterday I guess. When things go really wrong, they just hit the panic button--Chapter 11, and it's not their problem anymore!

VR: (Laughs) That's true. Corporations interestingly have far more rights than human beings do, and that's problematic here, and if you look at some of the legislation that is passing congress, bills like GATT and NAFTA. Now, I looked at those and they're basically resource-grabbing pieces of legislation. They basically delineate two entities on the planet--there are corporations, and there are resources. And they've kind of codifying the corporate 'right' to grab the entire planet's resources! These poor countries that have borrowed massive amounts of money from the World Bank and so forth, can't pay back those loans, have nothing but their naturally resources now with which to barter, they are absolutely getting raked. And certainly we know that a country that exports its natural resources has never profited from that.

Host: It has nothing left.

VR: So not only their economic base, but the resource as well.

Host: ...[break]...We only have a couple of minutes left, so why not tell us a little bit about what the Native Forest Council is doing right now.

VR: We're still involved in litigation. We're appealing what is known as Option Nine, which is the Clinton Forest Grant, and some timber sales that have resulted from that, and in fact we go to court on Monday to appeal those timber sales. It's very problematic at this point because the congress has passed--both houses have passed versions of a salvage 'rider' which would mandate unconscionably high cut levels around the country. This has been opposed by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Scientists, Fire Fighters, just about everybody, but nonetheless the timber industry has basically 'purchased' the legislation. If the President signs it, it will circumvent all of the environmental laws and prevent any legal challenge. So, it's a pretty nasty piece of legislation and we're working very hard to knock that down.

Host: They're also circumventing the Endangered Species Act at the time, so I guess you have you're work cut out for you!

VR: Yeah. It circumvents all environmental laws and basically says: "Regardless of what the requirements are legally, that this new bill meets those requirements, so, yeah, we do, and we expect another big fight over E.S.A. in congress, Slate Gordon has introduced a bill that would basically gut it.

Host: What did you think of [Al Gore's] book Earth in the Balance?

VR: Al Gore? I'd like to find out who's keeping him captive, and I'd love to free him up! (Both laugh.) I think that book says a lot of the right things, and it's amazing what happens to people once they get in office. They just seem to disappear and they simply don't stand up for what they believe. I think that's a lot of the problem with the Clinton administration, is that it doesn't stand for anything, at least not for very long.

Host: Well, I'll never get corrupted, I couldn't even get elected head of my basketball team in High School...

...Is there anything else you'd like to add--we've got about one minute left?...

VR: Well, let me close with this I guess. What profit in a man to gain bandwidth, but lose his soul? So, food for thought.

Host: Okay.

VR: Thank you for having me on, Russell.

Host: My guest has been Victor Rozek, the General Manager of the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Oregon...

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