From Canyon To Cove: Protesting the protests

Maybe it's the mind-wearying demonstrations (or "campouts") on Wall Street and other major cities that have spread to Orange County, but I'm getting a little peeved at people who take up the cudgels on issues they know so little about and cannot articulate.

Not that many of us understand modern economics and how it came to pass that the middle class — the bulwark of the Baby Boom generation — has been so fractured. These "occupations" — complete with drum circles and "comfort" stations — are more about the economic malaise of a generation than a political movement with a clear goal, such as stopping a war or letting kids of all races go to school together, gay rights or ending violence against women.

My generation marched for all those things, risking arrest, fire hoses, rubber bullets and pepper-spray. Today's "occupiers" are met with official approval, food donations and port-a-potties. No wonder marchers are a bit confused about what the heck they're supposed to be protesting against, and have no idea if they're making their point. It's all so warm and fuzzy, and lacking in hard-edged logic. (Yes, there have been some clashes between protesters and police over where to place the tents, but nobody had to go home.)

And they're not the only ones.

Take, for example, the Wood Walk through Laguna Beach, which had well-meaning folks carrying heavy loads of wood on their backs on Coast Highway a few of weeks ago, on their way from San Diego to LA. The sponsors thought this was a great way to let everyone know how tough it is to have to rely on wood fires for heating and cooking, something they claim is done by "over half the people in the world," and destroys forests, as well as making people sick and poverty-stricken. They want us all to join their cause.

On their website, organizers touted their feat this way: "A brave group will set out from sunny San Diego on an 11-day trek to Los Angeles to do what no other group has done: carry massive 40 to 60 pound bundles of wood on their backs and take a grueling journey in honor of, and bring awareness to, hundreds of millions of women in this world that cook every meal over an open fire."

The organization, called the Paradigm Project, wants to change the world by distributing fuel-efficient stoves to 3 billion people. Sounds like a worthy project, but was it a "demonstration" or really a product promotion by a group that admits it "combines the heart and mission of a nonprofit with the discipline and market-based principles of a for-profit"?

Apparently the use of open wood fires for cooking happens a lot in Africa, and, we suspect, remote regions of the Amazon and perhaps in campsites all over America — maybe even at the Grand Canyon or in the Cleveland National Forest. Even the Boy Scouts do it. I myself have been known to hunt for wood while camping and to enjoy getting a hot blaze burning under a metal grate. But I suspect a Wood Walker would be wagging his or her finger in my face. It's come to this: Even the great American barbecue is now politically incorrect.

Instead of cooking over an open flame, everyone in the world (except those of us lucky enough to have electricity, gas or solar power) should be using a fuel-efficient wood stove; and not just any apparatus, but a Rocket Stove manufactured and sold by the Paradigm Project. For a $40 donation, we're told, a family somewhere can get a Rocket Stove, which uses less fuel and will save thousands of trees. That's not much for something that will save us all from destruction of the planet.

So is this simply a slick marketing gimmick? Maybe not that slick, because they have made some missteps.

First and foremost, it seems pretty sexist to assume that, among those billions and billions of people, the only ones doing the cooking and wood-fetching are women.

Secondly, the fuel-efficient stoves — while certainly better — do use wood, so these women will still be forced to seek out and carry wood back home, and the deforestation will continue.

Thirdly, please don't tell us that it was "brave" of the Wood Walkers to volunteer for this mission. Southern California is not Afghanistan, where, by the way, women are probably risking their lives to hunt for wood as we speak.

CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 302-1469 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.

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