View from the sea

I won’t be writing “View From the Fray” this week because I’m on vacation in Hawaii. Right now, I can’t see “the fray” from where I sit on a balcony overlooking the misty coast of Kona. Flowers everywhere. Coconuts swinging under palm fronds. Clusters of green bananas alongside the road. Leaves of the macadamia nut trees rustling in the wind.

A person could live here, and my in-laws do. The significant Republican and I will stay here for a week, snorkeling, climbing volcanoes and eating juicy, ripe papaya.

I’m not a slacker. I started writing a column while our flight was delayed for three hours Sunday at the Oakland airport. By 10 a.m., I was on my second double-vanilla latte. Caffeine makes me edgy, impatient. I started bitching about the United Nations and the federal balance of power and Tom DeLay.

I stopped and started over, this time with a Henry James quote: “We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have.”

A California activist had e-mailed me about efforts to stop development near the entrance to Mount Whitney. The Inyo County Planning Commission recently approved a plan to build 27 luxury homes there, each with its own 3,500-gallon water tank. Activists are concerned about the visual and hydrological impacts. Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. More than 1,700 people visit each summer, says a press release, and the area is “also the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies and commercials.”

It’s intriguing that we argue for open space by noting its value for entertainment and advertising purposes. Panoramic TV ads in danger of being cluttered with luxury homes and water tanks? Holy Holstein, I wrote Sunday, this development must be stopped.

Then we climbed on a plane and landed in paradise. This morning, I’m finding it hard to work up righteous indignation.

What people really need to hear is good stuff, the progress being made, I reasoned.

Development in Martis Valley, for example, was stymied with a judge’s recent ruling in favor of protecting the Tahoe area from something like 12 million homes there.

East of Genoa, a 700-acre land parcel became a conservation easement and was added to more than 3,600 acres of land in the Carson Valley that’s permanently protected as open space.

Last week, the Associated Press reported fewer toxic pollutants being released into Nevada’s air. The decline was attributed to voluntary controls adopted by the mining industry. In 2002, mines emitted 454 million pounds of toxic pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2003, that number plummeted to only 373 million pounds of mercury, zinc, lead and other stuff you wouldn’t want to breathe. Do exploiters of the land just decide to do the “right thing"?

Turns out that we the people wield power—that of the courts, of public opinion. We filibuster, boycott and spend—voting with every dollar, every picket sign, every e-mail.

Change takes time. At least five years ago, protesters kicked off a Boycott the Gap campaign. The Gap, a clothing conglom that includes Old Navy and Banana Republic, was targeted in part for its reliance on clothing manufactured in the sweatshops of developing nations.

Now, the Gap is in the news again. This time, it’s one of the largest clothing retailers to purchase garments from factories in Singapore where union leaders are supposedly not mysteriously disappearing, where women can make more than a living wage sewing blouses for wealthy Westerners like me.

It costs the Gap more to buy garments from Singapore than it would to buy from countries with no child-labor laws, no minimum wage and no safeguards against occupational hazards.

I was going to write about how activists do make a difference. But I’ve been distracted by the view from here.