The Byrne Report


Problem = Solution

As an investigative reporter, my professional life focuses on exposing governmental and corporate malfeasance, lies, hypocrisy, abuse of power and assorted crimes. I enjoy this work, but it is not for everyone. Evil spirits are often sent my way by angry targets of investigation, including U.S. senators whose spouses are war profiteers and Las Vegas gambling corporations rooted in mafia culture. Problems beget problems and solutions are elusive. We live, after all, in a world of peak everything: peak oil, peak air, peak water, peak consumption, peak war.

My own beloved spouse, Stacey, practices permaculture, which treats problems as solutions. Near as I can figure it, permaculture is about creating self-sustaining ecological systems. It is about conserving natural resources and reclaiming our world from profit seeking. As misery-creating capitalism continues to fail, ordinary people all over the planet, from Cuba to Cotati, are rejecting corporate control and reaching for the soil, learning from Mother as did our Neolithic ancestors 10,000 years ago.

Smiling must be part of permaculture, too. When I start ranting about Bush and Iraq and imperialism and pollution and species extinction, Stacey tells me to smile. Maybe I do. Then, maybe, the world does seem a brighter place. Harrumph. Maybe we even have a flock of chickens now. Maybe it is pretty cool to have a bunch of lineal descendents of dinosaurs in the front yard collectively existing. Maybe.

Looking for solutions, I went to the recent Progressive Festival in Petaluma. Five-year-old Miles tagged along. First, I got in an argument with a Green Party guy. He wanted money. I asked him what the #[email protected]^% ! does the Green Party do, and then gave him the answer: Nothing. Miles tugged at my hand.

The Revolutionary Communist Party booth was staffed by a man with a graying moustache and two young guys who looked like cops. I asked the older comrade why he was promoting a personality cult that goes out of its way to split and wreck mass movements. He said, “You are full of shit.” I told him to step out of the booth and say that. Miles pulled me away as the undercovers watched, amused.

Then I got in a discussion with a perfectly nice woman who is a leading member of the local Democratic Party. I told her that Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey needs to get her act together and resign from the war-mongering Democrats who are just the flip side of the Republicans and incapable of turning around the mess they have assisted Bush in making. She looked at me askance; I was obviously not a solution-oriented person.

Just in time, Miles dragged me over to the Daily Acts booth, a Petaluma nonprofit dedicated to spreading incremental change through inspired acts of conservation and creation. It was staffed by our permaculturist friend, Ellen Bichler. She was an oasis of calm. I picked up Ripples, Daily Acts’ mellow publication. Hmmm. Possible solution here.

Later, I interviewed Daily Acts founder Trathen Heckman, who told me, “Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.’ We set about the natural healing of a world of big hurt by focusing on solutions. Every choice we make moves the world.

“Every day, our tea, our coffee, our toilet paper reaches into forests, factories and families across the planet,” Heckman explained. “There is macro-ecosystem collapse, but we can hold that knowledge and use it to be moved to our core and then take the next simple action from there. We focus on real sustainability. We can take back our power, our story, by connecting our micro choices to the macro story. People are so disempowered, so disconnected. We don’t know where our shoes come from, our socks, our lights. Changing to a low-watt light bulb isn’t going to change the world, but we can build on these simple actions.”

Heckman and I discussed when and if a grassroots organization like Daily Acts should “partner” with such union holdouts as the national Whole Foods Market chain. Daily Acts has a $21,000 grant from the city of Petaluma to work with its “Green Team” to design permaculture solutions. And the city seems genuinely interested in pursuing green solutions (a no-brainer, really). Unfortunately, the city funded its recent Going Green Expo with $25,000 extracted from such megadevelopers as KB Homes and Delco Builders, who have millions of dollars worth of business before city agencies. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat is also a sponsor. In reponse to my question about conflicts of interest, a spokesperson for the city said that a $7,000 sponsorship is worth $17,000 in media exposure.

Sigh. Even solutions have problems.

This week, Daily Acts leads two sustainability tours. Visit for more information. The Byrne Report welcomes feedback. Write [email protected]