SKAMOKAWA - Some Americans are reducing their contributions to climate change by driving less, using energy-efficient appliances and insulating their homes.
But dozens of activists who've spent the past six nights sleeping under the stars in Skamokawa want to do more.
For them, combating human impact on the Earth's climate means fighting fossil fuel development; it means pressuring the biggest polluters to cut back and leaning on financiers to invest in renewable energy; it means speaking out and demanding action.
Over the past week, about 70 people have camped at the Wahkiakum County Fairgrounds in Skamokawa to model sustainable living, compare notes on environmental and social justice campaigns - and loudly oppose liquefied natural gas projects on the Lower Columbia River.
Their plan starts with living low-impact: switching from petroleum and natural gas to solar and wind power, reducing waste and water consumption, and recycling and reusing purchased products.
Then it goes a step further, to political demonstrations that challenge energy companies to change their ways.
The six-day West Coast Convergence for Climate Action featured workshops on climate change issues and campaigns, keynote speakers, musical performances, dancing and tree climbing; all the while, campers kept their living impacts low with solar-powered electricity, composting toilets, locally supplied foods and gray-water rinsing systems.
Out-of-towners joined local anti-LNG campaigners on the sixth and final day of the convergence Monday for a protest on the bank of Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas Co.'s LNG project site 20 miles east of Astoria at Bradwood Landing.
The project is one of four LNG terminals proposed on the Lower Columbia River. While there has been a crowd of local opponents of the project, the company has also found support from local residents and regional union workers; a Daily Astorian survey in January showed a near-even split among North Coast residents, with 42 percent of those polled in support of the Bradwood project and 40 percent opposed.
In Monday's protest, about 80 people armed with anti-LNG signs launched from Puget Island and landed at low tide on the sand of Bradwood Landing less than a mile away. They traveled in kayaks, canoes and sail boats while another group stayed on the island to highlight the distance between the island's residents and the proposed terminal. When the boaters arrived at Bradwood, some buried their heads in the sand to show their opinion of people who support LNG.
"We effectively demonstrated these public spaces we were occupying won't be accessible if the LNG terminal is built the way it is proposed," said organizer Dan Serres, who works with local anti-LNG groups in the Columbia River Clean Energy Coalition. "The other message is committing to a new fossil fuel source at this crucial point in the climate movement doesn't make sense; I think we got that through as well."
Bradwood Landing spokesman Chuck Deister disagreed with the group's premise, saying now is the time to introduce LNG to the region, because renewable energy sources are gaining traction but can't yet supply all of society's needs.
Opponents argue renewables could take off faster with more support from the public and private sectors.
A model of sustainable livingThe West Coast convergence is one of three "climate camps" taking place this month. Another camp for activists in the Southeastern U.S. began last week in North Carolina with a focus on opposing coal mining and new coal and nuclear plants, and Tuesday a third camp began at London's Heathrow Airport to oppose expansion plans that would advance aviation's greenhouse gas emissions.
At the Skamokawa camp, participants gathered outside in a half-circle of multi-colored benches for meals, which were planned ahead by a guerilla kitchen guru nicknamed "Grumbles."
The Seeds of Peace guerilla kitchen crew labored over giant woks atop wood stoves crafted from trash cans. The mobility of the stoves - and the rest of the guerilla kitchen - allows the crew to move wherever they're needed to support progressive campaigns.
From a stock of donated fruits and vegetables and bulk-ordered herbs and legumes comes a spicy three-part dinner: Vegetable soup with tofu, cabbage salad and Spanish rice. As diners finish their meals, they dump excess food into a compost bucket and rinse recycled plastic flatware under a gray-water spout, which is connected to a tank and a sand filter to clear dishwater for reuse.
Various campers volunteer to complete the dishwashing after each meal. The camp leaders ask - and insist when necessary - that participants help with daily chores: At a morning gathering they organize workers to provide child care, wood cutting, meal preparation and security patrols.
After a day of outdoor workshops, the camp switches to electricity provided by solar panels outside the Wahkiakum Grange as the sun sets.
Camp organizer Monica Vaughn, of the climate action group Rising Tide, urges everyone to visit information booths inside the 4-H building while there is still some daylight left: "It's getting dark, and I am not turning the lights on for anybody."
"We're running the camp the way we'd like to see our community run," Vaughn said later. "Corporate and government solutions to climate change won't save us. ... We're advocating a sustainable response that is earth-centered, community focused and bioregionally appropriate."
Locals find support, connectionsSeveral LNG opponents from the Washington and Oregon sides of the river were featured at workshops at the Skamokawa climate camp, sharing stories of how they started and maintained their campaign against the LNG projects, which can spend years in the permitting process after they're first proposed.
Puget Island resident George Exum said he discovered a profound connection with Mike Hudema of Greenpeace, who traveled from Canada to share his story of fighting an effort to extract petroleum from massive tar-like oil deposits in Alberta. The project is a double-whammy for climate activists, because it employs fossil fuels to free additional fossil fuel reserves, but there's also a tie-in with the natural gas market in the Northwest, said Exum.
"One assumption LNG companies are making is that Canadian gas is going to be disappearing," said Exum. "That might be true. They're using natural gas to get the oil out of the tar sands in Alberta."
Other ideas came from Ananda Tan of the Rainforest Action Network's Global Finance Campaign, who came from San Francisco to talk about his work keeping banks from breaking their environmental investment promises and "holding their feet to the fire" to back sustainable projects.
"There's an incredible thing happening here," said LNG opponent Cheryl Johnson of Brownsmead.
"We're hearing about struggles that are happening all across the U.S. in a very similar manner. ... These young people are here to see what the estuary is all about and what the potential for LNG means, and to take it back to their communities and educate their neighbors."