Editorial, by Steve Weitzner

Who’s the savage?

In 1854, Chief Seattle wrote the eloquent words reprinted on this page in response to President Franklin Pierce’s offer for a large area of Indian land in the Northwest. As a statement on the environment and on the white man’s impact on it, the piece may be the most beautiful ever written. But in reading it more than 150 years later, my overriding reaction is shame.

As a people, not only have we newcomers fulfilled the chief’s fearful prophecies of what would become of the land he loved, but, worse, we have failed to heed his demand that we teach our children.

The chief and his ancestors had a relationship with the environment -- they knew their place in it and made sure their children understood that place.

We, on the other hand, have set ourselves apart from the environment. We’ve used it as a stage on which to play out our self-important dramas of business and politics -- and taught our children to do the same. And, as we build the infrastructures to support our increasingly complex and fast paced society, we distance ourselves more -- denying our relationship with the Earth. Today, we blame the devastation of our environment on business, or on government’s failure to harness business.

But our industry is clean, you say. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition says 12 million pounds of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) were discharged in California’s Santa Clara County alone in 1987 by 25 of the largest electronics, computer and semiconductor companies. There are 29 Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, the most of any other county in the nation -- all from the semiconductor industry.

What can we do? It is beyond us mere mortals. Yet we mere mortals created and continue to create this mess.

Preserving the Earth is bigger than companies and their plans and efforts to dominate a market. It’s bigger than nations, their ideologies, and their plans to dominate the world economy. It’s so big that only one person can handle it -- you.

But I work in design, not manufacturing. What can I do, you ask. Focus close to home.

First, what is your own company doing? If you observe environment-damaging activities, tell the appropriate managers or the authorities. If you are scared, tell us. If you have the authority, eschew business with companies who are known environmental despoilers, and tell them why. Most important, read Chief Seattle’s words and reflect on them. Then teach your children their meaning.

“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”